Written by John Pickard Wednesday, 23 December 2009

with thanks: International Marxist website

Many of us know that the origins of Christianity have nothing to do with silent nights or wise men. So what are its true origins? John Pickard looks at the reality of how this religion came about – from the standpoint of class forces and the material developments of society, rather than by the pious fictions fed from church pulpits.

Foundations of ChristianityMy late father had a very wry sense of humour. At Christmas, whenever there was a reference to church services on the television, he would tut and shake his head. “Look at that”, he would say, “They try to bring religion into everything!”

I imagine much the same complaint may have been made by ancient celts, annoyed that the Christian priests were taking over their traditional Yule festival, celebrating the winter solstice. Or perhaps by Roman citizens, peeved at the Christians taking over their annual ‘Saturnalia’ festival in the last weeks of December.

Those complaining would have been right, because in the absence of an identifying date anywhere in the canonical gospels, Christians grafted their celebration of the birth of Jesus onto the existing pagan festivals. In one stroke they absorbed the pagan rites into the Christian tradition and softened opposition to the new creed.

Many practising Christians today are completely unaware of the pagan and sometimes arbitrary origins of important elements of their religious beliefs and practices. Many seriously believe the origin of Christianity lies in a ‘silent night’ in a barn visited by quiet shepherds and several awe-struck ‘wise’ men. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Materialism

For Marxists, who base themselves on the real, material world, there was a completely different reality. Last year marked the centenary of the publication of ‘The Foundations of Christianity’ by the German Marxist theoritician, Karl Kautsky. This was the first attempt to describe the rise of that major western religion from the standpoint of class forces and the material developments of society, rather than by the pious fictions fed from church pulpits.

Karl Kautsky’s book was deficient in many respects, but the main lines of his argument still stand the test today. What was especially significant about Kautsky’s book was that it was the first comprehensive attempt to describe the foundation and rise of Christianity using the method of historical materialism.

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels used the method of historical materialism and applied it to social and historical developments. In his book ‘Anti-Duhring’, Engels summarised what this meant:

“The materialist conception of history starts from the proposition that the production and, next to production, the exchange of things produced, is the basis of all social structure; that in every society that has appeared in history, the manner in which wealth is distributed and society divided into classes or estates is dependent upon what is produced, how it is produced, and how the products are exchanged. From this point of view the final causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in men’s brains, not in man’s better insight into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production and exchange. They are to be sought, not in the philosophy, but in the economics of each particular epoch.”

Karl Kautsky, therefore, rejected the metaphysical myths behind Christianity – the miracles, supernatural events, and so on – and attempted to describe its origins and rise through the social conditions that existed in the Roman Empire.

The classical description of the origins of Christianity is as outlined in the New Testament. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are taken as historical accounts of real events in the first thirty five years of the first millennium: how Jesus was born miraculously, how he performed miracles and preached alongside his twelve disciples, how he was crucified for his preaching and how he arose from the dead. The gospels are taken to be eye-witness accounts by four of the disciples.

Karl KautskyKarl KautskyDespite harassment, persecution and innumerable martyrs, the superior ideas of the Christians – and particularly the offer of life after death and the redemption of human sins by the crucifixion of Jesus – led to an increase of support for Christianity until it became an unstoppable force eventually recognised by the Roman Emperor Constantine. The rest, as they say, is history.

This is the ‘official’ history of the Church…and most of it is a fairy-tale. For Marxists the question has to be asked, what were the conditions in Palestine in the first century? Karl Kautsky alludes to the fact that the Roman Empire was a slave-based system in which the vast majority of the population were impoverished and lived from hand to mouth for most of their lives.

And it is true that Palestine was a society riven with bitter class conflicts and contradictions. The characteristics of the entire period were turmoil, upheaval and revolt. Overlying the class struggle was the additional factor of the national oppression of the majority Semitic population by the Romans. Within Jewish society, the priestly caste and the nobility were propped up by the Roman regime for the greater exploitation of the mass of the population.

“The fundamental conflict was between Roman, Herodian, and high priestly rulers, on the one hand, and the Judean and Galilean villagers, whose produce supplied tribute for Caesar, taxes for King Herod, and tithes and offerings for the priests and temple apparatus on the other.” (Horsley, ‘Bandits, Prophets and Messiahs’ )

The Temple priests who were paid tithes (church taxes) by the local peasantry were not a small group – some scholars number them in the thousands. The Jewish King Herod ‘the Great’, who died in 4 BCE [Before the Common Era], left a country economically exhausted from the earlier Roman conquest and subsequent taxation.

“The Jewish agricultural producers were now subject to a double taxation, probably amounting to well over 40 per cent of their production. There were other Roman taxes as well, which further added to the burden of the people, but the tribute was the major drain.

“Coming, as it did, immediately after a period of ostensible national independence under the Hasmonians (Jewish kings), Roman domination was regarded as wholly illegitimate. The tribute was seen as robbery. Indeed it was called outright slavery by militant teachers such as Judas of Galilee, who organised active resistance to the census (record of people for tax purposes) when the Romans took over direct administration of Judea in 6 CE.” [in the Common Era] (‘Bandits, Prophets and Messiahs’)

Revolts

The only contemporary account there is of this history is that of Josephus, a Jewish general who fought against the Romans during the revolt of 66 CE and who subsequently changed sides. It is clear from his histories that this whole period was one of great upheaval. There were many occasions when revolts of peasants were led by popular anointed kings (or ‘messiahs’), all of which were viciously repressed. It was not uncommon for whole towns to be razed and their inhabitants sold into slavery.

These revolts reflected the material conditions and class conflicts of the time, but they were invariably dressed up in terms of messianic revivalism and religious aspirations. Given the tradition and scripture of the Jews, these movements inevitably adopted the mantles of scriptural leaders, including, notably, Joshua. There were, in fact, many ‘Joshua’ sects at the time. (‘Jesus’ is a Romanised name which wouldn’t have been recognised in Palestine at the time). Many of these cults had a ‘communist’ outlook with property shared in common within the community.

The writings of Josephus are the only genuine surviving works written by a participant of the events. He describes what he sees as the evil influence of seers and prophets on more than one occasion, such as: “…Imposters and demagogues, under the disguise of divine inspiration, provoked revolutionary actions and impelled the masses to act like madmen. They led them out into the wilderness…” Josephus (‘Jewish Wars’) mentions by name several of the seers, ‘prophets’ and revolutionaries who stirred up the Jews, but the Joshua described in the New Testament does not appear at any point in the voluminous work of his supposed contemporary, Josephus.

The revolutionary-minded force in this period was the peasantry, which strove time and again to throw off the national and class oppression under which they laboured.

A small selection of commentaries from Josephus illustrates the turmoil of the period:

“Many [Jewish peasants] turned to banditry out of recklessness, and throughout the whole country there were raids, and among the more daring, revolts…”

“…the whole of Judea was infested with brigands…” (‘Jewish Wars’)

“Felix [Roman governor, 52-58 CE] captured [revolutionary leader] Eleazar, who for twenty years had plundered the country, as well as many of his associates, and sent them to Rome for trial. The number of brigands that he crucified…was enormous.” (Josephus , ‘Antiquities’)

Nothing could be further removed from ‘silent night’! The revolutionary upheaval spilled over into a generalised uprising in 66 CE, against the Romans and their collaborators, the Jewish ruling class the high priests of the Temple. “…hostility and violent factionalism flared between the high priests on the one side and the priests and leaders of the Jerusalem masses on the other.” (‘Antiquities’)

Siege of Jerusalem

The siege of Jerusalem, 70 CEFor the next four years there was a bloody and protracted guerrilla war followed by a prolonged siege of Jerusalem, during which the masses, fearing betrayal by the Jewish aristocracy and high priests effectively took power into their own hands in Jerusalem. One of their first acts in the revolt was the storming of the Temple and the burning of the deeds and documents relating to the debts and taxes of the peasantry. It was not surprising that the aristocracy and the high priests fled the city to the safety of the Roman lines – including Josephus himself.

Even before this revolution, Palestine had been a whirlpool of different cults and religious sects, most based loosely on traditional Jewish scripture, but often coloured by the widespread discontent with the collaboration of the priesthood and the parasitism of the Temple culture. Among these would have been the ‘Joshua’ and other messianic sects organised by a variety of charismatic leaders.

Following the bloody suppression of the revolution and the capture of Jerusalem (during which the Temple was destroyed) in 70 CE, tens of thousands of Jews fled the region and many thousands more were enslaved. Such an enormous disaster could not fail to affect the huge Jewish Diaspora, who fled from their homeland, spread round every major city in the whole Roman Empire, including the larger cities like Rome, Alexandria and the big cities in the East.

Long before the revolutionary events, all manner of sects had taken root in the Jewish Diaspora communities in parallel to those in Palestine itself. Within this lively sectarian milieu was a Joshua cult developed by Paul, with a policy of converting non-Jews as well as Jews. This sect, in effect, became the mainspring of modern Christianity by, among other things, simplifying Jewish ‘Law’ to remove the need for circumcision and strict dietary taboos.

All of the early Christian works, which were circulating from the middle towards the end of the first century – including the letters of Paul – were significantly missing any historical narrative connecting Joshua to a real-life biography. It was only later that the gospel of Mark (on which Matthew and Luke were based) was written as an allegorical description of a life, composed to match the Joshua doctrine that was becoming established. It was an expression of the growing confidence and numerical strength of this particular sect. But it was also an expression of the growing class division within the Christian community itself as it accommodated to Roman society. Of the original communistic ideas of the Joshua cults, there remain only a few hints and suggestions in the New Testament today.

It was largely in polemics with their former co-religionists, the Jews, and against the plethora of rival proto-Christian sects that the early Church elaborated its doctrine in the first decades of the second century. In parallel with the elaboration of doctrine, the Church established an apparatus to maintain itself. The evidence of the existence of a huge variety of early Christian sects has only come to light recently precisely because this apparatus, once having established itself, did its best to eliminate all others as ‘heresies,’ in the process removing most of the evidence that other strands of the Joshua cult even existed.

The question has to be asked as to why Christianity grew over the next two centuries. It was not an anti-slavery movement: slavery was ubiquitous throughout the Roman Empire and Christians possessed slaves like anyone else. There is evidence that even bishops just like well-to-do Romans owned slaves throughout this whole period.

Theological considerations were secondary. The rigid and self-perpetuating bureaucracy which had grown within the Church reflected the class divisions in society and had become an important bulwark of the class system.

“In time the discourse and sermons of the Christian leaders came to incorporate not only the formal aspects of aristocratic status concerns but also the values and ideology of the late Roman upper class.” (Salzman, ‘The Making of a Christian Aristocracy’)

Conversion

This comment refers to the period following the so-called conversion of the Emperor Constantine in the early fourth century, but long before this the Church was playing a key social and economic role on behalf of the ruling class. Many officials of state were Christian bishops or leaders. More importantly, they play a key role in the management and organisation of local government.

In so far as it meant anything in a Roman Empire facing terminal decline, they were the local government. Bishops and Church officials collected tax, distributed alms (church-based charity) and supervised local legal and land disputes. They were an unofficial ‘civil service’ on behalf of the Roman bureaucracy long before Emperor Constantine gave them imperial sanction. The Church fulfilled a social and economic function, in managing and containing an increasing proportion of the poor and dispossessed and for that reason, not because of a ‘spiritual awakening’ within the ruling class, it was allowed to grow and develop.

The Church was able to fulfil this role because it offered a safety valve for the aspirations of the masses. It gave the peasantry their only opportunity to sit in the same building with landlords and bishops (if not the same pews) and even if there was limited hope in this world, they were at least offered the promise of equality with the rich in the next. The Christians offered a messiah and ‘life after death’, in contrast to the aloof and indifferent gods of Greece and Rome.

The Church bureaucracy consciously developed policy (and theology) in its own interests, increasingly identified with the interests of the ruling class. But in its structure and outlook, it also anticipated the development of feudal society better than the decaying slave-owning state. The Church didn’t campaign for emancipation, but offered a new arrangement for exploitation.

As for the peasantry and city poor: as long as they knew and accepted ‘their place’ in the rigid class structure, for the poorest it offered a structure of alms, and support which provided respite to the worst of their poverty and insecurity. Even if watered down, it offered a sense of community. Almost uniquely in the Roman Empire, it had a limited welfare structure, moreover one that offered belonging to a national and even international church. For these reasons it had disproportionate appeal to the poor and the oppressed; indeed it was ridiculed for being a movement “of slaves and women.”

Persecution

Once it was backed by the power of the state the Church destroyed its opponents. Roman persecution of the Church in the first three centuries is greatly exaggerated, but it pales against the terrible persecution that the Church visited on all the unorthodox sects once it was backed by imperial power. Books and heretics were burnt. Theological history was re-written. Myths were piled upon myths, century after century. So much so that today even so-called ‘scholars’ treat the New Testament like a true historical narrative and not as they should as a story, no more true than ‘The Iliad’ or ‘Beowulf’.

Within a few hundred years any evidence of the existence of other Christian sects, including their pre-history in Palestine, was all but eliminated. The Church became – and remains to this day – a powerful conservative force, politically, financially and diplomatically (and at one time, militarily).

In his introduction to ‘A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right’, Marx referred to religion as “the sigh of the oppressed”. He explained that it is not spirituality, or the lack of it, which breeds support for religion. It is the alienation of the mass of the population from the class society in which they find themselves.

The crisis of capitalism is at root the crisis of a rotten economic system, but it manifests itself also as a crisis of ideas. For millions of people their hopes and aspirations are so stunted by the limits of the capitalist world that they project their hopes on to a life after death. And just as in the first decades of the first millennium, so also in the age of capitalism, new religious and messianic movements reflect the intellectual and moral impasse of a failed and failing society. Marx continued:

“…To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.”

Thus he made it clear that it is not a question of religion being “abolished”. The idea is absurd. To combat superstition and ignorance, the task for socialists is to struggle against the material conditions upon which these things grow – and that means above all, a struggle against capitalism.

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“The heart which aches after an evening lost in glasses of cognac, longing for a lost lover, the acute awareness of dispossession in Multani Kafi’s of Khawaja Farid: dispossession of Lands of Saraikies , of Baluchiis of Palestinians , the Natives who have lost Love and Land to Migrant states with civilizing missions”

Shaheryar Ali

Longing is common between Love and Palestine, lover longs like I am longing for him and Palestinians long for Palestine. They are Palestinians without having Palestine. The thing which define them, gives them identity, give them a name; they are deprived of it. This is alienation and dispossession. This is the point where politics merge with Art. “Firaq” is the continuous state of existence for a lover and for a Palestinian. Loss of the lover; heart aches, eyes cry, soul rebels. Every thing else seems meaningless, the cosmos focuses on a single being “the beloved”. The evening is hovering in a cool grey mist and I remember his green eyes, his olive skin , cognac seems to burn my soul , the universe seem to rock on to the Lover’s Lament emerging from Ustad Salamat singing Kaafi of Khawaja Farid :

Sanwal Mor Moharan

Ro Ro mein waat Nihara’n

Sanwal Mor Moharan

[O my handsome [Baluch] lover turn your camel around, I am crying, my gaze is fixed on the burning desert, Return o my Handsome [Baluch] lover]

The voice of the master strikes like a dagger on my heart, every thing seems to cry “Sanwal Mor Mohara’n” “Sanwal Mor Mohara’n” Return o my lover, Return. First Sassi died in desert and now Rohi [Romantic name of Saraiki Cholistan desert] is dead. Rohi is raped everyday by the Arab sheiks that have been given the land by Islamic Republic of Pakistan to hunt our deers, our doves, our little girls and our little boys. With poisonous dagger of Islam they have cut our land into small pieces .Our land our goddess is now a form of bribe given to Mullahs, retired Army officers, Punjabi politicians. Saraiki native wander in Rohi: slaves dying of thirst and hunger, drinking water along with animals. Our lovers, our lands lost for ever— Sanwal Mor Mohara’n. . Return my lover—- Pakistanis don’t understand these things, what is loss of land, what is loss of love , they have been taught to grab the land with sword Like Muhammed Bin Kassim who robbed Sindh and took daughter of Dahir , land and love both taken with sword

Mahmoud Darwish understands this. He is one of the dispossessed, he speaks of Love or does he speak of land, its Art or Politics. I am not sure of it but I am sure of one thing, its Love and it’s longing

Her eyes and the tattoos on her hands are Palestinian

Her name, Palestinian

Her dreams and sorrow, Palestinian

Her kerchief, her feet and body, Palestinian

Her words and her silence, Palestinian

Her voice, Palestinian

Her birth and her death, Palestinian

“The Lover, Darwish”

spe4This powerful love which natives have gives them strength to resist, this land than becomes mother, goddess and beloved life giver against the colonizers, their symbols and discourse. State of Israel and State of Pakistan both have brought hegemonizing religious beliefs , YHWE of Bible and Allah of Koran Jealous deities who want lands, temples and submission. The land of Israel is given to Israelis, the natives are slaughtered, and they have to in order to grab the land. Anat the goddess of Canaanites emerges as soul of Palestine to give them strength against those who destroyed temples of natives and grabbed their land in the work of Palestinian artist Abdel Rahmen al Mozayen . Al Mozayen’s pen and ink drawings have become synonymous with Palestinian liberation struggle. Palestinian embroidery, their historical tradition and stylized figures give his work a kind of sublimity. He focuses on Palestine’s Canaanite heritage to demonstrate longevity and steadfastness of Palestinian culture and to counter the Israeli efforts to co-opt local culture and erase their historical roots in line with Bible. These four drawing [Pen n Ink] are his work in response to Jenin’s massacre when Anat emerges as soul of Palestine who rises with the city which will re assert it self.

Imagery of goddesses has emerged as an important artistic expression of resistance especially against Catholic Church, Orthodox Judaism and fundamentalist Islam. Salman Rushdie’s most original protest against colonization experience and resultant dualism of identities found the artistic expression in discourse involving Arabian Prophet’s efforts to “divinize” and “co-opt” the 3 native Meccan goddesses Al Lat , Al Manat and Al Uzza. The act of humanism later attributed to Satan by fundamentalist transformation of Islam [event recorded by earlier muslim Imams but disputed by later scholars during establishment of Arab imperialism] Satanic Verses thus “in its effects” becomes an act of resistance against censorship imposed by Islamic fundamentalism, states and other institutions of control and transformation. With imposition of wahabi Islam by Islamic Republic the dispossessed natives of this migrant state have re-discovered the “feminine goddess imagery” of this land. “Maaa’n” or mother thus becomes the point of worship in Punjabi mystic poetry instead of Allah of mullah. The “bad-women” of romantic tales are heroines of native intellectual as opposed to the state and its patriotic intellectual. For the native Sindhi Poet Sheik Ayaz , the daughter of Dahir is heroine, for Pakistani state his molester the Arab invader of Sindh Muhammed Bin Kassim is the hero. The Sindhi resistance against Kassim and later Islamic republic finds artistic expression in female heroines Sassi and Marvi which have now merged with imagery of Benazir Bhutto the daughter of Sindh murdered in Kufa of Islamabad.

When Islamic Republic poisoned the Saraiki heartland with fundamentalist Islam, Jhang the romantic town of Heer the romantic heroine of Punjab became the ground zero of sectarian violence. The late Saraiki poet Sarwar Karbali invoked the feminine imagery of Heer to resist Talibanization

Jud tuk Jhang Heer da Jhang hai

Maakhi, Makhan, Kheer da Jhang Hai

Aj kul Jhang Islam da Jhang he

Jhang de vich Islam di Jang ae

Goli te barood di dhoo’n ae

Adam boo ae Adam boo ae

[There was a time when Jhang was town of Heer , than Jhang was town of Life, of honey, butter and milk, these days Jhang is city of Islam, Jihad of Islam is going on in Jhang, every where there is smoke of TNT and bullets and smell of charred human flesh—-]

My glass is empty and my heart aches for lost love for lost time and for lost lands, the lament continues Sanwal Mor Mohara’n——–, or my lover return——

shalome1

Shaheryar Ali

We live in strange times when it is easy to hate and difficult to love. The spirit of enlightenment, the goddess of liberty is now under attack in Universities of France herself. We live in the age of “Late Capitalism”, this is the age of rampant capitalism, the age of extreme alienation. With the extreme alienation things start loosing their “corporeal beings”, concrete ideas take the form of ghostly phantoms, and reality seems to merge with fantasy. The expression of this phenomenon can be seen everywhere, Salman Rushdie’s most original protest against colonialism, the hegemonic dualities created by the immigrant experience, the identity crisis, the de-humanizing experience of disillusionment from both cultures, the old and new, the very division of self brought about by modernism, through colonialism and immigration, the lament and cry of pain and anguish became the object of hostility of those for whom it was done. The ghostly or hallucinatory expression termed as “magical realism” represent this epochal phenomenon in literature.

Extreme fluidity of the narrative, the interplay of contradictory streams of meaning, the nauseous experience of existence in the hostile universe is not the monopoly of literary giants; rather it has become an everyday experience of life. The monstrous war between two illegitimate children of Capitalist imperialism Zionism and Islamic fundamentalism is one of such events. While some want us to believe that heartless fascists, the prophets of Gaza are champions of progressive cause others wants us to believe that the blood thirsty child killers , the Zionists are fighting the war for the very survival humanity against the forces of darkness. The people are being killed. They are victims of this age of confusion. The Islamic Republic, just like the Zionist state was a “liberal” act of British imperialism to provide the national homeland to “Muslims” in India. The “ideological” state has been one of the most loyal allies of United State’s imperialism rivaled only by its distant cousins Israel and Egypt. The Pakistani middle classes who take these ideological fallacies of state quite seriously have got a new hero in recent times, Adolf Hiter. Angered by the scenes of Zionist barbarism in Gaza and fuelled by the anti-Semitic rhetoric of Pakistani Islamist and Liberal dominated media the middle classes are chattering about the “great vision” of Adolf Hitler in his recognition of “Jewish evil” and his great efforts to save humanity from it.

The Jewish evils of course being the good old theories of Jews controlling “all the banks” and “state institutions” of USA etc.: their inherent “racism”, “their intolerance”, “their non acceptance of our great holy prophet” etc. In this discourse Pakistan and Islam becomes the “greatest, best and most tolerant and humanist ideologies and state which ever existed in this cosmos. The ideological paradise of the Islamic Republic in which the Pakistani middle and chattering classes live and play the eternal victim of every thing which exists in this universe ; Big bad India, USA, Jews all the cunning, evil enemies who want to destroy humanist and tolerant Pakistan, the “divine land”, the “land of the pure”. We who are the critics of Islamic Republic occasionally remind the chattering classes about the things which don’t fit in their “ideological paradise”, things lost in the “collective amnesia” of divine state and Pure of pure. We are so much threatened by perceived “Indian hegemony” that we find our selves permanently scarred by “Gandhi, the Movie” but we don’t bother 3 million Bengalis butchered by us and thousands of Bengali women raped by our macho Jawans

“Where are the Pakistani Jews?” I just ask this question. The picture you see above is that of “Magain Shalome Synagogue”. The synagogue was built by the small but vibrant Jewish community of Karachi in 1898. The Jews of Karachi enjoyed tolerance and acceptability as British subjects in India. In 1936 one of the leaders of the Jewish community, Abraham Reuban became the first “Jewish councilor” of the city corporation. The city also had a number of “support organizations” like “Young Man’s Jewish Association”, the “Karachi Bene Israel Relief Fund” and “Karachi Jewish Syndicate”. In 1947, Jinnah got his laboratory of Islam and for Pakistani Jews the clock started ticking. As the people, who have been victim of tyranny for thousands of years Jews knew the warning signs. Partition of India on religious lines and formation of a “Laboratory of Islam” was a bad omen. The Pakistani Aliya had started. Jews started leaving for India and Iran. The “night of broken glass” for Pakistani Jews was a night in 1948 when State of Israel was proclaimed. Karachi which was home to Jews for decades suddenly became hostile. The anti Jew pogroms started. The mob attacked and torched the “Magain Shalome” synagogue. Every thing was broken, the windows, the ornaments. The Mujahids also desecrated the Holy Ark and Bible.

The community still tried to live with the illusion of “Jinnah’s words”, “you are free to go to your temples and your mosques—” , the anti Jewish pogroms and anti-Semitic rhetoric intensified with the Arab , Israeli wars, the synagogue remained the point of hatred of the mob. 1948, 1956 and 1967 were the periods where small Bene Israeli community of Pakistan faced the rage and hatred. The Magain Shalome resurrected itself after every fire till nobody was left to pray. Those who called themselves anti-Zionists pushed Jews from every land which was their home, pushing them to look for their mythical homeland, The Zion. Peshawar had a Jewish community as well, with two synagogues. Along with Bene Israeli community, “Bukharin Jews” also called Peshawar their home. Now none is left. A whole community vanished , along with their language, culture, art and most important their ‘stories”. I once read a novel which had a haunting line, “You scratch a Jew and you will get a story”. I have now no one to ask too; all that is left are few graves and Stars of David on certain buildings in both cities. The Magain Shalome Synagogue was finally demolished in 1980 when Fascist General Zia ul Haq was ruler of Pakistan to make a shopping plaza. The Jews from Karachi now live in Ramle, Israel. They have made a “Magain Shalome” there. 200 or so Jews still live in Karachi; they have disguised themselves as “Parsies”.

Such are the fascist societies where people are forced to live as some one who they are not, weather Jews or Homosexuals.

Picture: Naveed Riaz Karachi

Magain Shalome was built by Shalome Solomon Umberdeker and his son Gershone Solomon; Karachi’s last synagogue was demolished in 1980

Shaheryar Ali

I was just surfing the blogsphere, when i came across this very good progressive blog by the name of “Bradistan calling Archives”.It contained a post on a Moslem Gay Poet. Ifti Nasim, who is a life long anti war and anti imperialist activist. He as one can understand, had to wage a existential battle against religious orthodoxy and cultural bigotry which plagues Moslem societies.

These men are now the rare creed of “radical subversives” who are increasingly becoming an endangered specie in Moslem world.

Ifti Naseem , must be called a “cultural Hero”, because if ever a Modern Progressive Culture developed in the moslem world , he will be hailed as a hero. He comes from the Pakistani city “Faisalabad”. A city which was robbed of its soul, identity and being by re-naming it after fundamentalist King of Saudi Arabia, King Faisal.

Naseem was aware of what Michel Foucault calls the “absolute difference”, and he never tried to hide it. He spent time with the Eunuchs in Pakistan as a young boy. Associating with “Hijras”, the local Eunuch and cross dressers, is considered an ultimate insult for Pakistani males. When he went to meet the greatest of the Urdu writers, Quratulain Haider, he was wearing a lipstick.

This is celebrating the difference, which is the only way to make non-fascist societies where difference is celebrated not killed in name of conformity.

I can re-call some thing from Foucault, which perhaps depicts the similar dilemma, why some one needs to assert  his or her absolute “difference”

“But there is another kind of loneliness which is terrible to endure.”
“He paused.
“And that is the loneliness of seeing a different world from that of the people around you. Their lives remain remote from yours. You can see the gulf and they can’t. You live among them. They walk on earth. You walk on glass. They reassure themselves with conformity, with carefully constructed resemblances. You are masked, aware of your absolute difference. That’s why I always live in the bars — les lieux de drague — simply to be among the others who were like me.”

It was this which took Naseem to the Hijras, the Eunchs. Naseem lives in USA, but he is not happy, its not the USA he came to. The naked imperialism of USA haunts him, and he does not remain silent. This moving poems tells us how pure the heart of this moslem “fag” is:

The Iraqi Children

you wanted a villain
so you got him
you wanted to create a monster
so you did
life is not a Hollywood movie
and the desert was not a backdrop
of a studio
Armed forces were not the extras
(They are now suffering from the desert storm syndrome)
there were no props and cuts
Baghdad was not a movie set
Where the real bombs were dropped
Did you ever go back to see if the splinter
Of bomb had licked the life of a civilian
or a child.
what do you care you just wanted to show
your military superiority
so you did.
A little country smaller than your toe has
Kicked you so hard that you have to invite the whole world To attack her.
Was it an experiment of a new weapon?
Baghdad is a not laboratory. Baghdad is a history.
The economic embargo is the biggest racist notion.
I have ever seen in the modern history.
Iraqi children are drinking milk and eating food
Laced with your arsenic.
You have sown a crop of hatred and I am afraid
When it is going to be the harvest time.

The hell which is being the “other” both in USA for being Moslem and Gay, and also being the “other” in Pakistan for being a Progressive and a Gay, is a  dual hell, Naseem’s poem expresses this pain, when he talks about his “otherness” in USA. A poem that touches ones heart.

Why the Children did not Knock on My door

There was no knock at the door
My cats were waiting in the foyer,
Listening to the steps passing by.
Children were knocking at door
of the apartment in front of  mine.
“Trick or treat. Trick or treat”
My money jar full of quarters
looked so empty.
What happened? Who played
These dirty tricks on me?
Thirty one year as a law abiding citizen
I am still a foreigner. Foreigner
With a crude face and features of
a terrorist. My color two shade
Darker than an average white man
Is not accepted anymore.
My café ole color, once I was so proud of,
Is a guilt trip for me now.
My ethnicity has become a crime.
Mean streets of Chicago have become meaner.
“Go back to your country. Go back to your country.”
They yell at me.
And I am a citizen of USA
with no country.

Airports, train stations, shopping malls, schools,
Hospitals wherever I go, I am watched and scrutinized.
I yearn for the freedom I came here for.
Right now I am worst than a slave.
I am tired. I am tired. I feel like Rosa Park
and there is no bus for me.
Because I am not only two shade darker
than an average white man
But I am also a Muslim

Ifti Naseem has no country, just like a Palestanian, becase he is a Moslem, Gay and Progressive. He is the “other” in USA because he is a Muslim and he is an insult in Islamic Republic of Pakistan because , to quote him “God made me Gay so—-“

Ifti Naseem is a Cultural Hero, he is pure and honest , he is more brave than any male chavunist will ever be, he is living a dual hell, and he is proud of it.

The Bradistan entery can be reached here

http://bradistancalling.blogspot.com/2007/07/coz-allah-made-me-gay-ifti-nasim-editor.html

A particularly beautiful Ghazal can be reached here, for those who enjoy the traditional ursu poetry

http://www.kamli.com/poetry/poetry_detail.asp?poetry=412&poet_id=59&title=Taq%20par%20jazwan%20may%20lipti%20duaenrah%20gayin

“I thought poetry could change everything, could change history and could humanize, and I think that the illusion is very necessary to push poets to be involved and to believe, but now I think that poetry changes only the poet.”

“We should not justify suicide bombers. We are against the suicide bombers, but we must understand what drives these young people to such actions. They want to liberate themselves from such a dark life. It is not ideological, it is despair.”

Mahmoud Darwish

“Darwish is the Essential Breath of the Palestinian people, the eloquent witness of exile and belonging…”

Noami Shihab Nye

9 August 2008 , a text message is delivered on my mobile, “Darwish” is dead! In my ears ring the poems of his friend Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Ae erz e Watan— Ae erz e watan— kyon Noch Noch keh pehk diye , in aankon ne apne Neelum, chan chan–chan chan chan chan

Palestine is dying, the Palestine for which the progressives had waged a battle with history, from people without history, from people without name , from people without identity, from people without land , Arafat, George Habash, Darwish created everything . History, Name , Identity , land till the thugs came to loot and kill, to plunder and destroy what we had achieved .

Just like Arafat and Habash , Darwish died a lonely man, a man whose ideas died on streets of Gaza with rise of fascist Hamas! The struggle melting into web of imperialism and suicide bombings.

It was no other than Abu Mazen , president of Palestine who announced the death of the greatest of living poets of our times , who was Palestine’s national poet, and one of greatest living Arab and progressive poets of resistance.

Darwish started with “Rakah”, communist party of Israel, his struggle was against capitalism,imperialism and Zionism. He studied in USSR and was stripped of his Israeli citizenship. He continued , listening to call of motherland Darwish joined PLO and became voice of Palestine all over the world

It was the time when world was in grip of the myth that Palestine was “empty” desert when Jews came! Darwish rose to the challenge . He gave Palestine , history and Identity

He was a celebrity in progressive circles all around the world from Cuba to Pakistan. His poetry influenced the thought in Pakistan through Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Ahmad Faraz

When he wrote his famous poem “Identity Card” it created ripples in the world, the whole anguish of Palestine issue came forward

Identity Card

Write down !

I am an Arab

And my identity card number is fifty thousand

I have eight children

And the ninth will come after a summer

Will you be angry?

.

Write down!

I am an Arab

Employed with fellow workers at a quarry

I have eight children

I get them bread

Garments and books

from the rocks..

I do not supplicate charity at your doors

Nor do I belittle myself at the footsteps of your chamber

So will you be angry?

.

Write down!

I am an Arab

I have a name without a title

Patient in a country

Where people are enraged

My roots

Were entrenched before the birth of time

And before the opening of the eras

Before the pines, and the olive trees

And before the grass grew

.

My father.. descends from the family of the plow

Not from a privileged class

And my grandfather..was a farmer

Neither well-bred, nor well-born!

Teaches me the pride of the sun

Before teaching me how to read

And my house is like a watchman’s hut

Made of branches and cane

Are you satisfied with my status?

I have a name without a title!

.

Write down!

I am an Arab

You have stolen the orchards of my ancestors

And the land which I cultivated

Along with my children

And you left nothing for us

Except for these rocks..

So will the State take them

As it has been said?!

.

Therefore!

Write down on the top of the first page:

I do not hate people

Nor do I encroach

But if I become hungry

The usurper’s flesh will be my food

Beware..

Beware..

Of my hunger

And my anger!

Darwish stood as firm believer of ideology. When he wrote his poem “I am Yousaf” one of his best, it was set to music by great Arab composer Marcel Khalife; The Islamic fascists created a storm of hate against Khalife. He was accused of blasphemy because a verse of Koran was used in the poem! Darwish came forward to defend. In a passionate article he gave the progressive position on freedom of arts and expression. The article was named “In defense of freedom of creativity “Darwish wrote what most of us need to understand today

“Globalization besieges our path to future and Islamic fundamentalism besieges present pushing us to past from which bright pages only the margins of intellectual censorship are selectively read. Such fundamentalism does not bother asking what qualifies it to appoint itself a guardian of sacred and a monopoly of faith. we refuse religious oppression as much we refuse the political oppression. our defense of Khalife today is defense of freedom of creativity , unbound and unshackled—”

Such a beacon of creativity, clarity and freedom is no more. When he is needed the most. Palestine is dying ,to quote his own words “suiciding on the streets”

Alwida Dawish, Alwida Habash, Alwida Arafat: Alwida Palestine?

Long Live Palestine: Long Live Freedom

Shaheryar Ali

In this epoch of confusion, the most troubling question is the position of Islamic fundamentalism in the global anti imperial movement. After the destruction of USSR, the traditional leftist parties went through a phase of degeneration, where their leadership shifted to the right. The vacuum created was filled by forces of Islamic fundamentalism, which appears to be more radical and anti imperialist than the Left. Many orthodox Left circles in their inherent intellectual impotency started celebrating Hamas and Hizbollah. The perverted interpretations of “united and Popular front” theories were used to support this attitude. This is the most fatal mistake a revolutionary can ever make , to confuse “revolution” from “counter revolution”. In Moslem society this confusion is fatal for any revolutionary prospect. Left should learn from its failure in Iran. In Pakistan the Left is sitting with Islamic fundamentalism too. International Marxist Website published a polemical article on this issue. Its educational value is great. The article resulted when an Israeli Marxist declared “Hamas” a popular resistance calling its occupation of Gaza , the “liberation”. The response from a Moroccan marxist challenges this illusion. i hope this will be a good read.

Why Marxists cannot support Islamic fundamentalism – the case of Hamas

By Communist League of Action – Morocco Tuesday, 02 October 2007

In order to understand the causes behind the confrontations between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza, we need to study the politics that led to these confrontations. By posing things in this way things become clearer.

We believe that the political reasons for these confrontations are the struggle for “a fair repartition of the cake” between the “old” and the “new” – the interests of the masses count for nothing… We believe, like “most people on the left”, that it is “a mere power struggle between two equally reactionary forces”.

The victory of Hamas brings nothing to the Palestinian masses in terms of their living conditions or their liberation struggle. Comrade Yehuda Stern is right when he says: “the victory of Hamas in Gaza does not solve any of the fundamental problems of the Palestinian masses” and that “one would have to be a fool to consider Hamas as a revolutionary or even a consistently anti-imperialist organization.”

Hamas has not led this war for the masses nor for national liberation. They have led it because “They, too, wish to become part of the capitalist system. They climb on the shoulders of the oppressed masses and try to take the lead in order to use their strength to achieve a ‘better compromise’ with the imperialist oppressor. [Their aim…] is to be accepted as part of a viable ruling elite by the imperialist powers that dominate the world scene.”

There is not one progressive atom to these policies of Hamas. The war between the reactionary forces to determine which amongst them will be the representative of the imperialists in the country is not a war in which we must take part. Revolutionaries do not need to support one camp against another. On the contrary, the policy of the Marxists is to denounce this war and call for class policies on the part of the mass organisations.

When reading a part of comrade Stern’s article, we can only come to the conclusion that he demands support for Hamas since the masses “support” this organisation, and that we must be with them in their war against Fatah – because this war is “a decisive battle between imperialism and the Palestinian people” and because “the victory of Hamas has galvanized the Palestinian and Arab masses against imperialism and shaken the confidence of the Israeli workers in their oppressors.”

However, after only a few lines we see in the same article by the same author that “Hamas does not have any real alternative to offer to capitalist exploitation”. We also see that “Hamas is a populist movement” and above all “we should always keep firmly in mind that Hamas does not want to overthrow capitalism. They merely wish for banks and monopolies with Islamic names. If they follow the same path of making deals with the imperialist powers, which at a certain stage will be inevitable, its leadership will be exposed as just another group of bourgeois politicians, no better than Fatah, especially should they attempt to set up a regime in their image to assert their domination. This, in the long run, is the only possibility in Palestine, where the ruling class is extremely weak and lacks any popular base.”

Furthermore that “we do not give the fundamentalists any political support” [our emphasis].

We even see that in the article it is stated that that Hamas’ war is “a decisive battle between imperialism and the Palestinian people” and their victory is “a severe blow against imperialism” etc. If this were the case the comrade would have the right to demand political support for Hamas (= fundamentalists) and it would be a serious error not to… However, all this talk of “the decisive battle” and “severe blow” is wrong and the truth is that Hamas “merely wish for banks and monopolies with Islamic names.” We must remember that “Hamas is a populist, reactionary movement, whose leadership not long ago had announced its willingness to negotiate with the USA and Britain,” etc. In this case, we must not give “any political support”.

From our point of view, we believe that:

Firstly, this war is not “between imperialism and the Palestinian people”. It is between two camps of the same class for domination, as we have already explained.

Secondly, the victory of Hamas will not weaken the confidence of the Israeli masses in their oppressors.Hamas is a semi-fascist, anti-Semitic religious party. On the contrary, Its propaganda about exterminating the “infidel” Jews and its methods are the best arguments in the hands of the Israeli ruling class for maintaining the “sacred unity”…

Hamas does not have a lot of room for manoeuvre even if they come to an agreement with imperialism and “climb on the shoulders of the oppressed masses and try to take the lead in order to use their strength to achieve a ‘better compromise’ with the imperialist oppressor”.

Hamas in reality, as our comrade says, “has already signalled that it is willing to reach a compromise with the imperialists and their representatives in Palestine, i.e. the Fatah movement and President Mahmoud Abbas”.

This could lead to desperation, where at least a small fraction of their rank and file could begin to launch suicide attacks against the Israeli masses. In this case, “This act [will create] more hatred between the Israeli masses and the Palestinian masses. By pushing the Israeli working class into the hands of the [ruling class] these terrorists are in reality the best friends of the [ruling class]. If they did not exist [the Israeli ruling class] would have to invent them. The logic behind this criminal act is to strengthen the right-wing, giving more legitimacy to the terror of the state.” (see: Israel: Ashdod bombings: How reaction and individual terrorism feed off each other. Obviously, this will not “shake the confidence of the Israeli workers in their oppressors.”

Thirdly, the “galvanisation” of the Arab masses against imperialism around forces such as Hamas is comparable to the “galvanisation” called for by Bin Laden and other fanatics…

Do the Palestinian masses support Hamas?

The last election gave Hamas a large victory (in parliamentary terms, although not in terms of votes) whereas Fatah and the other groups suffered an important defeat. The comrade is right when he explains this victory by saying: “This victory of Hamas would not have been possible without a massive turn of the Palestinian masses both in Gaza and the West Bank against Fatah and the leaders of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority (PA) after more than a decade of extreme corruption and collaboration with imperialism and the Israeli government against their own people.”

Hamas has cynically exploited this situation by using demagogic, populist language which concentrates on the struggle against corruption and the continuation of the resistance. Its promises are not limited to this world, but extend even to the “next world”!!

This means that the vote for Hamas was not a vote for its reactionary, anti-Semitic project, nor for its attitude towards women, etc., but revenge against Fatah and a vote for a change in living conditions. This makes us more conscious of the relevance of the revolutionary Marxist alternative to save the masses from alienation.

The masses can sometimes support very reactionary movementswhen they find themselves at an impasse, in unbearable living conditions, in the absence of a revolutionary alternative, and when the leaders of the mass organisations behave like traitors. In such cases, and since nature abhors a vacuum, it is possible that a fascist party, or something similar, takes advantage of the situation and takes power.

In such cases we must endure temporary isolation. However, the situation in Palestine is different, and more favourable, as we have already explained – the masses in Palestine voted for a reactionary party, but for progressive reasons.

Conclusion:

Hamas is a reactionary bourgeois party. We must unmask it and struggle against it. To do this, we must struggle for class independence. We must struggle for a united front of the mass organisations – the trade unions and left currents – on the basis of a militant programme against the barbarism caused by this confrontation, against the Israeli aggression, and for the improvement in the living conditions of the masses. These are only general ideas and we must develop such a programme concretely.

We raise all this despite the fact that we believe that it is premature to speak of an intervention in the mass movement in Palestine at this stage. We believe that we must concentrate our forces on making contact with the most advanced elements there and educate them in the spirit of Marxism, etc. But they must be educated as Marxist cadres who struggle for the independence of the working class.

Comradely Greetings,

Communist League of Action (Morocco)