Monthly Archives: April 2013

Nationalism in Heian Japan

Posted by dianamuir on April 22, 2013
Medieval nationhood / Comments Off on Nationalism in Heian Japan

もろこしも Far Cathay too
天の下にぞ Lies under the same heaven,
有と聞く I hear:
照る日の本を Please do not forget
忘れざらなむ This Land of the Rising Sun.

Written by an aristocratic lady of the Heian period.

Formal argument for a “strong sense of national identity”  among the chattering classes of the era,  Robert Borgen, Japanese Nationalism: Ancient and Modern.

Annual Report of the Insitute for International Studies [Meiji Gakuin University], no. 1 (December 1998), pp. 49-59.

The Old Moorish Synagogue in One of England’s Densest Muslim Neighborhoods

Posted by dianamuir on April 21, 2013
Uncategorized / Comments Off on The Old Moorish Synagogue in One of England’s Densest Muslim Neighborhoods

During a trip to England two years ago I drove up to Bradford to see the old synagogue.    I have an interest in historicist architecture – identity statements made in stone – and a passion for Islamic architecture.

Bradford is perhaps the most authentically Islamic of the many Jewish synagogues built in what is known as the Moorish Revival Style.   Handsome Moorish synagogues like the one in Bradford  a dual statement: we are part of the public life of this community, and we are a people with ancient roots in the East.    According to Sharman Kadish, the  Jewish community of Victorian Bradford was mostly made up of Reformed Jews from German-speaking communities in Central Europe, where Moorish synagogues were extremely popular.

A member of the synagogue had agreed to meet me and let me into the building; he very kindly waited as I made several wrong turns, calling him on my cell as I bumbled through roundabouts and no-right-turn signs before finding my way to  Manningham, a south-Asian neighborhood of substantial Victorian town houses and a lovely park bursting with daffodils.  I finally located the synagogue.      The building’s Lombard stripes, Ogee arched windows, and Hebrew inscriptions were unmistakable.

The interior is beautiful, especially the Torah Ark set into an exquisitely carved horseshoe arch.

The Bradford synagogue was part of an admiring wave of Orientalism that swept Europe in the nineteenth century.   Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra was a great best-seller.   Artists flocked to the paint the dazzlingly exotic Near East.   And Westerners built exotic orientalist buildings, like P. T. Barnum’s  house in Connecticut, Iranistan.   The Royal Pavillion at Brighton, England.   Exotic Olana on Hudson.   And the Arab Hall at Leighton House, London.

But the greatest number of Moorish revival buildings were  synagogues.   There were over two hundred Moorish revival synagogues, although a complete count has never been made and some of the smaller European examples may go unrecorded.   A surprising number survive, including  the  Budapest’s exquisitely beautiful  Rumbach Street synagogue, an eight-sided architectural homage to Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock designed by the great Viennese architect Otto Wagner, which, like many old world synagogues, is far more magnificent inside than out.     Americans may know   the soaring minarets of Cincinnatti’s Plum Street Temple, the onion domes of  Temple Beth-El in Corsicana, Texas or the funky Moorish roof line of the little synagogue in Owensboro, Kentucky.

The Bradford Synagogue can take its place among the most handsome and authentic buildings of the Moorish revival, but it must  have looked dramatically exotic in the Bradford of 1880.     On the day I visited the neighborhood, there were a smattering of people in western dress, but the streets of Walsingham at midday on a Thursday were filled with mothers in hijab pushing baby strollers, and clusters of men and boys in shalwar kameez.

The congregation has been kept open until now by the sentimental attachment of members and the children of former members who live elsewhere.   It opened a suburban location years ago; that building has recently closed.

Whether the old Moorish revival building on Bowland Street can continue to function as a synagogue, even with the help and support of its Muslim neighbors, is an open question.    If it does not, it will make a handsome mosque with an exquisite mihrab in the center of one of Britain’s liveliest Muslim neighborhoods.



Before Religion

Posted by dianamuir on April 16, 2013
Uncategorized / Comments Off on Before Religion

Brent Nongbri explains how the West constructed  a category,  and came to believed that it was a valid description of the real world.


Modern Conceit; Review by William T. Cavanaugh in May, 2013  First Things.

Misappropriating Patriots’ Day

Posted by dianamuir on April 16, 2013
Uncategorized / Comments Off on Misappropriating Patriots’ Day

In the divisive, tensely political years when ungrateful colonists destroyed private property of the Boston Tea Party, when mobs attacked His Majesty troops the Boston Massacre and unruly subjects took up arms against a legitimate Parliamentary government and the American Revolution, public commemorations were a tool used by advocates of American rights to increase commitment to their cause.    The revolting Americans celebrated the anniversaries of the Boston Massacre, the Battle of Bunker Hill,  and April 19th – the day a political struggle turned into war at the Battle of Lexington and Concord.   These celebrations were not holidays; they were pro-Independence political rallies.   In 1777 the Fourth of July joined them as one more pretext to rally the sometimes fading enthusiasm of ordinary men and women to support the fight for independence.

After independence was won and the Treaty of Paris signed, Americans lost interest in celebrating the Fourth of July.   The holiday was  revived to by political activists fighting for and against a proposed Constitution that would replace the Articles of Confederation with a stronger federal government.       New York and Rhode Island were implacably opposed to a federal constitution.    If you read the Constitution carefully, you will find that it says, “Done… by unanimous consent of the states present” at the Constitutional Convention on September 17, 1787.  What is actually means is: done without Rhode Island and New York.

The fight over ratification was famously bitter in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Virginia, South Carolina and New York.   (Rhode Island didn’t have enough pro-Federalists to stage a debate.)    By mid-June 1788, nine states including Massachusetts, New Hampshire and South Carolina had ratified.   Formally, 9 was enough.  But it was clear to everyone that with New York saying ‘nay’,  if Virginia also refused to ratify the new federal government would be too weak to function.   By June everything hung on Virginia.   Virginia ratified on June 26.

This was the eighteenth century.    The telegraph had not yet been invented.   News of Virginia’s ratification did not reach Albany until the July 3.   On the morning of the Glorious Fourth, feelings were running high as the Anti-Federalists fired the customary 13 salutes, and ignited when they burned a copy of the Constitution.     Federalists – who had  drunk more than was good for them  –  fired 10 salutes in honor of the 10 states that had ratified and were marching home when they met anti-Federalists – who were also three sheets to the wind.   The anti-Federalists were mad as hops over the politically-motivated firing of 10 salutes instead of 13; and they were  armed with clubs, stones, and a field-piece.   The battle lasted 20 minutes.  The Federalists won.  Several men were wounded, one killed. (Appelbaum, The Glorious Fourth, pp. 30-32.)

That, however, was as violent as the battle over the Constitution got.   The fight was  bitter.  Federalists and anti-Federalists formed two opposing political parties and refused to sit down together for dinner on the Fourth of July.   Towns had two speeches, two dinners, two celebrations.    The invective of Federal-era politics can make today’s scurrilous  tweeting sound downright genteel.   But before 1860 and since 1865, the fiercely held differences of opinion over how this country should be governed have been settled by persuasion, compromise and vote.   Not by violence.

Holidays are part of that debate, subject to being used as political tools the way both pro- and anti-Federalists once used the Fourth of July.   Columbus Day, for example, was created as part of the Italian American political struggle to gain recognition as “real” Americans.   It became so popular that Amerindian activists now use it to stake their claim for redress of the  grievances of conquest.  Politics is noisy and messy and groups that enlist holidays to enhance their message may or may not carry their point.

A right-wing group has attempted to appropriate Patriots Day by inverting the nature of the American Revolution, particularly the role of the minute men at Lexington and Concord.

Far from being a set of rugged individualists, the men who stood up to the British Army at Lexington Green were the democratically organized male population of the town of Lexington.   And Lexington was not unique.   In Massachusetts a political consensus was reached long before anyone picked up a musket.    A decade of intense political debate, rallies, marches, Liberty Trees, lithographs, and provocations like the Boston Massacre and Boston Tea Party had resulted in a population democratically committed to standing up to the Crown in defense of their right to self-government.

Gun powder was stored in church towers at a time when the congregation and the citizenry in most Massachusetts towns were virtually identical, the citizen militia of the Commonwealth was  pledged to act together should the British attempt to impose the imperial will by armed force, and  almost the entire membership of the Massachusetts legislature had convened in Concord, not in the capital at Boston.  Moving the Massachusetts legislature to Concord was not exactly secret, it was clandestine, against the will of the Crown, and done with the full backing of the great majority of the citizens.    The battle, when it came, was not an act of  individuals, it was the consensus decision of the people and government of Massachusetts.

If the modern movement that calls itself a militia and claims to stand on Patriots Day in the footsteps of the men on Lexington Green  really believe that they know how America should be governed, they should do what Sam Adams did and devote themselves to the hard, political  work of persuading their fellow citizens to agree with them.