‘I Won’t Back Down’


70 years ago yesterday, Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by the Soviets. We now mark the date as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

An important thing to remember, indeed. All of us. In all the nations of the world.

Indifference, antisemitism, silence. Fear of, contempt for, lack of understanding the ‘other’. These are among the things that enabled Auschwitz -and the other concentration and extermination camps that were at the heart of the Final Solution that the Nazis saw as the response to the Jewish Question.

Contrary to what too many of us might like to think, the Jewish Question was an ongoing subject of discussion in much of Europe from as early as 1750.

You read that correctly. 1750.

It was first used, according to Holocaust scholar Lucy Dawidowicz, as “a neutral expression for the negative attitude toward the apparent and persistent singularity of the Jews as a people against the background of the rising political nationalisms.” (from the Wikipedia) Essentially, the nations of Europe were trying to suss out the specific status of Jews as minority micro-communities in the the social order of the nation-states of Europe. The question arose and developed under the influence of such things as the Age of Enlightenment and the French Revolution.

In discussing how integration of these differing cultures might work, a fair bit of time was spent on a back-and-forth debate about whether or not religious belief had any role to play in secular societies- and therefore whether or not Jews should be required to relinquish their religious beliefs in order to attain full citizenship.

Then, from the 1860’s onward, the ‘question’, in many places, took on increasingly antisemitic tendencies that reached their peak in Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Their Final Solution was enacted through persecutions, the revocation of citizenship under the Nuremberg Laws and then the state-mandated internment and murder of Jews in the concentration and extermination camps like Auschwitz-Birkenau.

But. At its origin, the Jewish Question began a discussion of assimilation versus separation in increasingly multicultural societies (however colonial and Xian-centric those societies may have been at the time).

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…

The ‘melting pot’ or the ‘cultural mosaic’? How should we shape a community in which people from different cultural backgrounds, with different religious beliefs, seek to live together under laws and standards that might govern us all?

Here in Canada, we’ve opted for the latter- as a matter of government policy. Does it work? Imperfectly- like most other governments policies. Is is better than the assimilation of the melting pot that countries like the US favour?

Given that neither we nor the US can boast a completely harmonious relationship with all of our constituent parts, I think the jury is still out. The question lies at the heart of what happened a couple of weeks ago in Paris. The social anomie experienced by immigrant populations can lead to radicalization- and we are seeing examples of this in any number of places- local and not-so-local.  Do we accept and embrace the cultural differences, or do we demand full assimilation?

Can we even expect assimilation- when we’re dealing with something as closely and deeply held as religious belief and practice?

This is one of the sociological questions being discussed in the aftermath of Charlie Hebdo– specifically as it pertains to France and their claims of secularization. And it’s happening closer to home…

A clear, current and North American example of how religion can interfere with the smooth running of secular societies? They are in the process of choosing a jury for the trial of the accused in the Boston Marathon bombings- and running into issues with RCs in the jurist pool who might have an issue with the death penalty. In Boston. A town that has a pretty substantial RC population.

My bottom line: Belief does not trump law. It CANNOT. Not in a democratic society in which the laws were arrived at through evidence-based discussion and the application of policies that are meant to ensure the maintenance of just and equitable social order. A social order that allows that laws can be challenged- and changed- as required when we have new and better information. Like when we realize that gender equality is, in fact, a thing. Or that a superficial thing like ‘race’ means not a whit in terms of the freedoms or rights of all us members of the human race.

I’ve said before that I’m a little concerned about my past inclination to just accept that others believe different stuff from what I believe- that I know that I see the world differently than many others do- and that I’ve always been ‘okay’ with that. My perspective comes out of specific set of contextual criteria- that differ from the contextual criteria of the next person.

That inclination- which I share(d) with a whole lot of people who call themselves ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’- has been permitted to run amok. Pandering to the lesser freedoms is messing with our larger ones.

We need to use our larger freedoms to speak up when people are violating- or re-writing- the higher laws of the land in favour of laws that respond directly to interpretations of this or that ‘sacred’ scripture.

Lawrence Krauss, groovy Canadian science-dude and vocal atheist, wrote a little bit o’ something about the Charlie Hebdo massacre. While I disagree with his point that Judaism and Xianity- unlike Islam- have ‘had the time’ to look at their sacred scriptures and develop a ‘thicker skin’ when it comes to criticism and questions regarding who really wrote the things and to what purpose (if he were correct, there wouldn’t be nearly as many biblical apologists about- and I’m not even speaking about the literalists…), I very much agree with his point about hate speech involving people, not ideas.

He says: “No idea should be sacred in the modern world. Instead, in order for us to progress as a species, every claim, every idea should be subject to debate, intelligent discussion, and, when necessary, ridicule.” 


“The biggest threat to the peaceful and sustainable progress of human civilization in the 21st century, with challenges ranging from global climate change, to energy and water shortages, and the oppression of women throughout the world, is a refusal to accept the empirical evidence of reality as a basis for action. Those who feel they know the truth in advance, and therefore cannot even listen to alternative arguments, are not just part of the problem, they are the problem.

This is the reason that religion is, in my opinion, on the whole a negative force in the world. In spite of the charity and empathy it may generate among many, because it asserts as true notions that clearly are incompatible with the evidence of reality, it inevitably engenders actions that are irrational. These range from the innocuous to the deadly.”

I had a very different post in mind when I started this one last evening. I have a growing number of bits and pieces in the drafts folder that need attention if they are ever to see the light of day.

Trying for a lightening of subjects, my eye was drawn to the whole Sam Smith/Tom Petty exchange of royalties sitch. You know I love Tom. And Jeff Lynne, who was his writing partner on the solo album that included ‘I Won’t Back Down’.

The Sam Smith thing is really just another example of our human tendency towards repetition of theme/recurrence of concepts.

I hadn’t really heard of Sam (full disclosure- last week a colleague attended his local show and raved about his performance. I had to admit to not having first clue who he was. Finding out that he was ripping off Tom didn’t much ingratiate him to me, tbh). When I read the article I was a little defensive of Tom (and Jeff) even before I listened to the song that ‘borrowed’ from them.

Evidently, it’s something that happens to Tom a lot.

I’m not surprised, really. He has written some pretty awesome tunes (alone, with the Heartbreakers and with super-cool dudes like Jeff). Which is all the more reason to grant credit where it’s due.

Once I listened to the songs back-to-back, I heard the resemblance, and I appreciate the amicability with which the issue was apparently resolved. Still, the original, as is often the case, is by far the better song.

I admit that I’m biased. And that the video features 50% of the Beatles and that Jeff Lynne-guy. So it’s kind of like comparing apples and oranges. No new kid is going to be able to compete with the chops of those who were present for the original ditty (although Ringo didn’t really play on the track- he’s nothing but eye-candy, assuming you can call Ringo ‘eye candy’…).

Well, I won’t back down
No, I won’t back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won’t back down

No, I’ll stand my ground, won’t be turned around
And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down
Gonna stand my ground and I won’t back down

(I won’t back down)
Hey baby, there ain’t no easy way out
(I won’t back down)
Hey, I will stand my ground and I won’t back down

Well, I know what’s right, I got just one life
In a world that keeps on pushin’ me around
But I’ll stand my ground and I won’t back down

The song was politicized following 9/11- as it became a rallying call about standing up in the face of terrorism.

Interesting that it’s popped back into our popular attention at this particular moment in time…

The things I took away from watching the Memorial from Auschwitz yesterday? That the prison- and what happened there- remain as a scar on our shared humanity. The past is always present- and it often isn’t pretty. Yet humanity endures- even in the face of extermination and ideologically-driven hatred and horror. That hate can never be permitted to win. Ideas that suborn hatred and violence cannot be allowed to flourish.

There ain’t no easy way out of this quagmire of culture clashing. We’ve been talking about it for almost 300 years. THREE HUNDRED. But it’s a conversation we need to continue. We need to prevent comparable ‘solutions’ from seeing the light of day.

Vilifying the ‘other’- based on things like religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, physical ability- this is never going to be acceptable. Not with the empirical evidence of reality we can access. All ideas- and laws- must be subjected to rigorous examination, and we must remain accountable for the responsibilities that come with participation in the societies we create.

We have the scars- ever-present and always remembered- from the last time the world failed to stop an idea based in hatred.

We must revisit that lesson- and re-learn it, as required- as we reexamine the realities of multicultural and globalized communities.

We got just one life.

Stand your ground for what is right.

17 comments on “‘I Won’t Back Down’

  1. Doobster418 says:

    Another provocative, well written post and a sad reflection of our society and how little, really, attitudes about certain things have changed over hundreds of years.

  2. bethbyrnes says:

    Well, I would even venture to suggest that the Jewish people have been dealing with this bigotry for thousands of years, given their diasporic history. I for the life of me do not understand it. I hesitate to suggest it, but there is a vast difference between the conduct of the Jewish people and the Muslim peoples as members of society over the past centuries. If the Muslim cultures find themselves isolated today, it may in part be due to the reputation they have earned for extreme violence and repression — perhaps only sporadically, but so shocking that it cannot be tolerated, that I do not see in the history of the Jewish people, other than brief attempts to protect themselves from irrational hatred and aggression.

    I think there is very little progress in teaching people to base their actions and thoughts on empirical, verifiable fact. To think that in the US there is a whole group of people who believes the insane nonsense that I hear even coming out of the mouths of even our highest lawmakers who should know better, gives me very little comfort that humanity has learned to base actions on reality instead of ideology. The stupid belief systems governing 30% of this country has led to every kind of ill and suffering, but they simply refuse to acknowledge it.

    Laws, strictly enforced, are the only answer. Teaching blind people to see is virtually impossible, imho.

    • colemining says:

      Please don’t think I was looking to equate the historical experiences of Jews and Muslims- that, in itself, is comparing apples to oranges. What I was trying to point out is that we have been attempting to figure out how to make multicultural societies work for lo’ these 300+years- and we still haven’t hit upon a solution that works.

      And yes, you are certainly right in saying that antisemitism has been around for thousands of years- since Xianity became institutionalized. It’s an irrational hatred that we have yet to progress out of- much to our collective shame.

      As I mentioned to Doobster, I’m sort of stuck in a rut and feeling like a broken record lately (to mix my metaphors), but I am seeing more and more examples of religious belief creeping into government discourse- if not policy- and it is terrifying. Lately, every post I try to write on a different subject ends up co-opted by yet another example of the danger of allowing ‘belief’ into our political dialogues.

      I have to hold onto the hope that we can, in fact, work on better-educating ourselves to be aware of just how well and widely those who seek to retain power over us use and misuse our impulses toward credulity. If we can’t then all is, I fear, truly lost for us a human race.

      Thanks for your input and insights, as always. xo

      • bethbyrnes says:

        Oh, no, no, Cole, I know you weren’t equating the two. I was trying to say (inartfully, due to having arisen so early) that we are thinking that assimilation is the issue when I think it will be very hard to incorporate such a radical world view into anything Western. Even though Judaism has held itself apart, it has done so relatively quietly. Islam does not seem so quiet in their sense of superiority and separateness.

        And, as you will see in my upcoming posts, I am stuck on this topic too. Particularly since the egregious behavior of a far to large number of our citizens is constantly in our face. I am so humiliated that they are so vocal and have come to be seen as America’s noisiest faction, with far too much power. Sigh!

      • colemining says:

        Thanks for the clarification, Beth. I tend to be rather, shall we say emotional, as I’m writing lately, so I’m never sure whether or not I’m making my points as clear as possible.

        The extremes are certainly at issues- and the radical acts do seem to be something that the Western world would ever be willing to accept as part of our way of viewing the world. Unless we think about our constant and almost-casual tendency to embrace violence as a support of nationalistic ideology, or as a means of ‘entertainment’, for that matter. The default impulse of humanity when an idea or concept is challenged is to pick up the biggest guns we can access- it’s something we all do. It’s a matter of scale- and deciding which of those ideas is ‘worth’ the violence. Which is relative, of course.

        Since the rise of Xianity, Judaism has certainly been quiet in their separateness. They have had to be so- the impositions of the majority cultures required it for their continued existence. I could argue that this hasn’t always been the case- if you buy into their mythology and history (as it’s told through their sacred scriptures) then they were once VERY active in asserting their rights in accordance with their separateness and superiority. Again- it’s a relative thing.

        As I’ve said a million times before (and, will likely say again, since I can’t seem to break the pattern), religions, by their very natures, seek to divide. Which is why they have no place at all in the governance of evolved, modern, secular societies.

        Those with the least to say- and the least amount of evidential support behind what they say- generally do shout the loudest. And since we have the attention span of carp, we have the frightening tendency to latch onto the closest, loudest shouter we can find, rather than invest the time and energy to think for ourselves.

        I despair. But look forward to your upcoming posts. xo

      • bethbyrnes says:

        You zeroed in on two very important points. Who are we in the US to be pointing fingers at violent people when we have a gun culture that has by the brass here. We glorify shooting — just take a look at this new movie about a sniper. Americans think he is a hero, that it shows courage to shoot people or animals. That mentality utterly sickens me. Then we wonder at the crude violence shown by others? We are very violent people apparently, if you think that there are 300 million guns in private hands here. Many of them military-style assault automatic weapons. To think it is all defensive is to be completely out of touch with reality.

        As for religion, personal beliefs should be private. The problem is, people are so tenuous in their own convictions and so afraid to trust their own ideas that they need to band together with others for support. With all our fanatical screaming about independence and freedom, we are really a nation of sheeple who need someone else to tell us what to think and how to behave. We are deluding ourselves that there is any other reason. Why do I need anyone to tell me what is in the Bible? Can’t I read?

      • colemining says:

        I was actually thinking, specifically, about that movie, Beth. And, despite the lack of the same prevalence of gun culture, we’re almost as bad here. Since a number of distressing events that happened here, our government (lead by our anti-progressive-in-chief) is instituting some scary ‘measures’ in reaction. Including upping our role in the bombing of groups who are assumed to be complicit in such actions.

        Reality is all-too-frequently ignored in favour of perception. Again- we are culturally predisposed to do so. THAT is a nasty habit we need to work on breaking ASAP.

        Exactly- belief needs to remain part of the personal sphere. Historically, as a means of control, the leaders of most (Western) religious groups didn’t WANT the people reading the stuff for themselves. How could they maintain their power and justify their role if any Tom, Dick or Harry (rarely Mary- us ladies weren’t encouraged to read anything until very recently) was able to read and interpret the stories for themselves? And, of course, there’s also the danger that if we do read the stuff ourselves, we will realize how patently anachronistic and ridiculous most of the stuff contained therein actually is.

        It all makes me so veryvery angry and frustrated. Especially, given the fact that most of us have no basis for comparison, we have no true concept of what ‘freedom’ really means.

  3. I tend to be more optimistic, at least in some regards, when it comes to people. In the US, remembrance of the Holocaust has grown significantly in the decades since the end of World War II and anti-Semitism is nowhere near as prevalent as what it was 50 or 75 years ago. I suppose there will always be those who react negatively to individuals and groups different from themselves, but that behavior is for the most part socially unacceptable. Within the past two generations there has been a concerted effort to break the pattern of animus towards those who different, and while progress may not be what we’d like, it’s still been significant. I believe that while it’s easy to blame organized religion for some of our problems, I also recognize that some far-sighted religious leaders have helped bridge racial, ethnic and social gaps through progressive stands that sometimes put them at odds with the spirit of their times. Change never comes fast enough for everyone’s tastes – especially for those who are suffering – but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening.

    That said, the final sentence of your last comment is very astute. If one doesn’t have a baseline for true freedom, it’s impossible to ascertain what true freedom is. We can only judge by what we know.

    • colemining says:

      CBC- one of the biggest concerns I have is the increasing evidence that we are encouraging polarization of opinion- it all things, but especially when it comes to things like religious and political ideologies. I agree that great strides have been made over the past couple of generations- but I’m seeing a whole lot of back-sliding in that department, and it’s scaring the hell out of me.

      I would never suggest that we condemn religions or religious leaders whole cloth- but I will continue to insist that institutionalized religion/religious belief HAS to be excised from our political systems and from the administration of our public offices and organizations. There have been great, progressive religious leaders- I don’t contest that at all. The issue I have is with those ‘leaders’ who cite their religious ideologies as absolutes without anything like critical thinking skills or attempts at understanding perspectives that differ from their own. And they seem to be the ones who are getting the bulk of the air time. Their divisiveness makes the ‘best’ press.

      Unfortunately there is far too much divisive posturing happening in the world- and the rhetoric is being taken up en masse by those who are unwilling to look into the historical examples of comparable argumentation that led humanity down the road to extremities of inhumanity. If we don’t lose this ‘us vs. them’ dichotomy then I’m not sure that we can realize positive change.

      The baseline of what we know HAS to be the reality that these divisions that we create between one another are all the result of human designations that came about as means of social control and the assertion of dominance of one bunch of people over another in response to our impulses to greed and maintenance of power. We have to instill the awareness that one human-defined group is not ‘better’ than another because of the acceptance of a perceived ‘revealed message’. Permitting- let alone encouraging– the continuation of such mythology-based concepts of superiority/inferiority, at best, keeps us in a position of stasis. At its worse, such ideologies (when they become institutionalized- politically, culturally OR religiously) can lead to unspeakable crimes committed against our fellow humans. We have the evidence that this is so. We need to pay real attention to the examples and do everything we can to ensure that such obscenities never happen again.

      Thank you, as always, for your insights and perspective.

      • Agree completely. Government and religion don’t go together. I have no problem with a devout (fill in the religion) follower holding office, but don’t start preaching to me about what steps the state should start taking down that same path. I respect people of faith, but that doesn’t mean I want that faith made mandatory, no matter how well intentioned. And thank you for focusing on topics that matter.

      • colemining says:

        Exactly. I can respect that people of faith might bring those values/ideas to their role as a leader- business, political or otherwise- but to insist that these ideas be made into policy that affects us all? Yeah no. Not going to fly.

        Trying to lighten things up a little today… we’ll see how that works out. ;P

  4. […] touched on the question of multiculturalism a bit recently- specifically alluding to all of the challenges that it can bring. Growing up in […]

  5. […] What I reallyreally wanted to see was Jeff Lynne (with his current incarnation of ELO). He- and that redheaded kid- offered up a solid performance. Jeff’s voice hasn’t changed even a little bit over the years- still so familiar and so wonderful. Evil Woman and Mr. Blue Sky (I wrote about that little ditty here) – keen offerings, although I was a little surprised that they didn’t do Don’t Bring Me Down. Kind of interesting that he and Tom Petty were both present to watch that other kid take home a best record/best song award for the song he cribbed from them… But I talked about that whole thing already. […]

  6. […] faltering in my firm stance that we need to work toward complete civil, legal and societal secularization. I hold the truth of that necessity to be […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s