Thursday, April 25, 2013

ANZAC Day and the Morality of Invasion

Today is a day of remembrance of tragic glories past. It is increasingly also a day of moral ambiguity.
When I first celebrated ANZAC Day as a little boy, it was a moment to pause to glorify war, encounter moving rituals and to skate over anything other than ancestor worship. The ANZAC Day veterans, liberally sprinkled with amputees, were acclaimed for a day and their invasion of Turkey deemed valiant. 
Then Vietnam killed the moment. ANZAC Day went into seemingly terminal decline.  It was poorly attended and militarism in general seen for the tragic folly it inevitably is.  And so it flew under most Australians’ radar through the seventies and eighties.
I next bumped into ANZAC Day was travelling to Gallipoli as my wife and I bummed around the world.  Then Australians visited Gallipoli in tiny numbers. We only went because her grandfather had a military post named after him and the family wanted to see what if anything was there.  Well there was a mighty edifice (SEE PHOTO BELOW) notwithstanding that the family’s name was misspelt and the Post was combined with Courtney’s Post.  Indeed my grandfather lived under the Ottoman Empire (which he detested) and it is foreseeable that if he had not made his way into Australia, he would have been taking pot shots at Beth’s grandfather.  Oh, the ironies of life.
It was there I first confronted the notion that the Australians were invaders. The locals were generous and welcoming but made it clear that their ancestors were attacked and died in far greater numbers. It was the first time I even contemplated this perspective and I felt repentant accordingly.
I returned and befriended Resit, a lovely Turkish boy. He was charming about Gallipoli and we agreed it was a tragic mistake and talked more about our circumcision experiences (BTW his was positive and mine was nothing as at 8 days, I “know nothing”).
And so we come to today and ANZAC Day is a very different place.  The mojo has returned. Back packers flood the Peninsula.  ANZAC Day is huge and the celebration has morphed through the religious ritual of football to form a central and inspiring day in the calendar.  Our multiculturalism informs us of the fact that there were good people on the other side and both Turks and Ozzies celebrate a long lost fiasco without acrimony. The Turkish community has a sub branch of the RSL!
ANZAC Day though is changing too in the Islamic world.  It is being argued in some quarters that it is part of the centuries old Christian Crusade against Muslims.  Remember that the Turks were led by Ataturk, the first President in the wake of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.  The man was secular, his world view Western and his mantra was patriotic not religious. At the time of the invasion, he was representing the Ottoman Empire and that Empire was aligned with the Christian Austro Hungarian Empire and the equally Christian Germany.  Sides were chosen by various Empires on the basis of geopolitical advantage not belief.  Those Empires that lost were broken up. It was a battle of Empires at play and faith was irrelevant. 
Any attempt by modern Islam to diminish the role of the secular Ataturk flies in the face of the facts. Any attempt by the Islamic world to portray the Turkey as the latest iteration of the Crusades is misleading. The local Turks were innocent victims but their faith had nought to do with it. 
Whilst the Gallipoli locals were victims, the Ottoman Empire was no innocent. Just ask the survivors of the Pontian Greek Genocide of (1914-1923) or the Armenian Genocide of the same era. One cannot easily portray the Ottoman Caliphate as yet another innocent victim of the Crusading West.
And in Australia, the marginal Hizb ut Tahrir group condemns the invasion as an anti Islamic invasion of the Ottoman Caliphate. They are roundly condemned by the Turkish Sub Branch of the RSL who rightly say that soldiers died representing their communities. 
In my life, ANZAC Day has constantly evolved. 
Who could have guessed that simple message of the moral rightness of blind patriotism I received as child would evolve so much over time. Now layers imposed by immigration and cultural warfare battle anew to capture the hearts and minds.  The moral equation changes with each revision.  The ANZACs were once strong strapping heroes possessing great moral grandeur. Then, in the seventies they became the morally flawed representatives of militarism and imperialism. Now in the twenty first century in Australia they represent another sporting contest that we must celebrate.  And in some pockets of the Islamic world, they are incorrectly portrayed as evil Crusaders.
 ANZAC Day will never stand still and its moral equation never avoid being hijacked by those who want to profit by revising history.  Lest we forget the real tragedy - Dueling Empires imposed suffering and death upon their expendable boys.

What is your view? Is ANZAC Day

  • a sacred secular moment?
  • a tired old anachronism?
  • a Christian Crusading moment of triumphalism over Islam?
  • an annual rite when the rituals of the military are mooshed together with the rituals of footy?
Over to you and to inspire you is a picture of the misspelt Steel's Post named after my grandfather in law Tom Steel. 

Monday, April 08, 2013

Easter Triple Bill No. 3 - What About The Empty Tomb?

Well better late than never I now finish off the Easter Triple bill.  This one had to await the end of Easter as it concerns events post the crucifixion.  There are many issues raised by this tempestuous time. How could a demoralised leaderless group of peasants survive, let alone become a world movement? What was the nature of Jesus’ reappearance in the Galilee weeks after the crucifixion? There are so many issues.  I have chosen a big one – what do unbelievers say about the empty tomb?
The empty tomb, the Sunday after the crucifixion, is one of humanity’s great imponderables.  Was it empty because Jesus had resurrected from the dead. Who rolled back the rock?  Why is it that it was empty?
My explanation goes something like this.  There are 4 Gospel versions of the empty tomb story.  But the oldest and therefore more likely to be reliable is Mark.  His story is the least miraculous and the least remarkable.  In Mark, what happened was that Mary Magdalene and two of her mates, Salome and another Mary, arrived to the tomb to anoint the body – an odious task after a couple of days of decomposition.   There they encountered a man in white.  He was a human not an angel.  Just a man.  And he told them that Jesus “is not here”.  The man in white, was presumably of the priestly Levite caste.  As time meandered down the gospel path, the later authors added miraculous (or ridiculous) bells and whistles.  The man in white became first one angel in Mathew and two angels in Luke and John.  But I prefer the explanation of Mark for I don’t believe in angels.  I think that Mark got it right.  Three women saw a bloke that they didn’t expect to encounter and had a quick conversation with him that left them more distraught the tomb was empty.
What happened to the body?  Well it had been placed in a family grave borrowed from Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish parliament – the Sanhedrin.  Reportedly, Joseph grabbed the body which presumably after a criminal crucifixion should have been dumped anonymously in a mass grave.  This, with Sabbath inhibiting the actions of the players would have been a quick, desperate measure. It would not surprise that it had been moved to a more appropriate and hopefully permanent grave.  But who knows.  The body had been moved and we can never know why.  Jesus had been killed on the eve of Sabbath and because it is forbidden to touch the deceased on the Sabbath quick arrangements were made and probably had to be unmade once the time constraints of the Sabbatical period had abated.
If Mark gave an accurate depiction of the conversation, it is a conversation one would expect to hear in the context of a recent death.  Part of the taboo on recent death is to avoid discussing it other than to assure mourners that the newly departed has been raised unto heaven.  Thus I look at Mark’s description of the empty tomb and the conversations there and think that it was not a miraculous occurrence at all.  It was merely that the distressed women found a Levite priest who assured them that the exigencies of the time had emptied the tomb.  It does not need to have been a resurrection.  It might be that the body was to be taken from the Arimathea vault and maybe even transported back to the Galilee.  Given the bipartisan Middle East propensity to bury the cadaver within hours of death, I suspect it was quickly buried for or by the disciples who scurried back up north to the relative safety of the Galilee.
So a reading of Mark can explain the empty tomb.  This notion is of course fundamental to the idea of resurrection which is in turn fundamental to the whole miraculous Christian discourse. 
What is your view???
Do you agree with me that Mark is the Gospel book to focus on?
Were there angels and a resurrection at the tomb or just a conversation after the body had been moved?
What is your view?
Over to you ....

PS You can read a full account in my version of the Passion entitled, “Jesus, Judas and Mordy Ben Ruben: Three Good Jewish Boys in Jerusalem” available on Amazon at