The Politics of Racial Hatred is Centuries Old

Just re-examine the Spanish Inquisition. The latest focus appears to be a vindication of the role of religion.

By standards of the 13th to 16th centuries it is being said that punishment by death or banishment was normal operating procedure. And some would say we must not impose standards of our time. Why bring this up at all?

Think for a bit about the racial dissention stirred by the two trials of a sports hero or wife beater in the never-ending publicity. Think about the burning of churches and destruction of synagogues. Where does a burning racial hatred begin? How is it fueled? Some of the latest literature on the inquisition indicate that it is political.

Sociologists identify the instinctive fear of strangers as potential enemies, a fear many living species display toward encroachments upon their domains, as a feeling called by the Greeks, xenophobia. It is virtually universal and sometimes becomes policy in governments. Executions as a matter of public policy have been studied extensively in association with the Spanish Inquisition.

Professor emeritus, B. Netanyahu, of Cornell, traces the roots of the policy, through Greek and Hebrew history, into the sixth century B.C.E. with various governments wiping out peoples who attempt to change the culture.

From the latter part of the 10th century until the beginnings of the 12th there were many executions of heretics - either by burning or strangling - in France, Italy, the Empire and England. By this time the litmus test was religious belief.

The origin of The Inquisition, which insisted heretics be stripped of wealth and life, was firmly established in the early 1200s. Gregory IX, declared general legislation in which the penalties of death, banishment and confiscation of property were formulated so clearly as to be incontestable. No mention of torture. Catholic bishops could subject their towns to the full rigor of imperial laws and answer to no one.

However - The Inquisition - was the name given to the ecclesiastical jurisdiction dealing with the detection and punishment of heretics. All persons guilty of any offence against Catholic orthodoxy were secretly accused by the government. Accusers were never revealed.

Ecclesiastic means church law, in this context, the Catholic church. Jurisdiction means authority, therefore, governors, and they set the laws. Governors during the history of The Inquisition were bishops appointed by Rome, mostly because they already had histories of extracting wealth from their parishioners. They were citizens of Madrid but paid homage to Rome.

Romans began to Latinize the Iberians around 201 BC. Scipio Aemilianus, the first and only Roman general of the time, besieged the fortress of Numantia for 15 months, defeating the Spanish brutally according to historic accounts. He tried to remove the commissioner's powers which made him the chief enemy of the popular party. He died mysteriously at a young age. There is the powerful political link.

The Inquisition, according to H.C. Lea, found few victims among the poor. There was no profit where there was no wealth to be taken so there was no inquisition. It was because the results of wealth confiscation echoed into the future that Lea identified the economic link. My source was H.C. Lea "History of the Spanish Inquisition" (1905) as cited in Encyclopeadia Britannica. Professor Netanyahu calls Lea the greatest historian of all times on The Spanish Inquisition. ("Origins of the Inquisition" Benzion Netanyahu, Random House, New York, 1995.)

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The main point seems to be that Lea "failed to inquire into the origins of the Inquisition in a manner that could expose the true reason for its racism and thereby also the motives for its establishment. Supposedly, converts to Catholicism were accused of just pretending to be christian and the government decided to inquire into their true feelings and confess their heresy.

The travesty has influenced and horrified the world ever since. It was political and economical because it was public policy. And it was religious because heresy is a religious concept. Let us not forget that.

When a nation is run by a religion, the church leaders make the rules. At the time of the infamous Spanish Inquisition, the Christian (Catholic) church was struggling to wrest control of the land from rich Moorish and Jewish populations. What better way to gain control than to kill or banish rich offenders? So convenient to be in power and assume ownership of unclaimed wealth.

In 1478 Isabella and Ferdinand requested a papal bull establishing an inquisition and by 1480 the inquisitors set to work in earnest. When the final edict expelling the Jews from Spain was issued in 1492, the Spanish Inquisition was securely in place to combat religious deviation from within the christian community. ("Inquisition" Edward Peters, Macmillan, New York, 1988)

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Religion practiced genocide through politics during the dark ages. Think about the similarity to the present, when wars are glorified and violence is made the hallmark of success regardless of how the political and economical outcomes affect future generations.

Naomi Sherer