Here are some of the books I've been reading this summer.
Michael Burleigh, Sacred Causes: The Clash of Religion and Politics, from the Great War to the War on Terror. Burleigh is a British historian who has written on 20th-century Germany; he also wrote Earthly Powers: Religion and Politics in Europe From the French Revolution to the Great War (to which Sacred Causes is a sequel). Burleigh paints a vivid picture of a demoralized Europe after the horrors of the "Great War," as it was then called, and shows how the totalitarian regimes of Stalin, Mussolini, and Hitler created "political religions." He highlights the strong statements and considerable actions of the Catholic Church against persecution of the Jews. Pius XI, the pope from 1922 to 1939, vividly denounced persecution in Mexico and Soviet Russia and in 1937 issued the encyclical Mit brennender Sorge, written in German, which denounced Nazi doctrines and actions, and made sure that copies were smuggled into Germany. This encyclical was prompted and written by Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who became Pope Pius XII in 1939. Burleigh doesn't make the point, but the fact that Pacelli chose to take his predecessor's papal name suggests a ringing endorsement of his policies. Catholic leaders had to take account of the fact that the dictators had physical power over their followers and the institutional church, and Burleigh notes that they did not do everything we might want them to have done against totalitarianism. But, as he also points out, the Protestant churches of Germany, with only a very few exceptions, did very much less. They cooperated with and gave legitimacy to the Nazi regime. It's an interesting question why scholars who have been harshly critical of the Catholic Church seem to have little or no interest in the record of the Protestant churches.
Burleigh's larger point is that churches and religion have often been forces for freedom and against domination by totalitarian regimes. He is no fan of the Sixties or of Irish nationalism; he chronicles lovingly the role of churches, primarily the Catholic Church, in the downfall of communism in Eastern Europe. And he ends with a look at Eurabia, the sinister influence of Islamic opponents of freedom, in western Europe. And he bemoans the refusal of European Union leaders to acknowledge the influence of Christianity in Europe in its 2004 EU Constitution.
"Liberal and secular politicians, many with lawyers' limited historical consciousness, decided to omit a religion that made a major contribution to the dignity and scared identity of autonomous individuals regardless of their ethnic origins, as the greatness of one God paradoxically limits lessened human dependence. Its transcendental focus has set bounds to what the powerful could not or, more importantly, should not do by providing moral exemplars of good kingship and evil tyranny."
The militant atheists of our time like to dwell on the religious persecutions and wars of the 16th and 17th centuries, and the fashionable multiculturalists of our time appear to believe that all non-western cultures are morally superior to our own. Burleigh's book is an impassioned and scholarly reminder that Christianity (and Judaism) have been forces for freedom and decency over the last hundred years, and that the Islamist fundamentalism of recent years is a force for the opposite.
Stuart Taylor Jr. and KC Johnson, Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case. Readers of Stuart Taylor's writings in National Journal and KC Johnson's Durham in Wonderland blog have an idea of what to expect from this book: a thorough, meticulous demolition of the case brought by Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong against three Duke University lacrosse players who were, as North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper ultimately concluded, "innocent." But it's even better than that. There's no better or more dramatic portrayal of the hateful atmosphere of political correctness that prevails, almost all of the time unrebuked, at American universities. Many members of the Duke faculty behaved like a lynch mob, while the weak-kneed university president, Richard Brodhead, bowed to political correctness at just about every turn. Taylor and Johnson leave no reason to doubt that their behavior was shameful—and not out of line with that of the class of which they are representative.
Yasmin Khan, The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan. The writer is a British academic of South Asian descent. This book came unsolicited from the publisher and I picked it up because I have been wondering whether the decision by the British in 1947 to partition India and Pakistan was a grave mistake. I don't think this is the definitive work on that political question; the writer spends much time chronicling the horrific effects of partition, which left at least 1 million people dead. Partition came about largely through the efforts of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, a Bombay lawyer and head of the Muslim League, who spent the 1940s actively organizing, while the opponents of partition—Jawaharlal Nehru and other leaders of the Congress Party, were interned from 1942 to 1945 because of their lack of support for the British war effort. It was not clear exactly what Jinnah wanted: Some British officials wanted to create a federal India, with autonomy for Muslim provinces or a Muslim law that would apply coterminously with Indian law. Muslims were not isolated in some corners of Dominion India, but were scattered in many parts of the subcontinent; it was not even clear that Jinnah himself would leave Bombay for the new Pakistan, and princely Muslim rulers held sway over many areas in post-1947 India. But Nehru and the Congress leaders wanted a unitary India, with one system of law, based on the principles of secularism, socialism, and autarky. So the British decided on partition and moved up the date of independence to something like six weeks later.
Those decrying U.S. mistakes in Iraq should match them against the British mistake in partition. Huge numbers of people left their homes and crossed over the new lines (drawn by a Brit who spent six weeks in India and never traveled to the affected areas). There were massacres of whole trainloads of people, and at least 1 million people died—maybe many more. Khan provides some vivid accounts of these horrors of what she calls "one of the twentieth century's darkest moments." With lasting negative reverberations. Pakistan in the 60 years of its existence has been a mostly dysfunctional state. It was dismembered (with India's support) when East Pakistan declared independence as Bangladesh in 1971; Bangladesh, the home of a talented people, has been mostly an economic basket case ever since. Pakistan, dominated by a military that came to be laced with Islamists, was a useful ally for the United States as it used China as a counterweight to the Soviet Union, which was a de facto ally of India. But Pakistan's support of the Taliban since the 1990s, and its continuing harboring of Taliban and al Qaeda forces within its territory, make it a very dicey ally today. Economically, it has had little growth.
India has turned out better. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, it has jettisoned its policies of socialism and autarky, dismantled at least some of its "permit raj" and joined the global economy. It has had prodigious rates of economic growth. The one unjettisoned Nehru policy, secularism, has resulted in a degree of freedom and tolerance that compares favorably to many periods in South Asian history, though there still are horrifying massacres occasionally and acts of sectarian violence all too often. Could this have been the course of an unpartitioned India? Hard to say. The United States would have missed Pakistan during some parts of the Cold War. But it's not clear today, when we face Islamist terrorists, whether Pakistan is part of the solution or part of the problem. Intellectuals in many parts of the world would like to reverse the 1948 decision to partition Palestine and create the nation of Israel. But they don't seem interested in exploring the question of reversing the 1947 decision to partition India and create Pakistan.