Monday, January 21, 2008


Some asked me questions, two updates ago, about what I meant by “apartheid was invented by a theologian.” And the question reminded me that many of our oppressive regimes and moments throughout history have been motivated (God forbid) or justified, rather, by and through religion especially Christianity. I won’t expound, but these include oppressive results of the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, Salem Witch Trials (much wider than just Salem), the Holocaust, slavery (even outside the Americas like in Africa, as well), etc. This includes apartheid.

Haley and Jeannie have asked me a lot of questions about this—apartheid—as well, and so I wanted to take a moment to talk briefly about it. It officially started in 1948 when Malan became president. Malan was previously a theologian of the Dutch Reformed Church. He left the church when encouraged to enter public policy (politics) in 1940. Now prior to his administration there was what we will call segregation. With his administration what we call apartheid began with a whole new set of enforced laws. Let me briefly tell you four differing points between segregation and apartheid.

Both had laws, but segregation was more social (as opposed to legal). Few laws were passed relating to it. Apartheid, on the other hand, had a complete set of detailed, ratified, enforced laws that dictated the separation and complete segregation in all facets of daily life.

There was brutality throughout time/history and during segregation. Apartheid, on the other hand, saw grotesqueness in the severity of police brutality. It reached another level and the police definitely took the law both “by the letter” (that letter enforced apartheid, remember) and in their own hands as you study about places like the farms in which blacks (sometimes referred to derogatorily as Bantu during Apartheid times) were “farmed” for information, tortured, and killed.

3. Segregation occurred (prior to ’48) when many countries of the world were like-minded, like Great Britain, USA, etc. Apartheid, on the other hand, occurred from ’48-’94. Who was doing such things in the 90’s? Well, it does happen. But mostly around the world, such legal policies had ended. Enough said.

4. Segregation, again, was social. Apartheid was church-sanctioned and enforced—no justified by religion and theology (Dutch Reformed Church; but many will tell you it was the British and not the Afrikaaners who “invented it”).

And so it is this man, Malan, former president, who I associate with apartheid. Of course, it was not brought about through one man or the result of one man. I just associate it with him because it was with his regime and his consent and encouragement that it became law and apartheid started. I saw an alleged picture once of white men in suits looking over plans like architects; except, these were the supposed “architects” of apartheid looking over plans for the districting of different colours of people ,where each group would go.

And so it is a bit strange for me when I hear about Muslims today. You see, we don’t normally label a Christian person when she does wrongly or badly. We don’t say Christian terrorist or Christian Unabomber the same way we do with Muslims. Now, some people say we don’t use terms like Christian Nazis because such people were only nominal Christians and not real, true Christians (they are not being true to Christ’s beliefs and teachings). I don’t argue that point. But the same can be said of Muslim people. I would say you would have to sit down and actually study Islam in order to make an informed decision as to whether Islamic terrorists are misinterpreting or misconstruing scriptures from the Q’ran, in the Surah, etc. But in absence of this, it’s important to know that there are Muslims who also feel the same way. They do not interpret the scriptures in such a “fundamentalist” way, and they are offended when they see Western media place the label “Islamic” or “Muslim” in front of terrorist when they feel those people are nominal or untrue, apostate Muslims.

I know that it is probably desecrating sacrilege to many, and I apologize for offense. I just know what it feels like to have someone name themselves by “my” religion and yet not follow or practice what it says. It presents a misrepresentation. And I know how they feel. One of my favorite professors was an amazing Muslim man who knew 7 or 8 languages. Let me see if I remember them all: language 1 from hometown in India, language 2 from neighboring region to the east of town, language 3 from neighboring region to west of town, Hindi because it is the language used to communicate in India across language groups, Swahili from growing up in Kenya, English (because it’s important) from Kenya as well, Arabic from Islam. It was a pretty amazing class. I’m not sure why. I just know we liked it a lot and it was PACKED. Everyone wanted to take the class. And they were right; it was good. I was blessed to be there. Two things I always remember about him outside of his language speaking abilities (he was a language teacher as well).

He would get in trouble with the university because he cared so much about teaching and students. He taught a much larger load, something like at least 2 courses per semester (and I think 5 total per year) in contrast to professors who tried to teach 2 or even 1 course per year. I didn’t fully understand the importance of this as an undergraduate student. I just knew I liked it because he cared so much. Now I see, being deep within academia, the pressure to only publish and write and research and how he was very different from those around him really caring about people and students and imparting knowledge.

But, above all, I will always remember the last day of the course, the last lecture. He talked and spoke in a concluding manner, and I remember him speaking about the public image of Muslims in the media especially with the rising (maybe this was in 1999—I’m pretty young) terrorism. And he talked about just what I spoke about—how we label criminals and terrorists as Muslim but never when they are Christian. He saw an incongruency in that. And I remember it being soo powerfully moving as he finished his lecture in tears asking for the license to quote Shakespeare’s Shylock from “The Merchant of Venice” [which I will see here at the Shakespeare festival in 2 weeks time] in the context of Muslims:

I am a [Muslim]. Hath not a [Muslim] eyes? Hath not a Jew hands,
organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same
food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases,
heal'd by the same means, warm'd and cool'd by the same winter
and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If
you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?
And if you wrong us, do we not revenge? If we are like you in the
rest, we will resemble you in that.

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