11 December 2019

A reference and footnote in
two newly-published books

‘A World Divided’ by Eric D Weitz … a reference to a song of protest by Vassilis Rotas, Mikis Theodorakis and Maria Farantouri

Patrick Comerford

It is always a pleasure to find your name as a footnote in a book, particularly a scholarly book. During my academic career, references and footnotes in books by other academics were important when it came to appraisals of your research and workload.

This was not a matter of vanity, still less one of self-promotion. But it was an important measure of the impact and acceptance of your research. In recent weeks, I have been pleased to come across my name in two recently published books.

A World Divided: The Global Struggle for Human Rights in the Age of Nation-States by Eric D Weitz was published by Princeton University Press on 24 September 2019.

Eric D Weitz is Distinguished Professor of History and the former Dean of Humanities and Arts at the City College of New York (CCNY). He trained in modern German and European history, has a PhD from Boston University Weitz, and has also worked in international and global history. His research interests include Modern Europe, Germany, Labour, International Human Rights and Crimes against Humanity.

This 576-page book is a global history of human rights in a world of nation-states that grant rights to some while denying them to others.

The world was once dominated by vast empires, but today it is divided into almost 200 independent countries with laws and constitutions proclaiming human rights. This transformation suggests that nations and human rights inevitably developed together. But the reality is far more problematic, as Professor Weitz shows in his global history of the fate of human rights in a world of nation-states.

Through vivid histories drawn from virtually every continent, A World Divided describes how, since the 18th century, nationalists have struggled to establish their own states that grant human rights to some people. At the same time, they have excluded others through forced assimilation, ethnic cleansing, or even genocide.

From Greek rebels, American settlers, and Brazilian abolitionists in the 19th century to anticolonial Africans and Zionists in the 20th century, nationalists have confronted a crucial question: Who has the ‘right to have rights?’

In A World Divided, Dr Weitz tells these stories in colourful accounts focusing on people who were at the centre of events. He shows that rights are dynamic. Rights were proclaimed originally for propertied white men, but were quickly demanded by others, including women, American Indians, and black slaves.

This book also explains the origins of many of today’s crises, from the existence of more than 65 million refugees and migrants worldwide to the growth of right-wing nationalism. He argues that only the continual advance of international human rights will move us beyond the quandary of a world divided between those who have rights and those who do not.

In his discussion of the Greek struggle for human right (pp 74-79), he refers to my posting two years ago on the Greek singer Maria Farantouri, who began working closely with the Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis and singing the songs of resistance to the colonels’ regime, which came to power in a coup in 1967 and was toppled in 1974.

Her version of Το γελαστό παιδί (The Laughing Boy) celebrates the uprising in the Athens Polytechnic on 17 November 1973 that led to the downfall of the colonels within a year. The song, composed by Mikis Theodorakis, was first included on the soundtrack of the Costas-Garvas movie Z (1969), and was quickly linked with resistance to the junta.

For Greeks, it is a song about the death of so many young people killed resisting the regime. When the regime was toppled in 1974, Mikis Theodorakis and many singers organised a concert to celebrate the return of democracy to Greece, and Maria Farantouri sang one of the most touching songs of the time.

There was a palpable response when she intentionally changed the original reference to August to the month of November to honour the students killed in November 1973. The original Greek lyrics are by the poet Vassilis Rotas, but they are based on earlier poem by the Irish playwright Brendan Behan.

Some years ago, my friends Paddy Sammon, a former Irish diplomat once based in Athens, and Damian Mac Con Uladh, an Irish journalist from Ballinasloe now based in Corinth, have researched the Irish background to this great Greek classic of resistance to oppression.

The original laughing boy in Brendan Behan’s poem is Michael Collins. Theodorakis adapted the Greek translation, and adapted it in the context of Grigoris Lambrakis, the pacifist activist killed by far-right extremists in Greece in the years before the colonels seized power. As Damian Mac Con Uladh has written, every Greek knows the song can sing some of, which they learned at school commemorations.

Behan adapted the poem in his play The Hostage (1958). The play first came to the attention of Theodorakis while he was living in Paris, and he was inspired to compose a cycle of 16 songs in 1962 with Greek lyrics by Vasilis Rotas (1889-1977).

Rotas’s translation of The Hostage was staged in Athens in 1962 at a time when the Greek civil war was still a taboo topic and left-wing activity was under close police surveillance. The play became a way for people to identify with their struggle against a repressive regime.

Maria Farantouri went into exile after the coup in 1967, and sang this song at solidarity concerts across Europe. ‘It became a hymn not only for the Irish liberation movement, but also for every liberation movement in the world, and Greek democracy,’ she told an RTÉ documentary.

When the junta sent in tanks against protesting students at the Athens Polytechnic on 17 November 1973, killing at least 24 people over a number of days, Maria Farantouri added a couple of stanzas to the song, and changed the date from August to November, deliberately linking the song to that event.

The second reference in recent weeks is in Irish Anglicanism 1969-2019, a collection of essays edited by Kenneth Milne and Paul Harron to mark the 150th anniversary of the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland and published by Four Courts Press, Dublin. This new book was launched in Belfast last week [4 December 2019].

In his chapter on ‘The Church of Ireland dialogue with other faiths,’ Archbishop Michael Jackson of Dublin refers to my Embracing Difference: the Church of Ireland in a Plural Society, written for the Church in Society Social Justice and Theology Group, and published by Church of Ireland Publishing in 2007.

Archbishop Jackson says in his chapter this book ‘recognizes that the Church of Ireland takes its place within a pluralist society in Ireland today.’

The essays in the new book cover topics including the role of women in ministry; the Anglican Communion; dialogue with other churches and faiths; the covenant with the Methodist Church; architecture and art; pastoral care; theological education; the Church and education; liturgy and worship; music in the life of the Church; canonical and legal change; the Irish language; archives and publishing; and the Church and the media.

Maria Farantouri sings ‘Το γελαστό παιδί’ (‘The Laughing Boy’) at the first concert by Mikis Theodorakis in Greece after the fall of the colonels in 1974

Reading Saint Luke’s Gospel
in Advent 2019: Luke 11

‘Give us each day our daily bread’ (Luke 11: 3) … bread in the rectory kitchen in Askeaton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

During the Season of Advent this year, I am joining many people in reading a chapter from Saint Luke’s Gospel each morning. In all, there are 24 chapters in Saint Luke’s Gospel, so this means being able to read through the full Gospel, reaching the last chapter on Christmas Eve [24 December 2019].

Why not join me as I read through Saint Luke’s Gospel each morning this Advent?

Luke 11 (NRSVA):

1 He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ 2 He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread.
4 And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.’

5 And he said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.” 7 And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.” 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

9 ‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit[f] to those who ask him!’

14 Now he was casting out a demon that was mute; when the demon had gone out, the one who had been mute spoke, and the crowds were amazed. 15 But some of them said, ‘He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.’ 16 Others, to test him, kept demanding from him a sign from heaven. 17 But he knew what they were thinking and said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself becomes a desert, and house falls on house. 18 If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? – for you say that I cast out the demons by Beelzebul. 19 Now if I cast out the demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your exorcists[g] cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 20 But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you. 21 When a strong man, fully armed, guards his castle, his property is safe. 22 But when one stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away his armour in which he trusted and divides his plunder. 23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

24 ‘When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting-place, but not finding any, it says, “I will return to my house from which I came.” 25 When it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. 26 Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first.’

27 While he was saying this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!’ 28 But he said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!’

29 When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, ‘This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation. 31 The queen of the South will rise at the judgement with the people of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here! 32 The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!

33 ‘No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar, but on the lampstand so that those who enter may see the light. 34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light; but if it is not healthy, your body is full of darkness. 35 Therefore consider whether the light in you is not darkness. 36 If then your whole body is full of light, with no part of it in darkness, it will be as full of light as when a lamp gives you light with its rays.’

37 While he was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to dine with him; so he went in and took his place at the table. 38 The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not first wash before dinner. 39 Then the Lord said to him, ‘Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41 So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you.

42 ‘But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practised, without neglecting the others. 43 Woe to you Pharisees! For you love to have the seat of honour in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the market-places. 44 Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without realizing it.’

45 One of the lawyers answered him, ‘Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us too.’ 46 And he said, ‘Woe also to you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them. 47 Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your ancestors killed. 48 So you are witnesses and approve of the deeds of your ancestors; for they killed them, and you build their tombs. 49 Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, “I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute”, 50 so that this generation may be charged with the blood of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be charged against this generation. 52 Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.’

53 When he went outside, the scribes and the Pharisees began to be very hostile towards him and to cross-examine him about many things, 54 lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.

A prayer for today:

A prayer today (International Mountain Day) from the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG, United Society Partners in the Gospel:

Let us give thanks to God for the gift of natural resources such as the mountainous regions of our world that play critical roles for food, water, ecosystems and recreation.

Tomorrow: Luke 12.

Yesterday: Luke 10.

‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread’ … (Luke 11: 5) … bread in a shop in St Ives, Cornwall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org