Friday, November 21, 2008

Another Jewish Coincidence

Left: Bartolomé de las Casas (1474- 1566)

Man has been oppressing other "man" ever since, this is an incontrovertible reality of the human condition. I am yet to submit to the philosophies that claim all Jews are inherently evil. I cannot, I must not. Once a niche of inhumanity is etched out for one group others must necessarily follow. This is not a straw man argument, it is rooted in the history of human relations.

It is also a historical fact that slavery existed across mankind throughout various cultures in a plethora of modes and dynamics. We also know that fifteenth century Spain was mired in the inquisition. Wherein Jews were forced to forsake Judaism and adopt Christianity or face the "extreme prejudice" of the police power of the Crown under the auspices of the Vatican.

Enters Bartolomé de las Casas, the Christian clergyman who promulgated the introduction of Africans into the Americas as slaves. I have always wondered about this transcendent religious and political figure in my studies of revolutions. Here we have a man who seem so caring, so enlightened and a champion of justice for the indigenous people of the Caribbean. De las Casas after all, freed his Taino and Carib slaves and gave up his lucrative business in Hispaniola (The first Spanish colony in the Americas) to spearhead the freedom of the native people.

Las Casas won the ear of the Crown and Cardinal Ximenes in particular and was made Protector General of the Aboriginal people of the Indies. After years of political agitation, he was able to persuade the emperor Charles V to end (or virtually to end) the encomienda system in 1542. The encomienda system availed to colonists the power and right to require labor from the native inhabitants, in exchange for (what parasitically, passed for) protection and Christian instruction. Through this legal edifice the entire colony flourished under slavery.

It is perplexing however, to rectify these acts of apparent selflessness with his struggle to sue the Crown of Spain to introduce Africans into the colonies to be submitted to the very processes he had forsaken in the case of the Indigenous people of Hispaniola. It is interesting to note that the indigenous population was dying of diseases introduced by colonists and the maltreatment they suffered under the yoke of the slave system. Could it be that a contrivanve for championing their plight may lay in a calculated need for new stocks of free labor?

Left: Slave ships, which ultimately filled the coffers of the merchant class; a system that acted as a filler of African coffins.

It was always conclusive from the historical record that Jewish "interests" had significant commercial input into the success of the slave trade and its attenuated industries. Nevertheless, I was not informed about Las Casas' Jewish heritage.

Of course event x (African slavery in the "New World") in the context of history [y] and allowing Jewish input to be defined as a mere coincidental point of intersecting history [f] do not necessarily inhere that f(x) = y. Besides there were other actors who contributed to this set of banal acts against humanity.

There is ample research published on the power of "cryptic Jewry." There must have been many such Jews in the fifteenth century as livelihood and life itself were dependent upon it. Las Casas is an intriguing Jewish figure who was immersed in a defining moment of human history.

There have always been great men of dubious allegiances who have worked their magic toward the destruction of life and liberty. These men usually become fixed and independent points of reference in our historical lexicon. As more catastrophic events are linked to men of Jewish descent however, an amalgamation of Jewish tort morphs into categorization. The crimes of Jewry become pronounced and are repeatedly highlighted since what may be isolated incidents can be coalesced and described as a seeming diabolical agenda especially, since these archetypes of malfeasance continue unabated.

Wherefore, exemplified in Zionism, a scourge and a constant reminder of the ills caused by some Jews in history -- which work to detract from those Jews who live and die for justice -- lends aid to this view of vile Jewry. It could then be that the Zionists are correct when they assert that Jews and Israel in particular are held to higher standards of morality--since so many Jewish figures have been identified in the throes of historical disasters. Indeed, with great power comes great responsibility.

Bartolomé de las Casas a friend of the downtrodden and relentless fighter for justice or the son of Jewish merchants who sought new sources of wealth for his ilk?

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