Tuesday, November 04, 2003


The recent furore over the burning of Romany effigies in a Guy Fawkes 'celebration' in East Sussex has raised once again the appalling plight of Gypsies and nomadic peoples, especially in Europe. George Monbiot has a useful and disturbing piece on this subject ('Acceptable hatred') in this morning's Guardian newspaper. He asks why, despite so much evidence of persecution, expressions of hatred towards Gypsies are still acceptable in public discourse (and cites some awful examples, incuding a quotation from the current UK Home Secretary.) Monbiot goes on to explore the overlooked religious dimension of this problem as follows:

"The conflict between settled and travelling peoples goes back at least to the time of Cain and Abel. Cain was a farmer, a settled person; Abel was a herder: a nomad. Cain killed Abel because Abel was the beloved of God. The people who wrote the Old Testament were nomads who had recently settled, and who looked back with longing to the lives of their ancestors. The prophets' constant theme was the corruption of the cities and the purity of life in the wilderness, to which they kept returning. All the great monotheisms were founded by nomads: unlike settled peoples they had no fixed places in which to invest parochial spirits.

"Yet the city, despite the execration of the prophets, won. Civilisation, from the Latin civis, a townsperson, means the culture of those whose homes do not move. The horde, from the Turkish ordu, a camp and its people, is its antithesis. It both defines civilisation and threatens it. We fear people whose mobility makes them hard for our settled systems of government to control. But, like Cain, we also appear to hate them for something we perceive them to possess: the freedom, perhaps, which the prophets craved."

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