h i s t o r y historian of his generation, for fighting the very evils Kertzer claims the pope supposedly advanced.
Finally, Lawler demonstrates how Kertzer linked individual and often obscure Catholics who defamed Jews with the authoritative views of the papacy, when in fact those Catholics sinned against official Catholic teaching – a fact noted by honourable Catholics at the time, who go virtually unmentioned in Kertzer’s book.
What emerges from Lawler’s work is how little understanding The Popes Against the Jews showed about Catholic theology, history and the workings of the Church. It is so uninformed that Kertzer could write in its opening pages: ‘As millions of Jews were being murdered, Pius XII could never bring himself to publicly utter the word “Jew”.’ But, in his very first encyclical, Summi Pontificatus (1939), which condemned racism and totalitarianism, Pius XII not only explicitly mentioned the word ‘Jew’, but did so in the context of quoting St Paul on the unity of the human race (Colossians 3:11). The pope was openly repudiating Hitler.
Kertzer’s error about Pius XII is all the more glaring, given the recent discoveries made about Pius’s protection of persecuted Jews. Drawing on the research that I and many others have published, Lawler cites the testimonies of Heinz Wisla and Herman Herskovic, two wartime Jewish refugees, who recounted how the wartime pontiff intervened to rescue 500 shipwrecked Jews from persecution and death. In late 1941 Wisla actually met Pius XII, who embraced the young man with the striking words, ‘Never forget, you must always be proud to be a Jew!’
Yad Vashem’s recent and welcome decision to express more sympathy for Pius XII is an indication of the direction in which the historiography is headed. Those of us who have more respect for the papacy than today’s ideological detractors can take comfort in the fact that scholars such as Lawler have arisen to challenge the mythmakers, and can pray that their fair-mindedness and persistence will ultimately prevail. ‘Have patience awhile; slanders are not long lived,’ said Kant. ‘Truth is the child of time; erelong she shall appear to vindicate thee.’ To order this book for £19.99, see the Literary Review bookshop on page 37
p i e r s b r e n d on
Beginning the Dissent From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia
By Pankaj Mishra (Allen Lane/The Penguin Press 356pp £20)
‘Millions of savages were launched into action by a few thousand babblers.’ So wrote Hippolyte Taine about the Jacobin assault on Bourbon France, which was allegedly prompted by the philosophers of the Enlightenment. Taine regarded ideas as a prime motive force in history, and he was not alone in seeing Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau and their ilk as the true progenitors of the French Revolution. After all, Diderot’s Encyclopédie was a self-confessed machine de guerre. And its rationalist creed was deeply subversive to the status quo, so much so that it was described as the ‘Trojan horse of the ancien régime’. However, it is hard to be precise about the cause of such momentous events: high bread prices probably did more to provoke insurrectionary violence than high-minded notions about the rights of man. In this excellent study of the intellectual origins of a more recent cataclysm, the emergence of a new Asia from the ruins of European empire in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Pankaj Mishra is more cautious than Taine.
To be sure, Mishra does maintain that the anti-imperialist ideas of his key figures – Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1838–97) and Liang Qichao (1873–1929) – were ‘major forces for change’. Such thinkers began a process whereby Asian resentment about Western domination was transmuted into popular liberation movements, which duly gave rise to independent nations.Their views bore especially rich fruit during the Second World War, when Japan showed how swiftly easterners could smash the rotten edifice of white colonial power. However, Mishra does not exaggerate their influence, though he is not entirely clear about its extent. His ideologues were frequently inconsistent and they often seemed to reflect rather than direct public opinion, articulating the rage of the habitually oppressed and the joy of the occasionally victorious – as when the Japanese navy destroyed the Russian fleet at Tsushima in 1905.
Al-Afghani was a polyglot Persian who became an international agitator, aspiring variously to sap the foundations of Western hegemony and to promote the teaching of European science, to unify the Muslim masses behind the Caliph (or even the Mahdi) and to become himself the Luther of an Islamic reformation. Witnessing the horrors of the backlash after the Indian Mutiny, he denounced the British Empire as a ‘dragon which had swallowed twenty million people, and drunk up the waters of the Ganges and the Indus, but was still unsatiated and ready to devour the rest of the world and to consume the waters of the Nile and the Oxus’. Eventually he veered towards revolution and jihad. Shortly before one of his disciples assassinated the Persian Shah in 1896, al-Afghani was heard to cry aloud: ‘There is no salvation except in killing.’
Virtuoso propagandist though he was, alAfghani had little direct impact on governments’ policies. In Moscow, for example, he could not even secure an audience with Tsar Alexander III and was reduced to appearing in his long robes and turban near the royal box at the opera house, where he interrupted the proceedings by rising, facing Mecca and saying evening prayers. The tsar was puzzled and impressed but was not inclined to pursue anti-British conspiracies at Muslim behest. By contrast, Liang Qichao, whom Mishra dubs China’s first modern intellectual, did hold office fleetingly. He acted as adviser to the young Guangxu emperor during the Hundred Days’ Reform in 1898, before being chased away to Japan by the resurgent dowager empress. And, after the fall of the Qing dynasty, he served in Yuan Shikai’s government, only to discredit himself by associating with corrupt warlords.
As a journalist and historian Liang dwelt bitterly on the humiliating blows that his country had received at the hands of the West: the Opium Wars, the destruction of the Summer Palace, the unequal treaties and the open door policy, by which foreign traders
Literary Review | a u g u s t 2 0 1 2 6 r l f a d h i s t o r y had injured China even more than had foreign soldiers. The alien assault, typified by the brutal suppression of the Boxer Rising, was more ignominious still because the Middle Kingdom had sustained a flourishing civilisation when Europe was in the Dark Ages. Liang acknowledged that China’s tribulations stemmed partly from the fact that it had looked on itself as the world and dismissed outsiders as barbarians. But his prescriptions were anything but coherent. They included not only renascent Confucianism but liberal democracy and enlightened despotism – a notion that appealed to Mao Zedong.
As Mishra shows, the spread of Western imperialism provoked many other conflicting ideological responses in the East. Broadly speaking their proponents divided between those who embraced occidental faiths (such as materialism, social Darwinism, communism and capitalism) and those who sought indigenous panaceas, notably religious and nationalistic ones. Thus Fukuzawa Yukichi wanted Japan to escape from Asia and join the West, which seemed the logical outcome of its dramatic modernisation programme at the time of the Meiji Restoration. Similarly Kemal Atatürk sought to transform Turkey into a progressive secular state, once expostulating: ‘Islam, this absurd theology of an immoral Bedouin, is a rotting corpse that poisons our lives.’
On the other hand, Japanese intellectuals such as Okawa Shumei wished their country, under the auspices of its divine emperor, to lead a pan-Asian struggle against the white empire-builders. Pan-Islamists echoed the anti-Western rhetoric of the Turkish poet Ziya Gökalp: ‘the minarets are our bayonets, the domes our helmets, the mosques our barracks and the faithful our army’. Gandhi and Tagore, by contrast, led a spiritual challenge to imperial power. Militancy, they believed, would do no more in India than forge an English raj without the Englishman; in the Far East it would raise a tower of skulls. Soul force, spun from the simple, patient, virtuous and organic life of preindustrial villages, would give Indians the only victory worth having – a moral victory.
Where most Asian critics of Western imperialism did agree was in their scathing assessment of its evils. These were, as the Chinese writer Tang Tiaoding said, either justified or glossed over in ‘white people’s histories’. To some extent they still are – in the richly nostalgic brocade of Jan Morris, say, or the brashly right-wing calculus of Niall Ferguson. This is what makes the detailed indictment catalogued by Mishra so valuable, particularly when compared to the postmodernist vapourings of Edward Said. Its starting point is Tagore’s declaration that the ‘torch of European civilisation was not meant to set light, but to set fire’. But the charge sheet is not just a recapitulation of instances of imperial incendiarism, such as the Amritsar massacre or the bombing of Iraqi villages. It incisively anatomises what George Orwell called the ‘slimy humbug’ of the white man’s burden.
Thus Aurobindo Ghose stated that the puritanical, pharisaical British conquered in the name of liberty and usurped under the cloak of altruism. Their apparently liberal initiatives aimed to divide and rule, their supposedly benevolent undertakings were designed to serve their own ends and their so-called civilising mission was mainly a matter of cant. Their railways were built to promote commercial exploitation and to tighten military control: Nehru compared them to iron bands confining and imprisoning India. Their schools were fashioned to turn out clerks, cogs in the imperial machine. Even their hospitals were a mixed blessing since they helped to foster a population explosion. In short, modern empires were a means of keeping colonised races in a state of all-round thraldom.
Of course the West had no monopoly of hypocrisy, let alone of oppression. But the imperial ills that it visited on Asia, especially as diagnosed by the likes of al-Afghani and Liang, help to explain the pathological state of East–West relations today. These have been further poisoned by disastrous neoimperial adventures, from the invasion of Suez to the occupation of Iraq, from the CIA/MI6 coup against Mohammad Mosaddegh in Iran to the NATO incursion into Afghanistan. Israel remains a colonial bone lodged in the Arab throat.Terror, most notably in the shape of 9/11, has been followed by horrors such as Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay. Pankaj Mishra foresees further bloody confrontation as an ailing West competes with a reviving East for the world’s diminishing resources. It is a bleak conclusion to a stimulating and original book. To order this book for £16, see the Literary Review bookshop on page 37
THE ROYAL LITERARY FUND
Financial assistance for writers The Royal Literary Fund (est.1790) helps published authors in financial difficulties. Last year it awarded grants and pensions to over 200 writers. Applications are welcome throughout the year.
For more information contact: Eileen Gunn General Secretary The Royal Literary Fund 3 Johnson’s Court, London EC4A 3EA Tel: 0207 353 7159 Email: email@example.com www.rlf.org.uk
Registered Charity no 219952
a u g u s t 2 0 1 2 | Literary Review 7