The Catholic Monarchs of Spain – Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon – decided, no doubt in close consultation with members of the clergy, that ordering the expulsion of Jews from the Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon and its territories and possessions by 31 July of 1492 (i.e. in a period of 3 months) was a good idea. The Alhambra Decree, or Edict of Expulsion, was duly made, keeping Spain among the fashionable kingdoms of Europe (expelling Jews was very much in vogue at that time).
It is unclear just how many Jews left Spain (most of them for North Africa or the Ottoman Empire), but estimates place the number between one and two hundred thousand, with another 50,000 or so converting to Catholicism to remain in Spain. Many thousands of Jews were died trying to leave Spain – murdered by brigands who wanted their wealth, betrayed by Spanish mariners (who overcharged them for passage and in some cases dumped them overboard to drown), or executed for remaining after the deadline without converting.
The Decree remained officially in force until Vatican Council II in 1968, and post-Franco Spain has pursued a policy of reconciliation with the descendents of expelled Jews (who now have the legal right to claim Spanish citizenship without satisfying the normal inhabitancy requirements).
Judas Iscariot is a complex and contradictory character in the gospels. He did betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, repent too late, and commit suicide. But how much did he act from his own volition, and how much in fulfillment of God’s grand design? How much was he an independent actor responsible for his own deeds, and how much was he a puppet dancing on divine strings? The only thing we know for sure is that we’ll never get a straight answer out of any church on the subject.
Just in case there was any remaining doubt that he was a raving loony, Saparmurat Niyazov, President For Life of the Central Asian Republic of Turkmenistan after it won its independence from the Soviet Union, decided to ban the wearing of beards or long hair by men. (It is unclear whether or not women were still permitted to grow beards, but probably not.) Among other things, he also banned gold teeth, lip-synching during concerts and the wearing of make up by television newscasters.
Despite Niyazov’s death two years later of a heart attack, human rights in Turkmenistan remain very poor, with the nation running second only to North Korea in freedom of the press.
Thomas Patrick Melady is not, in the general run of things, a man given to hyperbole. Today, he is one of the senior diplomats working for the United States, and a respected authority on African and European affairs. Among his greatest accomplishments was influencing the Vatican (during his term as Ambassador to the Holy See, from 1989 – 1993) to recognise the nation of Israel. He’s a serious man, is what I’m saying.
His first ambassadorial role was as US Ambassador to Burundi from 1969 – 1972. He then had the misfortune to become the new Ambassador to Uganda in 1972, a post he left the followiung year. In this role, he watched the early days of Idi Amin’s rule with mounting horror, describing the man in a telegram he sent to Washington on January 2, 1973, as “racist, erratic and unpredictable, brutal, inept, bellicose, irrational, ridiculous, and militaristic”. The United States closed its embassy in Uganda 38 days later, and did not reopen it until 1979.
Saparmurat Niyazov was the first President of the independent republic of Turkmensistan following the break up of the Soviet Union in 1990. He was also, by anyone’s standards, a raving egomaniac. In fact, during the 15 years of his reign as President-for-Life, he was regarded as one of the world’s most repressive dictactors, and the propagator of a cult of personality whose any rival was Kim Il Jung.
One of the most visible of his monuments to himself was a literal monumemt: the Neutrality Arch in Ashgabat, the Turkmen capital. It was 75 metres tall, illuminated at night – and its uppermost 12 metres consisted of a solid gold statue of Niyazov that rotated to face the sun. Officially, it commemorated Turkmenistan’s offical political stance of neutrality. Unofficially, it appears that the major reason Turkmenistan was neutral is because even Niyazov wasn’t quite deluded enough to think he could take over the world. After Niyazov’s death in 2006, the monument was demolished by his successors, who wished to show the world the Turkmenisatan was sane again.
The most notorious of all members of the Holy Inquisition, Tomás de Torquemada’s fervour in punishing heretics and sinners – his fanaticism is one of the chief causes of the poor repute of the Inquisition – may well have been driven by a secret shame: although many of those he persecuted were Jews, he himself seems to have had Jewish ancestry.
ALthough at first his appointment as Grand Inquisitor – Spain’s first such – was a decision popular with nobles and peasants alike, over time, de Torquemada became so hated in Spain that he traveled everywhere with armed and mounted guards in order to protect him from the people he so often found it necessary to destroy in order to save.
The Khmer Rouge were a Communist movement allied to the Viet Cong. When the United States military pulled out of Vietnam and Cambodia in 1975, they left a power vacuum that their opponents were quick to exploit. The Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, championed a particularly oppressive form of dictatorship that called for a return to medieval technology and an abandonment of urbanisation.
With the fall of the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, the Khmer Rouge took control of the country. All the citizens of Cambodia were forced to leave the cities, to practice subsistence agriculture in the rural areas. The regime was infamous for its cruelty and brutality, to say nothing of its near genocidal policies. It is estimated that in the four years of their reign, as many as two million people were killed, either in concentration camps, summary executions or simple starvation. In fact, during the years of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia became known as the Killing Fields – more than 20,000 separate mass graves were created in these years.
Idi Amin was already fairly notorious by 1971. As the commander in cheif of Uganda’s armed forces, he had recruited heavily amongst tribes not sympathetic to the Ugandan majority, and built himself a considerable power base. The Ugandan Prime Minister, Milton Obote – formerly an ally to Amin, but now worried about his subordinate’s increasingly obvious ambitions – reclaimed that post in October 1970, reducing Amin in rank to commander in cheif of the army.
In January 1971, Amin struck back. In a lightning military coup, he seized power on January 25. Publically, Amin announced that he was a soldier, not a politician. He promised that his military government would be only a caretaker regime until new elections could be held, and to release all political prisoners. On February 2, he proclaimed himself President of Uganda, a post which he held until he too was deposed, in 1979, after years of corruption, ethnic cleansing and economic mismanagement.