AS ANTI-APARTHEID activists, war resisters and peace-builders, with a long history of opposition to the unbridled use of force to achieve political goals, we understand the many predicaments faced by those wanting to build peace in the Middle East, and act in solidarity with those who refuse military service to the Israeli state.
The controversial statements by our nation’s Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng have thrown into stark contrast the divergences of opinion on the subject of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
It is not our objective here to issue dogma nor to take sides on whether or not sitting judges may issue forth with their private or personal views on the subject, nor even to take issue on whether or not Mogoeng Mogoeng was speaking in his capacity as the chief justice or as a private citizen.
Rather and more pertinently, we wish to state that the religious justifications for support of the Israeli state by some within the Christian faith, and a judge holding high office, raise crucial and important questions about the overall neutrality of our justice system, especially the right to dissent from religion when it comes to the issue of secularism.
According to George Holyoake, the man who coined the term, ‘secularism’, and who was imprisoned for his belief that all laws should be subject to rational debate, “Secularism is a series of principles intended for the guidance of those who find Theology indefinite, or inadequate, or deem it unreliable.” (1)
Holyoake went on to say:- “”A Secularist guides himself by maxims of Positivism, seeking to discern what is in Nature — what ought to be in morals … Positive principles are principles which are provable.”
Secularism is not the absence of religion, but rather the absence of religious rule.
For instance, Moses Mendelssohn, (one of the key figures of the Jewish Enlightenment ‘Haskalah’) outlined the central thesis of separation of secular and ecclesiastical authority, in his 1783 book ‘Jerusalem oder über religiöse Macht und Judentum‘, stating ‘the state declares laws, religion offers precepts.’
The principle of separation of state and religion is thus the basis for the Progressive movement within Judaism in South Africa, whose adherents are predominantly secular.
In a critical review of Tarek Fatah’s Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State (3) Professor Nader Hashemi writes, “given the European roots of secularism … the challenge for Muslim democrats is to develop coherent and indigenous arguments in favour of religion–state separation as part of a broader strategy for advancing democracy.”
It is important to note that our own democratic South African Constitution begins with the words:- ” We, the people of South Africa,” and not “In Humble Submission to Almighty God”.
We therefore wish to remind the Chief Justice of the controversy surrounding secularism during the adoption of the preamble and the elegant solution achieved by our country in creating a separation of powers and neutrality in religious outlook.
This was achieved by dropping: “In humble submission to Almighty God”, and appending Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika.
We further wish to commend Zane Dangor of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for opening a necessary and crucial space for dissent on the subject of religion, by issuing a statement reiterating South Africa’s ethical leadership and moral stance on Palestine. One guided by International Law at the same time that it seeks to uphold the Chief Justice and his rights as a citizen, by stating “he has a right to differ with the foreign policy position of South Africa”
The conflict between Palestinians and Israelis has been waging and ongoing for over 70 years — the prospect of peace has continued to elude our generation. In seeking to find a solution, now is the time to open critical debate (4) by defending the rights of those with differing views within our own country, to speak.
Talking out the many issues faced in the conflict, ‘Lusaka-style dialogue’, is the only way to solve problems without resorting to more violence and kragdadigheid.
SIGNED ON THIS DAY:
David Robert Lewis
IN Cape Town
(1) Principles of Secularism, George Holyoake; Austin. & Co., 1871.
(2) Mendelssohn, Moses (1783), Jerusalem: oder über religiöse Macht und Judentum. Von Moses Mendelssohn. Mitallergnädigsten Freyheiten, Berlin: Friedrich Maurer
(3) Political Islam Versus Secularism — A review of Tarek Fatah’s Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State. Nader Hashemi, 2008
(4) Read Rabbi Warren Goldstein’s response to Judge Cameron here.
David Robert Lewis has written and worked for several titles banned under the apartheid regime, including South Press, Grassroots, and New Nation. In 1987 Lewis refused to stand on a combined IDF-ECC platform alongside Cameron Dugmore and then SAUJS president Johnathan Handler. Handler had objected to SADF troops in the townships but asserted his unconditional support of the IDF. The ECC was later banned in 1988 along with its members, as was the Swapo Solidarity Committee, of which Lewis was a member.
Michael Graaf was sentenced to one year in jail, suspended on condition that he completes 2400 hours of unpaid community service at King Edward VII Hospital, at the rate of 72 hours per month. In October 1990 Graaf was found guilty at the Pietermaritzburg magistrate’s courts of refusing to serve in the SADF. Mike was objecting to a camp call-up for the 15 December 1989. The sentence was set aside in June 1991 and he was able to stop his long hours of portering at a Durban hospital.