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Islamic state, religion and lynching

When they lynched blacks, whites also believed to be soldiers of God

Like the barbarity of the Islamic state, lynching and torture of black Americans during segregation were not only acts of racism but also acts imbued with religious significance, justified by Christianity that time

If Americans have short memories, that does not stop since Saturday, February 7, many of us discuss about the medieval religious wars and the idea that we can draw some lessons about the violence in the Middle East today.
What Obama says :
For those who are not yet aware, this debate follows the comments of President Obama at the annual National Prayer Breakfast, where -after condemned the radical group Islamic state and have called a "cult of death" - it proposed a reflection calling for rationalization.
"Before you get on our high horse and think that the phenomenon is the prerogative of a location different from ours, let us remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people have committed atrocious acts in the name of Christ. In our country, slavery and laws [segregationist] Jim Crow have too often been justified in the name of Christ (...) Therefore, this is not the prerogative of one group or one religion. There is a tendency in us an immoral trend that can pervert and distort our faith. "
This extremely simple dot - "no faith has a monopoly of religious arrogance" - became a supporter flash point prompting the Conservatives to lecture the president, accusing him of "putting on the same footing" Christian crusaders and radical Islamic, to accuse maintain anti-Christian beliefs and wonder why it evokes an old conflict for centuries, even if we fall some analogies between it and the present.
What we lack in the argument about the Crusades, however, is the mention by Obama of slavery and Jim Crow. In The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates chooses to emphasize the religious justifications of American slavery, and it is worthwhile to do the same for his successor after the Civil War. And since we are thinking in terms of religious violence, we must to look at the most brutal spectacle of the reign of Jim Crow : the lynching.

It is inconceivable that they could inflict pain and torment the bodies of black men without imagining this violence as a religious act. (Amy Louise Wood, historian)

"Judge Lynch" -name given by journalist and activist Ida B. Wells to anti-segregationnist lynchers- crowds showed capricious, ruthless and barbaric towards his victims. CJ Miller, wrongly accused of the murder of two white teenage sisters in western Kentucky, was "dragged through the streets until a makeshift scaffold made of old moat barrel and other small wood," writes historian Philip Dray in At the Hands of Persons Unknown : The Lynching of Black America. His attackers hanged him to a telephone pole, and while "the first fall broke his neck (...) the body was raised and lowered repeatedly while the crowd riddled with bullets handgun." His body was left hanging in the street for two hours, during which he was photographed and mutilated by onlookers. Then he was landed and burned.
Wilder still was the lynching of Mary Turner, killed for protesting against the murder of her husband and child she was carrying.
"In front of a large crowd that included women and children, writes Philip Dray, Mary was stripped naked, hung by her ankles, doused with gasoline and burned to death. In the midst of his torment, a white man opened his stomach with a hunting knife and the baby fell to the ground, screamed and was trampled to death. "
Rituals of southern evangelicalism and its dogma
These lynchings were not only punishments inflicted by vigilante groups or, as the Equal Justice Initiative notes, "the celebration of the control actions and the domination of one race over another." It was ritual. And more specifically, rituals of southern evangelicalism and his then dogma advocating purity, literalism and white supremacy.

"Christianity was the main prism through which most Southerners conceptualized and gave meaning to suffering and death, whatever their form," writes historian Amy Louise Wood in Lynching and Spectacle : Witnessing Racial Violence in America , 1890-1940.
"It is inconceivable that they could inflict pain and torment the bodies of black men without imagining this violence as a religious act, loaded with symbolism and Christian meaning."

The God of the white in South demanded purity -purity embodied by the white woman. White Southerners built a border with segregation. But when it was violated, it is with the lynching they repaired the breach and said they were free of moral contamination, represented by black, with black men in particular-even if it is limited not theirs. Leo Frank, lynched in 1915, was a Jew.


The imagined gap was often sexual, defined by the myth of the rapist
black, a "demon" and "beast" determined to desecrate Christian purity of white womanhood. In his account of Henry Smith lynching -tué following rape and murder charges for a 3 year old girl, Myrtle Vance PL James tells how the energy of a city and a whole country had turned to "the arrest of the demon that devastated a fireplace and stained an innocent life."
The "will of God"
James was not an isolated case. Many other supporters of lynching interpreted their actions as a Christian duty, enshrined as the will of God against racial transgression.
"After the lynching of Smith, says Amy Louise Wood, another of his supporters wrote," it was nothing more than revenge of a God outraged that He was offered, through the instrument were those which caused cremation. "
As written by Donald G. Mathews, emeritus professor at UNC-Chapel Hill in the Journal of Southern Religion :
"Religion crept into Community lynching because this act occurred within the context of a sacred order designed to ensure holiness."
The "holy order" was white supremacy and "holiness", the white under.
I must emphasize that the time of the lynching blacks saw as rooted in the Christian practice of white Southerners. "It is extremely doubtful that the lynching may exist in a religion other than Christianity," wrote Walter White, leader of the defense association NAACP civil rights in 1929.
"Anyone who knows the untimely preachers, acrobatic fanatics preaching the fires of hell in the South, and saw the orgies of emotion they arouse, can doubt for a moment that they release dangerous passions contributing to emotional instability and playing a role in lynchings. "
None of that was intrinsic to Christianity : it was a question of power and the need that had powerful sanctify their actions
And if some church leaders have condemned the practice as contrary to God’s word - "Religion and lynching, Christianity and crash, fire and blessing, savagery and national reason can go hand in hand in this country", said an editorial in 1904- the overwhelming consent of the white in South confirmed the view of Walter.
Christianity in southern agree tthat lynching was that black Americans, who were trying to re-contextualize the attacks as a kind of crucifixion and his victims as martyrs, reversing the situation and making black the true heirs of salvation and Christian redemption. And it is this last point that should highlight the fact that none of that was intrinsic to Christianity : it was a question of power and the need that had powerful sanctify their actions.
Yet it is impossible to deny that the lynching -in all its grotesque violence-was an act imbued with religious significance, justified by Christianity at the time.
He also had a political nature : it was an act of terror and social control and the preserve of private citizens, public officials and powerful legislators. Senator Ben Tillman of South Carolina defended lynching before the Congress of the United States, and President Woodrow Wilson applauded a film that espoused Judge Lynch and his disciples.
This means that Obama was right. Extremely different environments in America before the Civil Rights and the Middle East today hide the substantial similarities between the relatively recent religious violence white supremacist our ancestors and our contemporaries enemies. And the current gap between moderate Muslims and their opponents fanatics find an analogy in our past northerner division between Christianity and its southern part.
It is not so much relativism that clear vision of our common vulnerability, the truth is that the seeds of violence and autocracy can germinate anywhere, and the fact that our current position of superiority is not evidence of any intrinsic superiority.

Traduit de l’anglais par GN

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