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Civility Can Be Dangerous

Henry Cadbury in 1932. Photo courtesy of AFSC Archives.

A Quaker perspective on Henry Cadbury’s 1934 remarks on resisting fascism

This June, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to leave the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, because she works for President Trump. In the ensuing debate about “civility,” historian Angus Johnston drew attention in a tweet and follow‐up op‐ed to a June 14, 1934, New York Times article about a talk by Henry Cadbury, a Quaker founder of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). In the article, Cadbury called on a conference of rabbis to be civil in the face of fascism.

As a Quaker who works for AFSC, I was struck when I saw Cadbury’s words resurface, and I feel the need to reckon with them.

“By hating Hitler and trying to fight back,” Cadbury said, “Jews are only increasing the severity of his policies against them.” He went on: “If Jews throughout the world try to instill into the minds of Hitler and his supporters recognition of the ideals for which the race stands, and if Jews appeal to the German sense of justice and the German national conscience, I am sure the problem will be solved more effectively and earlier than otherwise.” Cadbury added, “Boycotts are simply war without bloodshed, and war in any form is not the way to right the wrongs being inflicted on the Jewish people.”

The rabbis published a response the next day condemning Cadbury’s remarks. Rabbi Samuel Shuelman, one signee, said, “If we do not resist evil, we go along with it.”

Cadbury had influence, and his words set a standard for many who would, despite the objection of the rabbis, follow his lead in what they considered effective resistance. Of course, the rise of fascism and the Jewish Holocaust demonstrated the limitations of Cadbury’s stance.

Cadbury was a smart man, and he did many things worthy of admiration. In 1947 on behalf of Quakers worldwide, he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for refugee relief work and support of the kindertransport during World War II, as well as for resistance to Japanese internment. Despite these important initiatives, his interpretation of pacifism and his call for civility was harmful, and his position did not actively support those most impacted by fascism’s rise.

All of our resistance work should be led and informed by those most impacted by injustice. If Cadbury had been guided by this principle in 1934, he would never have offered such remarks, as they countered the will of the Jewish audience to whom he spoke and intended (albeit patronizingly) to give support.

Standing up for peace means standing on the side of the oppressed…

When one’s very existence is questioned by an oppressive state, and survival depends on resistance, actions are not constrained by public perception and conceptions of civil discourse. Moral courage becomes a necessity of daily life.

Civility is no substitute for morality. Belief in peace doesn’t mean naively expecting everyone to get along. Being quiet and polite is often all that’s needed to perpetuate white supremacy.

Standing up for peace means standing on the side of the oppressed, not throwing them into the lion’s mouth in the name of civility. And interrupting racist violence takes more than civil discourse: active disruption is needed in order for racism to be revealed and dismantled. What good is ineffective pacifism? My commitment to nonviolence is about saving lives.

So, when the owner of the Red Hen restaurant asked Sanders to leave because of the actions she has taken on behalf of the president, this action interrupted what had been normalized. When people videotape and call out white folks who call the police on African Americans who are barbecuing or selling water, that action interrupts the normal pattern of prejudiced behavior.

 

Author Lucy Duncan leading bystander intervention training session in New York. Photo: Lori Fernald Khamala / AFSC.

I teach bystander intervention through AFSC, so that more and more people know how to stand up for those harassed or targeted by state violence. Sometimes the interventions are simple, but often real disruption is needed in order to stand in the way of oppression.

Confusing nonviolence with passivity is a huge mistake. Nonviolent communication should stop violence, not quietly reinforce it. Confronting oppression isn’t violence; letting oppression progress is.

Boycotts, too, are an active form of nonviolence. AFSC has taken stands to support economic resistance against oppression, from apartheid in South Africa and occupied Palestine to the profiting of private prison and detention companies that feed mass incarceration and immigrant detention. Refusing to support systems of oppression economically is not warfare but active resistance to it.

With the wisdom of hindsight, it is easy to see how inadequate and offensive Cadbury’s words were to the millions who lost their lives in the Holocaust. We have the benefit of history to teach us about the depth of intervention needed today. As a Quaker who lives life from the understanding that all are equal and have inherent dignity, I am committed to disrupting oppression; it is a central spiritual commitment. I hope many more will find the moral courage to actively disrupt state violence and white supremacy, rather than quietly reinforce it.

I don’t want to politely object, as Cadbury proposed. I choose to actively stand in the way of human rights abuses. I envision a world in which all people of conscience understand themselves as co‐creators of justice and are willing to do what’s needed to make it a reality.

Lucy Duncan is the director of Friends Relations at the American Friends Service Committee.


Posted in: Meetings and Money, Online Features

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17 Responses to Civility Can Be Dangerous

  1. Bilal Taylor August 15, 2018 at 2:18 pm #

    City & State
    Philadelphia
    You speak my mind, Lucy! The conflation of non‐violence with passivity is a critical topic for those of us who want to stand on the side of the oppressed without demonizing any specific person or groups of people. I pray that pieces like this spark a dialogue about solidarity and strategy in these tumultuous times we live in.

  2. Janice Gintzler August 15, 2018 at 4:01 pm #

    City & State
    Crestwood
    Doing what’s needed to interrup injustice. That is a long learning curve. Like understanding what our meat based Standard American Diet has done and is doing to our Earth, that hardly anyone recognizes. Or seeing the people impacted by the SAD.

    Or understanding that “sending in the troops”,” as former US Senator Mark Kirk suggested in a commentary in the Chicago Tribune several years go, is NOT the way to end gun violence in Chicago and elsewhere. Rather, economic empowerment is a road to a peaceful neighborhoods. Or, as recently reported, volunteerism, that returns a neighborhood park to its former purpose, bringing in opposing sides to help in the restoration.

  3. AllanKohrman August 15, 2018 at 6:53 pm #

    City & State
    Newton, MA
    I find Cadbury’s attitude toward Jews condescending, part of the Christian anti‐Semitism so accepted in those days, to which Friends were not immune. In the same year, Clarence Pickett, the general secretary of AFSC, wrote in a letter to a Friend that Jews would have to wait their turn for help and not try to push themselves to the top. Friends had a lot to learn. Given the incessant criticism of Israel by many Quakers, especially AFSC, one wonder how much we have learned.

    • Adrienne Weller August 18, 2018 at 10:45 am #

      City & State
      Seattle
      As a Jew, and not a Quaker, but a long standing advocate for Palestinian rights, I think your last sentence is not correct. AFSC standing up to Israel is not anti‐Semitic but the opposite. It is standing up against murder and oppression by zionists of Palestinians. It is behaving according to the Jewish tradition of supporting the oppressed.

  4. Ian Casey August 16, 2018 at 7:53 am #

    City & State
    Oakville
    While not identifying a Quaker myself I have attended a few Friends meetings with a life long Quaker friend. I enjoy receiving these emails and find them quite interesting, both practically but more so spiritually.

    This article for example. Wow. Bulls eye. I struggle constantly with the battle between the need for civility in our world and the need to stand up for what is right. It is a fine line that I find myself tripping over quite frequently. For many years I have lived by the base rule: “I must be treated with dignity and respect regardless of the cost”. For example, bullies as children often remain bullies as adults but manifest differently but just as oppressively. When I find someone attempting to bully me or someone else, those around me believe it is better to turn a blind eye, keep their complaints quiet and remain civilized in order to main harmony. I find this very difficult to accept. I have (perhaps an overly assertive) need to see a bully named as such. When “civility” is positioned as a higher priority than fundamental decency then “civilization” becomes a contradiction in terms. The skill I struggle to develop is to call out such behavior for what it is but in a spiritually and diplomatically sound yet unambiguously assertive manner, understanding that “dignity and respect [for all] must be maintained regardless of the cost”. I’d be very interested to hear a Quaker community response to this.

    • Sky August 19, 2018 at 8:44 am #

      City & State
      Greensboro, NC
      Ian, I’m glad you gave such strong instincts in this direction. Two resources come to mind for learning more about pacifist responses to interpersonal conflict: Bystander Intervention training (likely offered in your city by various orgs) and Non Violent Communication (book, website, and sometimes workshops). I also love the book by Dignity: it’s essential role in resolving conflict, by Donna Hicks. Lastly, mindfulness/meditation + tools that teach me about intercultural differences — I want to notice, observe my reaction and the person’s behavior and then choose a response that matches this specific situation and person. It’s always a balancing act:
      I don’t want to automatically assume an uncomfortable situation is bullying or unconsciously pattern‐match based on past experiences and “mistake for malice” that which may actually be differences in culture or personality or communication styles, etc. (That mistake can turn *me* into the bully o.o).
      Nor do I want a bully to go unchecked. Bullies need strong signals that their behavior won’t be tolerated and those bullied need strong signals that they will be supported.

      I am still learning to use these methods well myself, but they’ve been very empowering tools for me for being assertive in a way that feels healthy for me.

    • Kathy Hersh October 18, 2018 at 3:50 pm #

      City & State
      Miami, Florida
      One way to call out hurtful behavior is to use the Quaker tool of the query by asking for clarification. Ask the person who has just made a racial or sexist slur if they are saying ALL members of that group share the characteristic they have just indicated — lazy, loud, whiny, ignorant, unhygienic, mercenary. People caught making a micro aggression may backtrack and deny that all ___ are nor that way, there are exceptions. Then maybe it can be agreed upon that we’re all unique. If the person is incontrovertibly racist or sexist or anti‐Semitic, I have in the past made an “I” statement in that “my experience has been different.” I use living in Miami as a way to testify to the richness of diversity and how my children have benefitted from growing up with all kinds of people. Sometimes, if the person seems reasonable, a good question is “what is your concern?” Then you can focus on the root problem not the people or person.

  5. David Albert August 16, 2018 at 4:20 pm #

    City & State
    Olympia, Washington
    This would seem to be a simple gotcha moment. And fair enough.

    But let’s look at what Cadbury actually said: ““If Jews throughout the world try to instill into the minds of Hitler and his supporters recognition of the ideals for which the race stands, and if Jews appeal to the German sense of justice and the German national conscience, I am sure the problem will be solved more effectively and earlier than otherwise.”

    I wouldn’t be so sure. I feel certain that they couldn’t do much about the mind of Hitler and his close supporters. But let’s note that Cadbury’s approach was never attempted, and most Germans had a long history of good relations with the German Jewish community, so much so that most Jews in Germany considered themselves German first, Jews second. Cadbury was not urging passivity, which is what most of the world’s Jewish community was in fact offering. Among the German Jewish leadership, the leading approach being taken was “duck and cover” — and i would NOT want to have been led by them. (Rabbi Samuel Schuelman — the one who counseled “resisting evil” — by the way, was not a German rabbi; he had come from Russia to the U.S. in 1868, when he as four years old, and had no special knowledge of German conditions at all.)

    People who are oppressed are experts on their own oppression, and must be listened to and respected. But they have no special expertise in how to overcome it. If they did, they would have done so. Had the world community been led by those who most experienced German oppression — i,e, the German‐Jewish leadership — Cadbury might have counseled doing nothing at all.

  6. James McCallum August 18, 2018 at 12:16 am #

    City & State
    Puyallup
    great piece.…
    “civility is no substitute for morality”
    Amen…

  7. Chaplain Stogumber August 18, 2018 at 4:01 am #

    City & State
    Krefeld, Germany
    Cadbury’s voice is an eternal voice, just because he doesn’t meet the “zeitgeist” — neither the zeitgeist of the “Red Decade” nor the zeitgeist of our new “Red Decade”.

    Cadbury was knowledgeable about “escalation” — the fact that bad behaviour of one side enfavours bad behaviour of the other side. So he propagated deescalation.

    Duncan says: “the rise of fascism and the Jewish Holocaust demonstrated the limitations of Cadbury’s stance.” But they didn’t limit the rabbis’ stance? Were the rabbis so much more successful?

    When Duncan pretends that violence is no violence if it is directed against the violence of others, she basically makes a case for World War II. So Quakers are preparing themselves for WWIII now?

  8. Adrienne Weller August 18, 2018 at 10:47 am #

    City & State
    Seattle
    Thank you for this article. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.”

  9. Helen Klein August 18, 2018 at 1:08 pm #

    City & State
    Atlanta, GA
    A few notes on the “replies”:
    1) Allan Khorman begins with some truth about condescension, but does not question that “Making Germany Great Again” — so to speak — goes hand in hand with everything Trump and Co. are doing to the oppressed and the marginalized at this very moment, domestically and internationally. Sadly, he reveals he has learned nothing — and I mean NOTHING — given his obvious unqualified support for Israel, and criticism of AFSC for not following suit.

    2) David Albert suggests that German Jews were so passive that Cadbury’s advice would have been a step in the right direction. He criticizes Rabbi Schuelman’s call to resist as ineffectual because he was not a German, but a Russian. If only a German “Schuelman” had spoken, is Albert’s wish. Of course there was real fear of consequences, as spoken to so eloquently by Pastor Neimoller, who after surviving many years in prison spoke for the rest of his life about how “First they came for the communists, and I said nothing, then they came for the Jews and I said nothing, etc…Neimoller said that in hindsight he and 1000s of fellow clergy, who were looked to for moral leadership, could have and should have paid a steep price long before the final solution and war became the new reality. That that could have changed the course of history.
    We only know in hindsight it took a world war and 50 million dead before Fascism was decisively defeated. And it was not stopped by the resistance of all elements of the German people themselves.
    We are facing a similar situation in America. We see all the familiar dark clouds amassing, from above and below, hoping against hope that normality will return by being “more civil than thou”, while incivility reigns supreme from the Oval Office. And without any sacrifice beyond voting and then relying on our elected officials to act on our behalf. Well, what if the Blue Wave succeeds, and they don’t act on our behalf? What if the situation is judged to be so precarious by then that the Democrats prefer “order” — i.e. continuing their interminable appeal to the Republicans to at long last “do right” — over justice, an “order” that is conducive to their narrowly conceived, more [supposedly] promising political fortunes in 2020, while the dangerous rot continues apace?

  10. Margarita August 18, 2018 at 6:29 pm #

    City & State
    San Antonio
    If we are going to refuse service in a public venue to Sarah Huckabee because she works for Trump, does that mean we are going to deny service to all government employees? All military personnel? Where do we draw the line? This is a very slippery slope and one that, in my humble opinion, we should not take the first step on. If, however, Sarah, someone else employed by the government, or anyone started loudly making offensive remarks in a business open to the public, or stood up and began spouting political views, I could see politely but firmly asking the person to leave.

  11. Jan Hutton August 19, 2018 at 8:10 pm #

    City & State
    Chapel Hill, North Carolina
    Lucy, thanks so much for bringing this concern forward.

    There are many different prisms through which we can look at the term “civility.” Here’s a personal reframe that is NOT inclusive of Cadbury’s definition. From an actionable vantage point, I believe civility is inclusive of speaking power to truth, but not demonizing the other or resorting to name‐calling. Krista Tippett’s On Being, has a wonderful dialogue between an African‐American minister/activist and a Muslim community organizer, who is a recent recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship award. This comment from Mr. Nashashibi, the organizer, speaks volumes…”never pray for justice, because, as much as you want justice, you pray for mercy. In other words, you never pray for God to be just with you, because you recognize that we all got issues.” https://​onbeing​.org/​p​r​o​g​r​a​m​s​/​r​a​m​i​-​n​a​s​h​a​s​h​i​b​i​-​l​u​c​a​s​-​j​o​h​n​s​o​n​-​g​e​t​t​i​n​g​-​p​r​o​x​i​m​a​t​e​-​t​o​-​p​a​i​n​-​a​n​d​-​h​o​l​d​i​n​g​-​t​o​-​t​h​e​-​p​o​w​e​r​-​o​f​-​l​o​v​e​-​j​u​n​2​0​18/

    The roots of the word “civility” are much deeper than courtesy and politeness. The Latin civilas means ‘relating to citizens.’ It’s about citizenship, and citizenship is where the power and privilege in a society lies. I don’t believe civility is about compromising our principles, but about being honest, not demonizing the ‘other’ and acting as deeply concerned citizens on so many different fronts, including marches, protests, etc. https://​nicd​.arizona​.edu/​s​i​t​e​s​/​d​e​f​a​u​l​t​/​f​i​l​e​s​/​C​i​t​i​z​e​n​T​o​o​l​k​i​t​.​pdf

    How do we, Lucy, thanks so much for bringing this concern forward.

    There are many different prisms through which we can look at the term “civility.” Here’s a personal reframe that is NOT inclusive of Cadbury’s definition. From an actionable vantage point, I believe civility is inclusive of speaking power to truth, but not demonizing the other or resorting to name‐calling. Krista Tippett’s, On Being, has a wonderful dialogue between an African‐American minister/activist and a Muslim community organizer, who is a recent recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship award. This comment from Mr. Nashashibi, the organizer, speaks volumes…”never pray for justice, because, as much as you want justice, you pray for mercy. In other words, you never pray for God to be just with you, because you recognize that we all got issues.” https://​onbeing​.org/​p​r​o​g​r​a​m​s​/​r​a​m​i​-​n​a​s​h​a​s​h​i​b​i​-​l​u​c​a​s​-​j​o​h​n​s​o​n​-​g​e​t​t​i​n​g​-​p​r​o​x​i​m​a​t​e​-​t​o​-​p​a​i​n​-​a​n​d​-​h​o​l​d​i​n​g​-​t​o​-​t​h​e​-​p​o​w​e​r​-​o​f​-​l​o​v​e​-​j​u​n​2​0​18/

    The roots of the word “civility” are something much deeper than courtesy and politeness. The Latin civilas means ‘relating to citizens.’ It’s about citizenship, and citizenship is about where the power and privilege in a society lies. I don’t believe civility is about compromising our principles, but about being honest, saying it respectfully, and acting as deeply concerned citizens on so many different fronts, including marches, protests, etc. https://​nicd​.arizona​.edu/​s​i​t​e​s​/​d​e​f​a​u​l​t​/​f​i​l​e​s​/​C​i​t​i​z​e​n​T​o​o​l​k​i​t​.​pdf

    How do we, Lucy, thanks so much for bringing this concern forward.

    There are many different prisms through which we can look at the term “civility.” Here’s a personal reframe that is NOT inclusive of Cadbury’s definition. From an actionable vantage point, I believe civility is inclusive of speaking power to truth, but not demonizing the other or resorting to name‐calling. Krista Tippett’s, On Being, has a wonderful dialogue between an African‐American minister/activist and a Muslim community organizer, who is a recent recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship award. This comment from Mr. Nashashibi, the organizer, speaks volumes…”never pray for justice, because, as much as you want justice, you pray for mercy. In other words, you never pray for God to be just with you, because you recognize that we all got issues.” https://​onbeing​.org/​p​r​o​g​r​a​m​s​/​r​a​m​i​-​n​a​s​h​a​s​h​i​b​i​-​l​u​c​a​s​-​j​o​h​n​s​o​n​-​g​e​t​t​i​n​g​-​p​r​o​x​i​m​a​t​e​-​t​o​-​p​a​i​n​-​a​n​d​-​h​o​l​d​i​n​g​-​t​o​-​t​h​e​-​p​o​w​e​r​-​o​f​-​l​o​v​e​-​j​u​n​2​0​18/

    The roots of the word “civility” are something much deeper than courtesy and politeness. The Latin civilas means ‘relating to citizens.’ It’s about citizenship, and citizenship is about where the power and privilege in a society lies. I don’t believe civility is about compromising our principles, but about being honest, saying it respectfully, and acting as deeply concerned citizens on so many different fronts, including marches, protests, etc. https://​nicd​.arizona​.edu/​s​i​t​e​s​/​d​e​f​a​u​l​t​/​f​i​l​e​s​/​C​i​t​i​z​e​n​T​o​o​l​k​i​t​.​pdf

    How do we, as humans, Quakers, and citizens, find non‐violent responses into which we can live?

  12. Jed Dolnick August 30, 2018 at 4:34 pm #

    City & State
    West Bend, WI
    One can offer a dozen definitions of “civility”, but the general understanding is that it’s synonymous with courtesy or politeness. One can fight injustice without abandoning civility; the concepts aren’t mutually exclusive. The expulsion of Sarah Sanders wasn’t designed to change political policy; it was designed to shun and humiliate. Justifying such behavior because it’s for a “noble cause” is exactly what the president’s supporters do. If one can’t find common ground, it is possible to work for change without abandoning dignity.

  13. Jed Dolnick September 3, 2018 at 4:32 pm #

    City & State
    West Bend, WI
    One can effectively oppose wrongdoing without abandoning decency. The author teaches bystander training to fight harassment, but endorses harassment when it meets her litmus test for what is “good”.

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