Friday, July 04, 2008

God shed His Grace on Thee.....

Starting a new book, The Grand Inquisitor's Manual: A History of Terror in the Name of God, by Jonathan Kirsch (available in September). See if this doesn't sound shockingly contemporary:

The accused are not condemned according to ordinary laws, as in other crimes, but according to the private laws or privileges conceded to the inquisitors by the Holy See, for there is much tha tis peculiar to the Inquisition.
Bernard Gui, c. 1261-1311

One need only substitue "War on Terror" or "Inquisition," and "President" for "Holy See," and this could be from a memo by John Yoo. Kirsch's thesis is that:

...we shall see an unbroken thread links the friar-inquisitors who set up the rack and the pyre in southern France in the early thirteenth century to the torturers and executioners of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia in the mid-twentieth century. Nor does the thread stop at Auschwitz or the Gulag; it can be traced through the Salem witch trials in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, the Hollywood blacklists of the McCarthy era, and even the interrogation cells at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.
To which I would only add: the black prisons and prison ships that still hold "enemy combatants" far from the reach of the Supreme Court, to this day.

The great chronicler of the Inquisition, Henry Charles Lea, sought to explain the forces behind it:

Fanatic zeal, arbitrary cruelty, and insatiable cupidity rivaled each other in building up a system unspeakably atrocious....a standing mockery of justice--perhaps the most iniquitous that the arbitrary cruelty of man has ever devised.
Per Kirsch's argument, the last victim of the Roman and Universal Inquisition died in 1826, so it's hard to credit the entire escapade as one of emotions run riot. Zeal need not be fanaticaly, cruelty never quite seems arbitrary, and insatiable cupidity is always with us. Perhaps the mockery of justice is even more the rule than the exception. Most interesting about those words, though: Mr. Lea was a Quaker, from a Philadelphia family.

Home of the Liberty Bell; the city where bells rang out on this day in 1776, when the Continental Congress adopted Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, wherein we held these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, and that their Creator has endowed them with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Too bad we weren't clearer about defining what pursuits of happiness were good, and which bad.

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