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Political Vision and its Enemies in Botswana: the Argument against

Tedzani Thapelo

Botswana novelist, poet, historian, researcher, biographer, writer of short stories, travelogue and human rights campaigner, Teedzani Thapelo*, advances the critical argument that Vision 2016 failed principally because we failed right from the beginning of this political project to diagnose the nature and severity of our national crisis and then compounded the situation by tailoring it to subverted, blighted and meaningless public policies. To give Vision 2030 a better chance of success we should this time around try to do things the proper way. More important we should make sure political vision does not morph into a baiting gimmick for political catastrophe; blighting the fortunes and future of our children.

First things first, political vision is by tradition an intellectual inquiry into the problem of social order. It is rightly regarded as Plato’s greatest political programme, perhaps his greatest contribution to political art. Scholars are agreed about its centrality to political philosophy as we understand it today. I should, however, confess I’m rather surprised Botswana has become so much besotted with this thing.

First it was Vision 2016: Towards Prosperity for All, and we all know what happened to that little pet project. Now it’s Vision 2036: Beyond Tomorrow, Beyond the Stars. What next? Well, I suppose we should try to do something about the sociological landscape of our nation. Why not? We are a member of the global village. We have got neither our own philosophical tradition nor do we have philosophers to chart our way into the future; a future I should sadly admit, that looks rather bleak and perilous. It’s also interesting to find one’s country so suddenly head-over-heels in love with something so purely intellectual. Oh, yes, Botswana is charmed by Plato, it’s a first rate love affair!

But do we know what we are doing? No, Batswana, these vision things do not come from Government Enclave; ga se mananeo a goromente. The visions come from some obscure offices and corridors in the UN, very far away. We only talk about them here because we belong to that beastly old creature, and our political education cannot, of course, be anything but western. So let’s fall in love with this thing from the canon of Western political philosophy as we please, but I do think we should try at least to be certain we really do know what it is we are doing.

Utopian ideas can be dangerous in politics. We all know about the sparkling fire of communist rhetoric and what came of it. Look at Russia. Look at Zimbabwe. Remember what happened to Muamur Gadaffi and his little Green Book, and Mao Zedung and his little Red Book. Words that look too beautiful and too promising in politics generally lead to dangerous disasters.

Let’s hope these fantastic little visions that Government Enclave is embracing with so much romantic enthusiasm don’t take us the same road. 2036 is not very far. From Rwanda I understand Paul Kigame will still be in power. Mugabe is threatening to rule on earth and right on to heaven, if he does get past Saint Paul at the Golden Gate, and so he probably will still be around.

My eldest son who just started working in Canada will be a family man and the two little ones, Davis and Rabasi, will still be in school if they are foolish enough to spend twenty-one uninterrupted years collecting useless certificates from universities all over the world like their father did. Why, one might ask, am I saying these things? It’s because politics is a deeply personal thing. Many people don’t realize this, but there can never be thriving human life and happiness where there’s no politics.

This is why I am asking: do we know what we are planting in our political system and tradition by adding these little poetic visions into it? Are Batswana ready to contend with the Platonic vision? Are our institutions and belief systems ready for it? Do we have the resources, ingenuity and moral fortitude to see these visions through? Aren’t we baiting political catastrophe?

I am told Ian Khama sent out an eminently distinguished team of professors to teach Batswana about these things, hear their views and write up our next political vision. I can only hope these professors too knew what they were doing. Did Batswana know they were talking to Plato, the greatest philosopher known to mankind? Did they know this thing is not a joke? I can hear an impressed Motswana at Sekondomboro village lamenting, like Faust, “sweet analytics, thou hast ravished me.” Good work. Remember Faust wanted all the things that Botswana wants: prosperity, power, peace, immortality. We all know what happened to him.

Let’s hope the same thing does not happen to us. Let’s also hope our distinguished professors taught Batswana well. There must be a reason why Batswana accept these things. Much of Africa does not care about these visions. We have better things to do than excite the passions and interests of already highly restive populations is what one writer friend of mine said to me. Too cynical? I don’t know. What am I saying here? Let me explain.

A political vision is by definition not an easy thing. But we don’t have to resurrect Plato to understand what it is all about. The vision documents that have become the fundamental sub-texts of our political strategy, survival and destiny in the last twenty years, including the now discredited Vision 2016 Document, are products of a political imagination going back at least 2000 years. The original purpose of political vision as a project of political philosophy was aimed at addressing a set of perennial issues afflicting ancient civilizations.

I want to focus on only a few most pertinent ones; moral corruption and degeneration in civilization, and political decay and collapse of civilizations. Political vision sought to speak literally to these menacing concerns at certain levels; beginning, degeneration, end, and revival, as well as discernable moments of truth that could be recovered, and provide the necessary means for political redemption. In short political vision is born of political crisis.

This must sound familiar to any Motswana who has been watching BTV the last couple of weeks. Vision 2016 calls for a moral, compassionate, educated and informed, innovative and productive, safe and secure, democratic and accountable, and tolerant and united nation. The issue of pride is nothing but political jingoism and for the most part sentimental foolishness. The operative concepts for our purposes here are moral, educated, innovative and productive, and safe and secure. As for democracy and national unity these I critiqued in a recent widely published article concerning a public lecture by former president Ketumile Masire (Ref. 16-22 July, Weekend Post/15 July, 2016, Botswana Guardian).

More problematical, research shows that totalitarian regimes tend to deal with national crisis better than democratic ones; and that they often thrive and endure longer in moments of historical stress than democratic ones do under the same circumstances, sad but true enough. The issue is, however, still open to debate. Even Plato did address this issue in his famous political dialogues. To sum up, political vision always speaks to contemporary political crisis and the possibilities of political redemption. And here lies the greatest problem.

When Botswana authored this vision twenty years ago what political crisis did it seek to address? Was there any historical stress in the republic? If political crisis did exist, what political redemption has been accomplished?  I’ve already said the vision programme came from the UN; never mind what Madomkrag say. Our business was only to domesticate and own it. But did we do this thing well? I don’t think so. When this global discourse was first mooted I was a graduate student in the economics department at SOAS. I knew right away it would create policy problems for African countries and said so at our weekly student’s seminar.

To my surprise everybody present disagreed with me, arguing it was a great opportunity for Africans to rethink their politics and policy instruments. I was staggered. So far as I understood the debate what was at stake was the possible ruin of two phenomena: western civilization and the capitalist international economy. Africa’s existential problem at the time was located elsewhere: structural adjustment programmes and the debt trap. Our problem was one of underdevelopment and perennial political crisis; and that of the West, corpulent affluence run amuck, and institutional complacence.

We were failing to adjust to postcolonial modernity and trauma; and Europe struggling to adjust to globalization and the triumph of capitalism. How could we lump the two development trajectories together? I was furious, so implacably furious my thesis advisor, the distinguished Marxist-Leninist scholar and philosopher, Ben Fine, decided I should write a development theory paper on the subject for the next seminar. I can’t say I entirely convinced my classmates about the merits of my argument. But that was to be expected. I was the only African student in that seminar. But my supervisor was delighted when two years later my thesis examiner, an oxford economics professor, brought up the question on the day I was defending my PhD and intellectual integrity, and I calmly stood up and gave the don that document word for word; from nothing short of an astonished memory and anguished temper. One hour later I was awarded my doctorate and only a week later I arrived home a free man.

To my surprise I found Batswana here agog about the same vision thing. I did try to make a contribution but my proposition seems not to have sat well with better minds at Government Enclave so I let the thing run. No one can deny today the whole thing is a scandalous failure. Just look at the crisis in education, and productivity, and the problem of political intolerance. Consider the continuing radical income inequalities, and the political anxiety gripping the entire country. Are we really as safe and secure as we think? Are we compassionate? Are we truly educated? Are we prosperous? Are we democratic and accountable? Are we a moral and united nation? Did we properly diagnose the real problems facing this country twenty years ago?

Why were we so shy to talk about HIV/AIDS at the time and its possible spill-over consequences in the areas of human capital, market integration and growth? Why didn’t we worry about its decimation of the finest educated and trained professional elites this country ever possessed; the very people whose mass deaths and anguished existence was soon to orphan and traumatize an entire generation of our national youth? Why were we so coy to concede our own environmental weaknesses? Why didn’t we talk about our ruinous maladjustment to diamond liquidity capital? Why didn’t we talk about the cancer of corruption in public life? Why didn’t we worry about donor fatigue and departure? 

Why did we not talk about the yawning cultural vacuum that was already threatening to eat out our national soul and vitality at the time? And the question of national unity: why didn’t we realistically talk about the things that held us together and go out of our way to cement and solidify them while doing away with those that continue to divide us, eating at the heart of our national consciousness? Why didn’t we talk about these things? Why did we settle for empty borrowed words that were mostly irrelevant to our situation? Why did we borrow other people’s problems instead of acknowledging our own and trying to do something urgently about them? Look again at Vision 2016.

Even today we could give that blasted thing to Burundians, or the South Sudanese. They need it. We don’t; or at least we didn’t need it twenty years ago. We failed, dismally, to author our own destiny as a nation and a people in 1997, to seek political redemption to the crisis facing us at the time, and what a missed opportunity. We have got fewer resources today, fewer friends in the international community who really count for something, and we have got far less energy and fire in us. It’s terrible the way things are going on in this country.

But maybe we still have a chance. I see now Ian Khama has just received the Vision 2030 Document. Once again its origin is the UN, and Western philosophical disquisition. I said it was compiled by Botswana’s finest intellectuals. Well, I won’t step on their decorated feet this time. I do see, however, the UN has this time diagnosed our national crisis fairly well; social and human development, sustainable growth, and environmental protection. Yes, governance, peace and security as well. This is all proper. International relations have changed profoundly in the last twenty years. The mandate of political philosophy is now somewhat different; thanks to the third wave of globalization, the forth industrial revolution in the West, the crisis of capitalism and the 2008 world recession, climate change and crazy imans in the Middle East. In general, right now we are not a safe world. Botswana must share these extraordinary and extreme concerns and these things must be reflected in our political agenda and calendar.

But what really is our current national crisis? How should we seek to explain our contemporary politics?  And what are the possibilities of political redemption going into the future; to 2030? These are issues that require serious research and rigorous analysis. I see the professors tasked to prepare this document had clear terms of reference; to mobilise Batswana to define their national dream and aspirations, to review background materials on the subject, to produce a document built from national consultation and consensus. I am sure the experts did this competently.

What baffles me, though, are the questions put to Batswana. The kind of country they want to see built by 2030? The kind of person a Motswana should look like in terms of social standing in 1930? The first question is open to too much irrelevant waffling. The second, well, one would have to look for something between Darwin’s evolution of species theory and Dickens’s Great Expectations. It’s a most singular question to put to any person; and ridiculous questions always get ridiculous answers. This is the major problem with Batswana. We never take ourselves seriously.

I remember the questions for Vision 2016. They were just as bad. I don’t even care if these questions-God forbid!-come from the UN as well. They are bad research questions. Then; what should be done to accomplish this dream? A good political question, but the who part is suspect. Why not how, given our poor work ethic, diminishing resources, education crisis, the malice of nature on the land, possibilities for political caprice, etc.? That way you enter the province of political philosophy where the political vision project originates.

Political vision presupposes ideological purpose. It is a symbolic character of human activity. It speaks to the philosopher’s city that is at work. It presupposes rule by those who profess to know the ground of justice. It implies the end of tension between truth and politics. It is rooted in the dilemmas and social tensions of society and the disillusioning experiences of a known and lived world (Ref. my article The Trouble with Botswana: a poet speaks, in 15 July, 2016 vol. 33, No. 106, Mmegi and subsequent publication). In some cases it originates from the failure of political experience. It is a therapeutic vehicle for the possible failures of nationhood and human civilization.

It seeks answers to the problems of human order and historical existence. It is key to the fundamental understanding, not only of human beings, but of the world as well. Its greatest concern is the problem of social order and man’s relation to his natural resource base; the environment. It seeks and desires to create a cultural world that conditions historical existence. For man it seeks perfect orientation and intellectual disposition, and politics, the authority to order society. Its creative transformation draws power and strength from agreed upon political symbols. It is, in the poetic language of Heidegger, the house of Being; a beautiful thing. But like all things beautiful it is not immortal. It can be destroyed with deliberate vehemence which, sadly, I believe, is what happened to Vision 2016.

What is required for a political vision to succeed? I refuse to answer this question. It would be the height of arrogance to try to tutor the best and brightest at Government Enclave, and a possible invitation of unnecessary personal harm and humiliation. But I do think Batswana know exactly what it is they ought to do.

First, identify the national crisis to be addressed, and then go all way out to seek political redress. Word of advice, take heed of the wise words of that great poet, the author of Paradise Lost, John Milton; “there is no art that has been more cankered in her principles, more soiled, and slobbered with aphorizing pedantry than the art of policy,” and all will proceed well, bearing in mind, of course, all the time, that politics imply a certain idea of man, and not always a good idea.

 

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Herod Remands His Sons

1st February 2021
Herod

Alexander and Aristobulus thrown behind bars on charges of treason against their own father

Of Herod the Great’s sons, General Atiku, the principal one was Antipater II. Born in 46 BC, he was named after his grandfather Antipater I and was Herod’s only child with his first wife Doris. As firstborn son, he should have been first in line to the Herodian throne but he was sidelined after Herod divorced Doris around 43 BC to hitch Mariamne I, the Hasmonean princess who was more politically expedient.

Doris was banished from the palace along with the then three-year-old Antipater. With Mariamne now elevated to wife No. 1 and having been espoused at the time of Herod’s coronation, it followed at least theoretically that it was her male offspring who would be the presumptive heir. That was how Alexander came into the frame.

Alexander, Herod’s first child with Mariamne, was born in 35 BC. Upon turning 22, he was sent to Rome to pursue studies in sciences at the Imperial Court, where he was under the tutelage of Caesar Augustus. He was later joined by his younger brother Aristobulus IV, who was born in in 31 BC. Because of their pedigree, the lads made a splash from the get-go. “As soon as the young men were come from Italy,” Flavius Josephus writes, “the multitude were very desirous to see them, and they became conspicuous among them all, as adorned with great blessings of fortune, and having the countenances of persons of royal dignity.”

Alexander and Aristobulus graduated in 17 BC and 12 BC respectively and upon their return to Judea, marriages were speedily arranged for them by their father, with Alexander tying the knot with Glaphyra, a daughter of King Archelaus of Cappadocia (in modern-day Turkey), and Aristobulus leading his cousin Berenice, a daughter of Herod’s youngest and most beloved sister Salome, to the altar.

The charismatic and good-looking Alexander cast a spell over the Jewish masses. Notes one chronicler: “Alexander’s handsome presence and frank bearing made him a favourite with the people, and they longed for the day when the House of the Maccabees should mount the throne instead of the half-Jew Herod.”

PHERORAS ESCAPES BROTHER’S WRATH

The heir and the spare, however, were unable to come to terms with the murder of their mother by their father way back in 29 BC, when they were only 6 and 3 years old respectively. They immensely abhorred their father for this unconscionable act and were themselves unsure of their continued wellbeing, for if their father could not hesitate to kill his own wife, what would stop him from eliminating his own children since to him nobody was sacred?

Then there was the Salome factor, General, Salome being Herod’s youngest and most cherished sister. Salome had hated Mariamne with a vengeance and this same visceral loathing she extended to Mariamne’s kids. Salome’s hatred for the two young princes stemmed from an obsessive feeling of insecurity on behalf of her brother. She just could not contemplate the possibility of Alexander ousting his father and the throne reverting to the Hasmoneans, who were more popular to the Jews compared to Herod.

Salome’s concern was not far off the mark, for that was exactly what the two princes set out to do – to scheme the death of their father both to avenge their mother’s death and to secure their own lives. In plotting their father’s demise, the two kids were not without sympathisers and willing collaborators, who included Pheroras, Herod’s youngest brother.

Exactly what beef Pheroras had with Herod is not clear. Herod had gone to every length to win his loyalty but to no avail. First, Herod had him marry his sister-in-law, Mariamne’s younger sister. Upon her death, he offered him his own eldest daughter Salampiso but Pheroras rejected her in favour of one slave girl who had melted his heart. At some stage, Herod tried to get Pheroras to hitch Salampsio’s younger sister Cypros and Pheroras acceded, only to renege on the act sooner rather than later.

That Pheroras was involved in the weaving of machinations against him Herod learnt from Alexander himself in one of the four letters Alexander wrote his father imploring him to desist from his habit of subjecting many a people to torture in a bid to extract confessions of treason from them. Upon learning of this, Herod braced to punish his brother but later relented thanks to Archelaus’ fruitful mediation efforts though only after Pheroras had owned up to his guilt.

It seemed Herod’s forgiveness of his brother was genuine as in 20 BC he persuaded Caesar Augustus to make Pheroras tetrarchy of Perea (part of today’s Jordan) with a tidy yearly allowance. It was there Pheroras was banished after his conspiracies against Herod were unearthed.

ROMAN EMPEROR ACQUITS HEROD’S SONS

Not very long after the execution of Mariamne I, General, Herod’s second and most adored wife, in 29 BC, Salome and Pheroras prevailed over Herod to reinstate his first wife Doris and her son Antipater, who was now 11 years old, to his good graces.

Their motive was two-fold. First, they thought Herod desperately needed her to lift his gravely sagged spirits following the demise of Mariamne and whose loss he just was unable to come to terms with. Second and even more crucial, they hoped that Antipater would serve as a bulwark against the thronal ambitions of Alexander and Aristobulus, who they hated being of part- Hasmonean blood, unlike Antipater whose mother was a full-blooded Arab and therefore much closer to them kinshipwise. Herod, however, did not pay heed to this entreaty until 15 years later, when he had his divorce with Doris rescinded and mother and son restored to the palace in 14 BC.

Like Alexander and Aristobulus before him, Antipater was straight off sent to Rome too to receive an education befitting a prince and patrician. Now, Antipater, General, was a clever political operator. Although he was effectively his father’s principal spy against his half-brothers, he at the same time egged on the latter to scheme against their father without Herod suspecting it in the least.

He told Herod that Alexander and Aristobulus were sworn never to rest until they had avenged their mother’s death by liquidating Herod. Salome too had with Antipater’s contrivance set a booby trap for Alexander by enticing him into bedding her, though this auntie-nephew sexual dalliance was perfectly normal in the culture of the times: it scarcely mattered that Salome was 30 years Alexander’s senior and was at the time 50 years old, though still glitteringly gorgeous anyway given the invariably plush circumstances of the nobility.

She would pretend to abhor her own brother over pillow talk, hear Alexander’s take on the matter and the length to which he was prepared to go just to get rid of his father, and feed all this dope to a raptly attentive Herod.

Thus it was, General, that sometime in 13 BC, Herod had Alexander and Aristobulus indicted before the court of Caesar Augustus for plotting to overthrow him (Herod). Though Herod sought the death penalty for his kids, Augustus found no hard enough facts that the kids were guilty of the charge preferred against them. He thus ruled that Herod and his sons should kiss and make up.

Herod was also mandated to name a heir and if it pleased him to parcel off pieces of territory to his seniormost sons. In order to placate Herod for the setback in respect of his sons’ acquittal, Augustus had him richly rewarded. Says Flavius Josephus: “Caesar made him a present of half the revenue of the copper mines in Cyprus, and committed the care of the other half to him, and honoured him with other gifts and incomes; and as to his (Herod) own kingdom, he left it in his own power to appoint which of his sons he pleased for his successor, or to distribute it in parts to each one of them, that the dignity might thereby come to them all. And when Herod was disposed to make such a settlement immediately, Caesar said he would not give him leave to deprive himself, while he was alive, of the power over his kingdom, or over his sons.”

Soon after this episode, Herod, General, announced before a congregation in Judea that further to Caesar’s ruling, he had designated Antipater as his heir. However, he was not in position yet to apportion parts of his kingdom to his sons as Augustus had suggested: that had to wait until he was on his death bed, which was a long way off anyway as he still was in physically good shape.

Herod was 60 years old at the time and eager to look evergreen, he even took to dying his year to disguise a shock of grey. He however reneged on this undertaking and allotted a territory to Antipater which generated a sizeable annual GDP.

HEROD IMPRISONS HIS TWO SONS

Now that Alexander and Aristobulus had been bypassed as heirs, General, they became even more emboldened in their desire to erase their father from the face of the earth so deeply resentful were they. This time around, they had a wide array of sympathisers, who included Herod’s most trusted confidantes and some kings of neighbouring nations. The manner of death they conceived of Herod ranged from poisoned food to a lancing with a spear in an ambush deep in the woods.

Although Herod had spies and tipsters all around, General, he just could not gather tangible enough incriminating evidence against his sons that would stand up before a notoriously perspicacious Augustus, before whom he was obliged to appear and argue whatever case he had against his children that prima facie entailed capital punishment.

As such, he resorted to his well-honed device – excruciating torture to elicit confessions or pointers to the merest intrigue against him. In the process, one of three eunuchs who served him as butler, cupbearer, and palatial chief of staff respectively avowed to him that Alexander had given them sizeable bribes to see to it that the poison weapon got into their father’s system.

He even produced evidence of the very poison that was to be employed in the murder. And sometime in 10 BC, A famed skilled marksman also confessed that he had been detailed by Aristobulus to “lie in wait for their (Alexander and Aristobulus) father, as they were hunting, and kill him”. The same marksman even presented a cache of letters Alexander had written to Aristobulus carping about Herod’s partiality toward Antipater.

When Herod confronted his two sons over these developments, General, Alexander on his part owned up to it all and even besought his father to refrain from torturing people unduly and focus on him only. Now that Herod had heard it from the horse’s mouth, he ordered that Alexander and Aristobulus be detained whilst he took steps to again indict them before Augustus.

Meanwhile, a number of people, about 300 in all, were rounded up in connection with the same conspiracy and everybody who was deemed close to or simply matey with Alexander both historically and contemporaneously were banished in one way or the other. Writes Josephus: “He (Herod) expelled Andromachus and Gamellus, men who had of old been his friends, and been very useful to him in the affairs of his kingdom, and been of advantage to his family, by their embassages and counsels; and had been tutors to his sons, and had in a manner the first degree of freedom with him.

He expelled Andromachus, because his son Demetrius was a companion to Alexander; and Gamellus, because he knew that he wished him well, which arose from his having been with him in his youth, when he was at school, and absent at Rome. These he expelled out of his palace, and was willing enough to have done worse by them; but that he might not seem to take such liberty against men of so great reputation, he contented himself with depriving them of their dignity, and of their power to hinder his wicked proceedings.”

Once again, General, King Archelaus of Cappadocia, Alexander’s father-in-law, prostrated himself before Herod and begged him to pardon his sons. Once again, Herod paid heed, only for his rancour to resurface in 8 BC, when this time around he put the two sons behind bars and refused to grant Archelaus an audience to plead for clemency.
Did the two boys have a prayer, General?

NEXT WEEK: FATE OF HEROD, FATE OF HIS SONS

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Getting down to the nitwitty-gritty

1st February 2021

Before I get started on this week’s rant I want to put it out there that I am a tolerant guy, believe that black lives matter, common decency and I am sensitive that there is some privilege associated with being a white male although more so in Europe than ,Africa these days (smiley face in case I offend anyone).

But, I find myself staring at my children’s bookshelf wondering if I can still read books like Peter Pan, Dumbo and The Jungle Book since Disney slapped racism warnings on these and other classic stories due to ‘negative racial depictions and mistreatment of people or cultures.’ Disney is remaking them so that they can be more correct.

For example Aladdin’s story is effectively changed so that Jasmine is no longer a helpless damsel who is a trophy to be won. In today’s politically correct Disney movie she’s a strong independent “girl boss” who sings about how she  won’t be silenced although this doesn’t stop the main villain capturing her shortly afterwards. I guess at least she did not go down without a fight! There are other examples…in Dumbo  the “racist” singing crows are gone, in Beauty and the Beast remake, Belle tries to teach little girls how to read.

This is all good and I have no problem that Ariel in the little mermaid is now black but cancelling old movies as if they didn’t happen and dismissing Aladdin as racist, well let’s get down to the nitty gritty.  And if I offended you by the use of the term nitty gritty then you are not alone (although I suspect you’re in the vast minority).

News flash – don’t be throwing that around anymore in case the politically correct censors catch you and you land up in trouble. That’s what happened to political editor Laura Kuenssberg who used the term during a BBC talk show. The remark sparked a complaint from a listener about the use of the phrase which some anti-racism campaigners claim originates from Transatlantic slave ships, used by slave traders to refer either to the women or to the remains at the bottom of the transport ships that were covered in lice and grit.

Not according to the respected Chambers dictionary, which states that its origin is ‘ETYMOLOGY: 1960s: originally US; perhaps rhyming compound of grit’. That others dispute this is neither here not there for this story but the fact that the BBC complaints even investigated the issue is in my opinion, asinine. But whether its BBC or Disney, being politically correct(or PC) is very much in vogue.

The problem with living in this age of political correctness is you have to double think before any word comes out of your mouth for fear of offending someone. It a phenomenon to get people to “mind what they say” and is directed mainly at language that refers to women, black people, gay and disabled people – groups traditionally disempowered by the dominant white male and physically able majority, as the oppression these groups endured, it is said, was perpetuated in the very language used to describe them.

Fair enough! Obviously being PC is a noble cause against which no sane, rational 21st century man, white or other would disagree. So, we can no longer say “jump the dyke”, “manhole cover” and “accident blackspot”. You can no longer use the terms “rule of thumb” because of its racist and sexist origins (a law that said you couldn’t beat your wife with an instrument bigger than your thumb) and so it continues, all the way down to the nitty gritty.

What amazes me is the outrage that it seems to cause with people and how companies, governments, and people like overreacting for fear of being on the wrong side of public fashion opinion.  But before you argue that being PC it is just being polite, it’s more like a weapon used to destroy normal people who display normal behaviour and say normal things – even when the haters want to package it as a hate crime. Just think about James Damore, the Google engineer who was fired a few years back for simply publicly musing about the differences between the sexes.

Just last week in the most famous office in the planet Joe Biden removed a Churchill bust. Maybe not so much of a surprise as in the UK the statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament square in London is repeatedly covered in graffiti and attacked by people claiming that he was a racist and that his statue, should be no more ignoring the period he found himself in and the norms of those days – the fact that he was arguably the worlds most ardent anti-fascist leader and the role he played in defeating the Nazi’s, is forgotten. Had they won the war there certainly wouldn’t have been any tolerance at all. Just saying.

In 2015 The University of Michigan spent $16,000 advising students not to say “I want to die” because it’s offensive to the suicidal, nor “That test raped me” because some people actually have been raped, although probably not by calculus exams. At Minnesota’s Macalester College, posters and social media warned in 2014 against using the words “crazy,” “psycho,” “schizo” and “derp.” Excuse the pun but that’s nuts!

This year, ending the prayer opening the new session of Congress in the US, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) intoned, “ Amen and a-woman.” Eyeroll. Last week the Democratic-controlled lower chamber voted along party lines to approve new official language guidelines. Words such as “himself” and “herself” are to be replaced by “themself.” Out with “father,” “mother,” “son,” “daughter,” “brother,” “sister,” “uncle,” “aunt” and other familial terms, and in with “parent,” “child,” “sibling” and so forth.  Madness.

The ridiculousness of it all was emphasised when the speaker of the house Nancy Pelosi made a speech a few days later where she referred to herself as ‘mother, daughter, woman’. She clearly didn’t get the memo! But when erasing “mothers,” and “women,” because the concepts are insufficiently inclusive to gender ideologues, the irony is not lost about the rights which women struggled to attain a vote, much less enter politics.

Salman Rushdie, author of the of the controversial The Satanic Verses, states that ‘No-one has the right not to be offended’ but the core of the ‘woke’ argument appears to be the exact opposite. Yet there is always another side to any argument and in the interests of free speech it has been the accepted norm to ‘agree to disagree’. This new culture of silencing that freedom is insidious and menacing – look to any dictatorship past and present and that is the dictator’s first move – silence the press, silence any voice of dissent, and punish the transgressor.

I suspect that poor old Walt Disney is spinning in his grave, unable to plead the case for his supposed sins but if new-age Disney wants to take this whitewashing (probably shouldn’t say that) to its logical conclusion, rather than worrying about Belle having a do-gooder occupation, let’s start with the title, Beauty and the Beast.

So Belle should no longer be the quintessential fair maiden and thus she can no longer be described as beautiful. As for the poor old Beast, i.e. ugly monster, that word is about as non PC as it comes, so better to steer clear of any and all ancient fables and fairy stories.

I would tell those Disney suits to put that in their pipe and smoke it but I suspect that’s off limits too as it is a clear reference to the Red Indians’ (oops again, Native Americans’) smoking of the peace pipe.  In the words of Hamlet’s Ophelia ‘That way madness lies’, though I suppose even that should probably be ‘mental illness’!

I give up.

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Parricide at Herod’s Court

25th January 2021
SAILI

A wife, uncle, and two in-laws fall at the hands of Judah’s despot

The pre-eminent Jewish chronicler, Flavius Josephus, said of Herod the Great that he was “blessed with every gift of looks, body, and mind” but he was a “slave to his passions”. This was in the context of a gloating bloodlust.

His sword knew no sacred cows: neither his own kids, wives, in-laws, next of kin, nor bosom friends were immune from it. He is on record as pestering Caesar Augustus with a barrage of letters seeking permission to execute his own flesh and blood, prompting the Roman emperor to at one time quip that, “It is better to be Herod’s pig than his son”, which was apt: as a “Jew”, Herod did not eat pork and therefore in the event that he kept any pigs, they would never have to be killed.

You are by now well-apprised of the death of Hyrcanus II by the same Herod, General Atiku, in 30 BC. Hyrcanus, a Hasmonean ruler of Judah twice over, was actually the grandfather of Mariamne I, Herod’s most beloved wife and his second of up to 10 wives. It was Mariamne’s own mother Salome, who dreading Herod’s pathological savagery, pitched Mariamne to Herod in the hope that that would insure her family from Herod’s murderous caprices.

Now, Mariamne, General, was as much a stunning beauty as her younger brother Aristobulus III was breathtakingly good-looking. Having tied the knot with Herod in 37 BC, Mariamne had prevailed over her husband to install Aristobulus as High Priest. The post had fallen vacant on the death of Antigonus in 37 BC and Herod had appointed one Ananel, who had no ties whatsoever to the Hasmoneans, the first such in more than a century, in his place. Unable to resist the spirited entreaties of his beloved wife, who had also lobbied Queen Cleopatra of Egypt and her beau Mark Anthony, Herod gave in and replaced Ananel with Aristobulus, who was only 16 years old, in 36 BC.

Because of his enormous charisma and overall affability, Aristobulus was a hit with the masses despite his tender age and Herod was envious of the young man’s rock star-like popularity. To make doubly sure the young man did not harbour a seditious ace up his sleeve, the morbidly paranoid Herod had his spooks watch on both Aristobulus and his mother round the clock. Sensing imminent danger, Aristobulus contacted Cleopatra, asking for a pre-emptive safe passage to Egypt and there enjoy absolute freedom. When Herod got wind of this, he decided to get rid of Aristobulus as he did not wish him to be a perennial thorn in his flesh from the utter safety of self-imposed exile.

The opportunity came at a banquet in Jericho which was organised by Aristobulus’ mother. There, Herod had one of his henchmen cause Aristobulus to drown during a dusk time horseplay in a swimming pool. Of course Herod would forever maintain the drowning was accidental when everybody knew it was in truth a tactical elimination. Poor Aristobulus was only 17 years old having been born in 56 BC. He was the last Hasmonean High Priest and was replaced by the previously deposed Ananel, who was to remain in that position till 29 BC.

HEROD ACQUITTED OVER THE ARISTOBULUS DEATH

It need not be over-emphasised, General, that Mariamne and her mother Alexandra did not take Herod’s line over the all too untimely demise of Aristobulus lying down. If he had reckoned that with the death of Aristobulus he had gotten rid of potentially the most potent threat to his omnipotence, he was totally mistaken. Herod had actually simply fanned the flames of intrigue against him, for mother and daughter confronted him and accused him of murdering their boy in cold blood.

Nor did the two Iron Ladies end matters there: Alexandra wrote a lachrymal letter to Cleopatra to get her to bring her influence to bear on Mark Anthony so that Herod paid dearly and likewise for his nefarious act. Anthony, who at the time was the Roman colossus in charge of the whole of the Middle East, was persuaded and during a visit to Laodicea (in modern-day Turkey, though some accounts say it was Rhodes in Cyprus), he commanded Herod to report to him forthwith and exculpate himself over the affair.

Although Herod put a brave face on the matter, General, he was rather unsure of his eventual fate after the trial. He also suspected rightly or wrongly that Anthony had a thing for the voluptuously beautiful Mariamne and the last thing Herod wanted was for any other man to bed his beloved Mariamne even in death. So before he set off for Laodicea, Herod instructed his uncle Joseph, who was married to his sister Salome, to make sure that in the event that Anthony sentenced him to death, he should immediately put her to the sword. He also detailed a certain Sohemus, a most trusted aide, to stand sentry over the entire womenfolk at the palace.

Herod, however, had the nine lives of a cat, General. Using his immense rhetorical skills and the time-honoured palm greasing, he won himself an acquittal. Meanwhile, the Judean rumourville was abuzz with chatter that Herod had been summarily executed by Anthony, as a result of which people became spendthrifts of their tongues.

Both Joseph and Sohemus disclosed to Mariamne the instructions Herod had left them with in relation to her fate once he was no more. Mariamne was both livid and distraught that her husband regarded her as so easily expendable when outwardly he cherished her beyond words. To her mind, his arrangements with Joseph had nothing to do with love but sprang from sheer monstrosity. She probably thanked God that he was dead, but the fact of the matter was that he was not and when he at long last turned up, she did not want to have anything to do with him, including the conjugation which he so eagerly pined for after such an extended absence.

HEROD KILLS HIS WIFE AND HIS UNCLE

Now, if Herod had a kind of Svengali, General, it was his youngest sister Salome. Salome (65 BC-10 AD) was the most powerful woman at Herod’s court. A sly, scheming, and manipulating vixen, she arguably more than any other living being had the most sway in a negative sense on her brother, who took practically whatever she said as gospel truth.

Let us nevertheless, General, take stock of the fact that the bulk of what we learn about Salome comes from Flavius Josephus, who himself relied on the writings of Herod’s court historian Nicolaus of Damascus. For one reason or the other, Nicolaus did not see eye to eye with Salome and it is therefore possible that much of what Nicolaus relates of her is embellished to smear her before the court of history.
Upon his return, Herod was told of the rumours of his death and so was surprised to find Mariamne alive when Joseph and Sohemus should in the circumstances have had her killed if indeed they were loyal to him. In fact, Joseph had even put Mariamne and Alexandra into the safe custody of Roman legions stationed in Judea just in case Jewish malcontents who abhorred Herod turned their wrath on them.

But there was more. Salome reported to Herod that Mariamne, who she hated like the plague, had had sexual relations with both Joseph and Sohemus, this being Mariamne’s reward to them for dishing out to her the dirt on Herod, and that she had on several occasions before attempted to poison him. Now, no one would hump Herod’s most beloved wife and get away scotfree. It is therefore small wonder that Herod straightaway ordered the execution of Joseph and Sohemus. Joseph was 61 years old at the time of his death in 34 BC, having been born in 95 BC. In the case of Mariamne herself though, he had her subjected to a formal court trial not on charges of adultery but of attempted regicide.

Herod had hoped that the court would acquit her, whereupon he would make bygones be bygones so great was his love for the woman, but sadly for him, General, she was found guilty and sentenced to death. Even then, Herod tactfully dilly-dallied on signing the writ of execution and simply had his wife detained at a fortress for some time until Salome prevailed over him to execute her at long last. Writes Josephus: “Thus, with the death of the noble and lovely Mariamne ended the glorious history of the Hasmonean High Priest Mattathias and his descendants.”

For a long time to come though, General, Herod was haunted by the death of his wife to the point of even sometimes coming across as if he had lost his mind. “When Herod realised what this meant (the death sentence passed on Mariamne), he tried in vain to have the verdict changed, but Salome did not rest until the death penalty was carried out,” Josephus informs us. “Herod was heartbroken; nothing could comfort him for the loss of his lovely wife.

For seven years he refused to have her body buried, and held it, embalmed, in his palace. Afterwards, he became so melancholy and despondent, nothing interested him or could arouse any enthusiasm in him for living … He was so far conquered by his passion, that he would order his servants to call for Mariamne, as if she were still alive, and could still hear them … He tried hard to forget his trouble by going hunting and banqueting, but nothing helped. Herod built new cities and erected temples and palaces. He also named a tower in honour of Mariamne.”

HEROD SLAYS SISTER’S EX-HUBBY

Mariamne’s death was not the only one which Herod perpetrated through the instrumentality of Salome. There were actually several and included those of her own husband Costobarus. Salome was married four times, to her uncle Joseph (45 BC); Costobarus (34 BC); Sylleus (circa 27 BC); and Alexas (20 BC).

Like the Herod clan, Costobarus was of Idumean stock. It was Costobarus Herod had made governor of Idumea and Gaza and upon Joseph’s death had him tie the knot with Salome, with the couple eventually siring two children, Berenice and Antipater III. Costobarus, though, soon began to harbour monarchical ambitions of his own and wrote to Cleopatra beseeching her to persuade Mark Anthony to make Idumea independent of Herod and install him (Costobarus) as Rome’s client King of the territory.

Of course upon learning of this, Herod was not amused. It was Salome who pleaded with him not to put her husband to the sword. Next time, however, a dumped Costobarus was not so lucky. Seven years after their marriage, Salome and Costobarus parted ways and a possibly hurt Salome decided to exact vengeance. She informed her brother that he had been harbouring two fugitives from Herodian justice for a full 12 years at his own farm.

The two were simply known as the Sons of Baba. Baba ben Babuta, their father and clan patriarch, was related to the Hasmonean ruler Antigonus, who Herod had replaced and killed in 37 BC with the help of Roman legions. Baba and his sons had resisted Herod at the time, with his sons henceforth persisted in insurrectionist activity against Herod. Baba himself had been captured and blinded by Herod but spared anyway as he no longer posed any threat. Writes Josephus: “Now the Sons of Babas were of great dignity, and had power among the multitude, and were faithful to Antigonus, and were always raising calumnies against Herod, and encouraged the people to preserve the government to that royal family (the Hasmoneans) which held it by inheritance.”

Costobarus had provided the Sons of Baba an indefinite lair “supposing that their preservation might be of great advantage to him in the changes of government afterward”. Following the Salome tip, Herod had Costobarus and the Sons of Baba summarily executed “so that none was left alive of the family of Hyrcanus (the Hasmonean), and the kingdom was wholly in Herod’s power, there being no one of high rank to stand in the way of his unlawful acts” per Josephus.

NEXT WEEK: HEROD’S WRATH ON HIS OWN SONS

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