Friday, March 4, 2011

Religious Persecution as 'Racism' Before Race was Defined

In class we talked about two schools of thought on the origins of racism. One school of thought is the one we have been focusing our time on in this class, which resolves around the idea that until the creation of a definition of race, introduced by Bernier and preceeding authors, racism did not exist. We have spent a lot of time on this idea, and I find it convincing, especially when I consider that racism can logically not exist without out the most foundational componenet of its definition, race. Race is, as its become apparent, a fascinatingly complex and dynamic definition that has been in a state of flex over the last centuries as great thinkers attempt to define it differently. Racism is:

the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, esp. so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.

Racism is dependent on the definition of race to lend it any validity or meaning. But I would argue an idea about racism that is very divergent from these ideas.

I tend to agree with Fredrickson's idea of racism as being hand in hand with religion. Racism and religious oppression or prejudice are often one-in-the-same. First, I'd like to just pose the question: what is the difference between two ideologies if the resulting actions from those ideologies are the same? I believe that a differing definitions are not indicators of the difference between the ideologies they suggest. Looking at racism and religious persecution is an example of what I am saying. There are forms of religious persecution (i.e. the crusades, Hitler's Germany, the current persecution of Muslims for terrorist acts) that are executed in the same way that racist campaigns are and often against the same peoples, the same 'races.'

The Crusades, waged between 1100 and 1300, long preexisted the definition of race. Their target were the iligitemate occupiers of the Holy Land, specifically Jereusalem. These First Crusade and most of the following ones were tasked with overthrowing Turk and other Muslim strongholds in the Holy Land. Jewish presense was also targeted with the Second Crusade. Throughout the crusdaes, Muslims and Jews were massacred and their homes burned. This was genocide, but of religious nature. The target however, was not only a relgious target, but two racial (as it was later defined and we understand it) groups, the Jews and the Arabs.

Similar campaignes in more modern modern history have been executed under the banner of either religious or racial cleansing. In Germany during the Third Reich, there was a systematic ethnic cleansing of Jews and other non-Arian people, yet Hitler also claimed he was conducting a campaign for God (her was raised Catholic). In Meim Kampf, he writes, "Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord."

Today, the United States is executing a campaign against Islamist people, Muslims, in the Middle-East and Western Asia. "Radical Islamists" is the term used when talking about terrorists and justifying in military involvement in other countries. And the Taliban are a fundamentalist Muslim group, and al Qaeda is a militant Muslim group. We are not claiming a campaign against a race, only against 'terrorists' who happen to be defined by being Islamist. So in this religious war (which I think it is difficult to claim it is not), we are persecuting not only Islamists, but Muslims in general, the people, Arabs and other persons from the Middle-East. The demonstrate this, how are people in the US selected as possible 'threats' either in the Airport, Military, at border crossings, or anywhere else. I'll give you a hint; it is the rare occasion that you'll find a screening system that involves security personal and law enforcement asking every person what religion they are in order to determine possible Islamic militants. Rather, it is skin color, clothing options, religious and cultural garb, and facial hair that are used to persecute a religious group - in other words, it is race being used in a religious war to determine enemies.

So, the point of these examples is to show my original point, that religious persecution campaigns are often the same as racist campaigns. They attack the same people, often for the same reasons (fear or a created idea of the other being inferior). So now the question remains, did 'racism' begin before Bernier, during past religious campaigns? I think that it absolutely did, not as 'racism' since that word had yet to enter language, but as religious oppression which was executed using the same criteria that racism does in the post-enlightenment. The actions and behaviors that stemmed from Christian views of Islamists and Jews (i.e. military intervention through he Crusades), are extremely similar to the actions and behaviors exhibited in racist campaigns such as the apartheid in South Africa.

I recognize that what I am saying in this post is likely controversial and I'll admit that I've probably overlooked flaws in my logic (which is the downside of not being a philosophy student), but I think that I've at least given some good food for thought. Let me know what your reactions are. Does this idea that, although it wasn't called racism, there was racism and racist campaigns prior to race being defined that were proliferated under religious persecution and religious military campaigns instead, make sense? I think it does, especially when you consider, not the limitations of the English language and the lack of the word racism, but the actual execution of campaigns which targeted persons based on characteristics which were associated as characteristics of certain religious groups, and only later were defined as race.

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