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[Letters]

Letters

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Promised Land

As organizers mentioned in Audrea Lim’s essay on community land trusts [“We Shall Not Be Moved,” Report, July], we wanted to expand on why we have pursued this model. Mott Haven–Port Morris, where we live, is a vibrant neighborhood in the South Bronx, both a cradle of arts and culture and a survivor of decades of neglect, environmental injustice, and insidious, top-down decisions involving public land use. Under the premise of economic development, public land in our community has been zoned for noxious waste-treatment facilities and fossil-fuel power plants, while a highway system has callously divided neighbors. Following decades of planned shrinkage, the community is now fending off real estate speculation. New market-rate developments are bringing thousands of luxury residential units into a community where nearly half the children live in poverty and where the pre-pandemic unemployment rate was higher than the national average.

Building on a deep legacy of organizing, we developed our community land trust, the Mott Haven–Port Morris Community Land Stewards, to ensure that community members could preserve a stake in this neighborhood. We have identified several vacant and underutilized buildings and lots, and have held dozens of sessions to reimagine their uses. Most notably, we aim to acquire and repurpose a 25,000-square-foot building, currently vacant and owned by the city, as a center for health, education, and the arts. This is a building that the Black Panthers and Young Lords used to serve the needs of the community nearly fifty years ago.

As Lim’s essay makes clear, there is an intimate connection between land control, systemic racism, and the carceral state. Community land trusts can help address the historic harm sustained by communities of color. As we steward local green spaces, we also paint black lives matter on our streets and protest the NYPD for its egregious assaults on peaceful protesters. We are heartened by the plurality of voices that have joined the movement.

A. Mychal Johnson and Monxo López
Bronx, N.Y.

 

Lim describes the Jewish National Fund as “a private agency that had begun acquiring Palestinian land and leasing it to Jewish settlers in the 1900s.” This glosses over the methods of acquisition. By the time Charles Sherrod and his delegation visited Israel in 1968, the JNF had “acquired” the ruins of more than four hundred Palestinian villages whose residents had been made refugees in 1948 or, in some cases, had been executed by the Israeli military.

To this day, anyone can buy a tree for the JNF, which will then be planted in Israel—expanding forests planted on the ruins of Palestinian villages, obscuring destroyed homes, mosques, churches, and schools, all sites of murder and exile. In an article that so clearly details the ways in which landownership enforces racist oppression, I was disappointed to see Israel’s kibbutzim mentioned in the same breath as “a system of land ownership that prevents foreclosure and loss of land.” The very existence of these kibbutzim was predicated, in many cases, on the violent seizure of Palestinian land.

Alia Persico-Shammas
Brooklyn, N.Y.

 

The Old, Weird Germany

Contrary to Ian Buruma’s account [“Teutomania,” Review, July], the origins of German nationalism extend much further back than Napoleon. The Thirty Years’ War, which, as he writes, reduced the German lands to a “ruin, physically and culturally,” was so disastrous in large part because the great powers of Europe knew they could use them as a battleground. None of the individual German states had the military strength to resist, and the Holy Roman Empire was certainly not prepared, militarily or constitutionally, to come to their rescue. It wasn’t merely “failure and humiliation,” in other words, but a legitimate concern for their safety that inspired a sense of unified German identity.

Buruma argues that, “unable to match French military might, German national feeling turned inward” in the first half of the nineteenth century. In fact, this turn can be attributed to the Congress of Vienna, which determined that, despite their clear yearning for a state of their own, the German people would be denied nationhood under the pretext of greater European stability.

Lastly, I would point out that Prussia was not militarized by Frederick the Great, as Buruma claims, but rather by his father, the so-called Soldier King. Frederick II simply took what his father had created and built on it.

Nelson Smith
Toronto

 

Buruma quotes Helmut Walser Smith’s argument that “the birth of German nationalism was from the beginning tied in complex ways to anti-Jewish sentiment.” The idea that a notional ethnic purity was endemic to German identity—that it was a “specifically German disease”—is an understandable but, for many, self-serving one. It allows Americans, for instance, to overlook the specifically American disease that is being challenged today in the country’s streets.

As Confederate statues are finally being toppled en masse, Germany faces its own monumental reckoning. The so-called Judensau (or “Jews’ sow”) is a virulently anti-Semitic image dating to the medieval period. Stone gargoyle or bas-relief depictions are preserved on about twenty churches today, including Cologne Cathedral and the Wittenberg Stadtkirche, where Martin Luther, himself an infamous anti-Semite, is said to have posted his ninety-five theses. Somehow these marks of shame have survived for centuries, through the post-Nazi years and into the present.

As recently as February, a regional court rejected a request that the Wittenberg relief be relocated to a museum. The pastor said that its removal would be an unjustified erasure of history, that it is “embedded in a culture of remembrance.” In a way, this is so. The survival of the Judensau is a testament to the persistence of a subcultural Teutomania of the most dangerous sort.

G. W. Stephen Brodsky
Sidney, British Columbia


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September 2020