Our Shadowed World by Dominic Kirkham
Reviewed by Beverly Smith
Civilisation is often seen as the opposite of savagery – the living city rising above the threatened wilderness, a progressive idea leaving in its wake a more primitive state.
It is a story that can perhaps be best represented by the monumental concrete face, rising some fifteen meters high, which stands on a hill alongside the Road of Bones (human bones!) overlooking Magadan in the Kolyma region of Eastern Russia. Here in what has been called the capital of the Soviet Gulag this overpowering memorial – the Mask of Sorrow – was built in memory of all those countless millions of people who perished under the flimsiest of pretexts in the forced labour camps of Stalin’s regime over a period of three decades. This modern pietà has an Aztec quality to it, with its grim visage and weeping tears of skulls, which bears witness to the industrial scale of slaughter that took place among civilized people.
When Columbus stepped ashore on the Bahamas in 1492, he was welcomed by the Taino people, a hospitable multiethnic people who had inhabited many of the Caribbean islands for over a thousand years and had a well-ordered and peaceful society. These he summarily denounced as heretics and while women were raped he began mass burnings: at one auto-da-fe eighty caciques (chieftains) were burned alive. After twelve years of genocidal butchery and disease brought by the Spanish, the islands had been depopulated. In such a case we may well ponder just who exactly were the savages?
The Bibliography is extensive – Karen Armstrong’s ‘The Crusades and Their Impact on Today’s World’. Tariq Ali, ‘The Clash of Fundamentalism: Crusades Jihads and Modernity’. I bought Niall Ferguson’s ‘Civilisation: The West and the Rest’ and considering adding Tim Flannery’s ‘Here on Earth: A twin biography of the Planet and the Human Race’ to my library.
For readers in the Commonwealth, the effects of Colonialism will cause speculation about ‘belief’ at the time of the growth of Protestantism in the sixteenth century. Even in the Geneva Bible of 1560-, the word ‘tyrant’ appears more than 400 times to describe an ungodly ruler who subjected a nation to his cruel whims.
The reader can also ponder why the mythical history of Israel legitimises the modern state.