Wednesday, August 23, 2017

On Toppling Statues but Missing the Main Point

Just curious:

If we are setting out to dishonor (or at least to stop honoring) history's villains, then I would like to throw something into the mix. 

Why stop at toppling a few token statues that are hardly seen by anyone? Much more ought to be done to further our efforts to right the wrongs of history.

I propose that we change the names of numerous cities throughout the United States that were originally named to honor villainous individuals who are unworthy of honor. Moreover, the mere enunciation of the actual names of these cities bestow honor. Not only do they bestow honor, they glorify and exalt these murderous thugs.

1) San Diego, CA --

Diego de Alcalá de Henares was a zealous Franciscan missionary who preached hatred, intolerance and incitement against the hapless Jews of pre-expulsion Spain. He is remembered in Jewish history as an incorrigibly cruel individual. "San" means saint, because this individual was canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church. He does not deserve the title, and certainly doesn't deserve a city named after him! I propose we rename the California Mission that bears his name too. In fact, I lived in this city many years ago, and could never allow myself to pronounce the city's full name. Instead, I just called it "Diego," so as to not ascribe saintliness to this low-life. However, I wish I'd not have to ever pronounce his name at all. "The name of the wicked shall rot." (Proverbs 10:7) Only the "righteous' name" deserves to be mentioned, "for blessing."

2) St Louis, MO --

Louis IX of France was a fanatical Jew-hater. He cruelly subjected Jews to humiliation, scorn, persecution, expulsion, forced them to wear "Jew badges" (like the Nazis did centuries later), confiscated and burnt many thousands of their books (which were painstakingly hand-written manuscripts in those days). and did little to protect them from murderous crusaders. He was the only king to be canonized by the Church because of his extreme Catholic piety and intolerance of Jews and other non-Catholics. In short, he was an evil man, NOT a saint by any conceivable definition.  I propose we rename this city once and for all to honor a more benign or virtuous human being.

3) San Luis, CO, San Luis, AZ, & St Louis, OR – same reason as above. Named after Louis IX. Change the names of these cities!

4) San Bernadino, CA –

Named after St. Bernard of Siena, a rabid Jew-hater. Widely considered the "major protagonist of Christian antisemitism.” Bernard vilified and marginalized the Jews of Italy and repeatedly called for their expulsion or worse. Wikipedia: “Blaming the poverty of local Christians on Jewish usury, his call for Jews to be banished and isolated from their wider communities led to segregation. His audiences often used his words to reinforce actions against Jews, and his preaching left a legacy of resentment on the part of Jews.” Not only did he incite against Jews, he also preached hate against homosexuals and women who didn't conform to societal norms, brandishing them as witches and conducting witch-hunts against them. Clearly a downright villain and NOT a saint (or San in Spanish). Change the city’s name at once, or at least erase the absurd “San” part!

5) San Vicente Reservoir and San Vicente Blvd, Los Angeles, CA –

Presumably named after Vincent Ferrar, a Dominican friar, also a rabid anti-Semite. Ferrar was NO saint for the same reasons I stated above with regards to his infamous contemporary, Bernard. Vincent’s incitement is partially responsible for the widespread mass murder and forced conversions of Jews in 1391 that began in Seville and spread throughout Spain. Vincent personally coerced 25,000 Jews to submit to baptism under pain of death or incarceration. He was an evil dude. The reservoir and boulevard both need a new name!

6) San Juan Capistrano, CA –

John of Capestrano was a Franciscan friar and inquisitor who terrorized untold numbers of innocent people in Italy. The inquisition was a Catholic institution that tortured and executed hundreds of thousands of innocent people whom the Catholic Church considered heretics. Many of these victims were burnt alive auto-de-fé.  Wikipedia: “John was known as the ‘Scourge of the Jews’ for his inciting of antisemitic violence. Like some other Franciscans, he ranged over a broad area on both sides of the Alps, and John's preaching to mass open-air congregations often led to pogroms. In 1450 the Franciscan ‘Jew-baiter’ arranged a forced disputation at Rome” in which he coerced Jews to participate in a debate with Catholic clergy during which the Jews did not have free speech, and would be severely punished for saying anything “blasphemous.” (Louis IX above did the same and forced Jews to participate in the Disputation of Paris in 1241, after which thousands of Jewish books were confiscated and burned.) More about John of Capestrano from Wikipedia: “Between 1451 and 1453, his fiery sermons against Jews persuaded many southern German regions to expel their entire Jewish population, and in Silesia, then Kingdom of Bohemia, at Breslau some were burned at the stake.” Real nice guy, that John. Such a beautiful seaside city doesn’t deserve to be named after such an incorrigible villain. Change the name of its historic mission too. Speaking of which, missions enslaved and forcibly converted Native Americans to Catholicism. Why allow such edifices to remain standing? After all, they pay tribute to horrific injustices that were cruelly perpetrated against helpless Native Americans. Tear down the Missions!

There are many more examples, but I’ll suffice with the six I mentioned above. Cities named after Catholic clergy who participated in the Inquisition, enslavement or forced conversions of Jews or Native Americans or others, or any other form of persecution of innocents, all ought to be renamed. Why should the memories of wicked people be enshrined in perpetuity in the name of a city, street, institution or geographic location?

Furthermore, the names of all cities that start with Saint, San or Santa ought to be modified. I do not accept the saintliness of any of these individuals, give the criteria that the Church used to pick their saints. This is clearly evidenced by the six ignominious individuals delineated above, plus many, many more like them. Cities like San Juan or St Paul are named after Catholic apostles who were up to no good. Paul’s writings are clearly anti-Semitic. I say remove his name from the city, or at least the “Saint” part. It’s offensive to people who are not of the Catholic faith to be forced to ascribe saintliness to someone they consider unsaintly. Why must I invoke “Saint” every time I refer to the city by name?

Moreover, cities like “Holy Cross, AK” or “St Croix Falls, WI” (“St Croix literally means “holy cross”) need to be renamed too. I do not believe that there is anything venerable or holy about the cross. Many consider it an unholy symbol. (Don’t mean to single out the Cross. I consider the Muslim Crescent unholy as well). So why must I be forced to venerate it by calling it holy every time I mention that city’s name? Plus, cities called “Holy Cross” are offensive to the millions throughout history who were murdered and persecuted in the name of the Cross. Corpus Christi is another problematic city name, in my opinion. But let’s not go there…

Cities, schools or streets named after any conquistador need to be renamed too. Spanish Conquistadors were often mass murderers and decimated or enslaved Native Americans, like Hernán Cortés and others of his ilk. So anything named after Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, Hernando de Soto, or Vasco Núñez de Balboa, for example, all need to be renamed. Speaking of Balboa, he executed homosexuals as well.

Christopher Columbus is personally responsible for the murder and enslavement of thousands of Native Americans too. He was the first to capture and send Native slaves back to Europe by the thousands. Many died due to squalid and subhuman conditions during transit. Why name cities (or anything else) after him?  Lots of US cities (schools and streets too) called Columbus or Columbia ought to consider being renamed, not to mention our capital, “District of Columbia.” Why can’t we think of a more impeccably-virtuous person after whom to name our capital?

St. Helena, CA, is presumably named after another Catholic saint, a Roman empress who was the mother of Emperor Constantine. Personally, I do not consider any Roman emperor or empress worthy to deserve the title “saint.” Don’t wish to elaborate, but the Roman ruling class was a particularly savage bunch of people.

Till now, we’ve just been discussing US cities. Worldwide, there are many more names of cities that I find objectionable.

Khmelnytskyi, Ukraine, is perhaps the most deplorable. Bogdan Chmielnicki was a genocidal mass murderer who was guilty of unspeakable crimes against humanity.  He murdered hundreds of thousands of Jews in the most horrific ways. He is possibly one of the most egregious villains in history, along with Hitler and Stalin.

Not only do the Ukrainians have a city in his wretched name, they also have the “Bohdan Khmelnytsky” state military award. And it’s not only Ukraine. Russia also has a Bohdan Khmelnytsky Bridge in Moscow named in his honor. The depraved rogue does not deserve any honor!

Don’t counter that it’s too hard to change the name of an entire city of a developed nation. It’s not hard at all. In fact, it’s easier than toppling statues. Plus, there is already a precedent.

The Russians did it numerous times, from the early days of Bolshevism, to the period of de-Stalinization, all the way to the recent fall of the Soviet Union. Examples include Volgograd (from Stalingrad, and Tsaritsyn before that), Dniepropetrovsk (from Yekaterinoslav, and many other names before that), and the return to the original Petersburg (from Leningrad.  Please note that I specifically did not use the prefix “Saint” when mentioning the latter city, since Czar Peter was no saint in my book.

It’s not just cities or streets that need a name change. Entire religious affiliations ought to consider re-branding themselves as well, for the very same reason.

Martin Luther was a rabid anti-Semite, as is apparent from his writings, especially in his later years. Read his infamous “The Jews and their Lies.”  I find it rather shocking that there is a modern-day branch of religion that still bears his name, Lutheranism. Have these people no shame? Can’t they change their name? Do they not know that Martin Luther’s name and writings were invoked by Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg Trials? The notorious Nazi propagandist, Julius Streicher said in his defense that he was, after all, only repeating what Martin Luther had written.

If millions of Americans were to name a religious cult after Robert E Lee, or declared him a saint, don’t you think they’d be rightfully dubbed bigots, nominally at least? The media would be up in arms, and rightfully so. Why are Lutherans any different?

I don’t mean to insult any individuals who adhere to that particular faith, but am merely wondering about the name of their religion, and about the movement as a whole. Why would they ever wish to perpetuate the name of such a vicious hater? Let his memory be erased, as per Proverbs 10:7 cited above.

It is morally revolting when so-called Palestinian Arabs name their streets or institutions after genocidal terrorist masterminds, or, for example, when they named an elementary school after a woman who personally murdered 37 innocent civilians, twelve of whom were young children. It is a sorry sign of the appalling depravity of the Palestinian society to glorify such unspeakable crimes against humanity. But we expect more from “enlightened” western society. So why do we here in the West still have cities etc that venerate the memories of truly unvenerable degenerates? Why honor someone so dishonorable?

If we are seeking to sanitize our society by removing statues of prominent Confederates because of their historic crimes that were committed long ago, then let’s be consistent. Otherwise, it appears like we’re being selective, politically divisive, and agenda-based. When we’re only interested in righting one particular historical wrong but not others, it seems disingenuous, as though there’s some subjective or ulterior motive, perhaps financial or political. If we’re truly altruistic about this, then let’s be consistent and do it right.

You are certainly entitled to feel that history’s secessionist bigots are undeserving of honor, but what about history’s supersessionist bigots like Thomas Aquinas or Augustine of Hippo? And what about lay authors who maligned Jews in their writings with anti-Semitic tropes, canards, and stereotypes that were typically used to incite the masses to actual violence against Jews? I’m referring to revered literary giants like Chaucer and Shakespeare. Why do they deserve our reverence? They were guilty of hate speech, calumny and (arguably) incitement?

(Please forgive me for not including prominent people from history who were guilty of similar crimes against others. As a Jew, I tend to know more about historical bad guys who hit closer to home.)

One last point:

Perhaps one might see fit to advocate for the toppling of Confederate statues but have no problem with a city named for a bigoted genocidal Inquisitor, for example. He or she might argue that slavery was a more recent atrocity, and that bigotry against “Blacks” persists to this day, while the Inquisition is like ancient history. This is a seriously-flawed argument.

As mentioned above, adherence to Luther and his writings was cited in defense of Nazi war criminals. The Holocaust is much more recent than the end of slavery in the US. The Catholic Church and much of Christian Europe turned a blind eye to this recent genocide of the Jews, and in many places assisted the Germans or even carried out the horrific murders themselves. Catholic and European marginalization of Jews has continued till very recent times.

In fact, hatred of Jews persists to this day, in many ways at a much greater degree than any other form of bigotry in history. Jews are many more times likely to be victims of hate crimes here in the US than any other ethnic group, and that ratio has been growing at an alarming rate in recent years. Around the world, hatred of Jews has swelled to unprecedented levels that haven’t been seen since pre-WWII. In US universities and college campuses, Jews are routinely marginalized and bullied.

Millions throughout the world deny that the Holocaust ever happened, though no one has ever disputed the dark crimes committed against African slaves. Hundreds of millions of people around the world openly call for genocide of the Jews,[1] as do numerous countries and their dictators.

If anything, we ought to be more averse to honoring historical anti-Semites than any other type of bigot in history.

Oh well. I’m doubtful whether anyone will take my rant seriously. Everyone will probably fall in line with which ever political side they belong to, either for or against Robert E Lee statues. Well, let it be known that at least one disgruntled American refuses to refer to many US cities by name, or by their complete name.

In my book, it’s just plain Diego, CA or Louis, MO. When I’m forced to write it as an address or for other official reasons (and I lived in Diego for a few years, as I may have mentioned above), I simply write “S Diego.”

“S” doesn’t stand for “San” or “Saint,” but for “Shameful.”

PS:  since we're discussing statues, it's worthwhile to point out that statues of human beings are prohibited by Torah (see Rambam, Laws of Idolatry 3:15-16), even if they're not for the purpose of idolatrous worship. This applies to statues or 3-d forms of any human likeness, not just of offensive bad guys.

[1] Calling for the end of the State of Israel is a thinly-veiled call for genocide of the Jews.

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