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International Socialism, Spring 1961


The Young Nationalist

A story by
Jacques Egyptien Compton


From International Socialism (1st series), No.4, Spring 1961, pp.18-19.
Transcribed &
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Jacques Egyptien Compton was born in St Lucia and came to Britain in 1953. He is 33, works as a free-lance journalist and broadcasts on the Caribbean service of the BBC. He edits the West Indian Students’ Newsletter and will edit the Caribbean Quarterly, a literary periodical due to make its first appearance in October.

Perhaps you know the fellow. A young Ghanaian. Used to come to the Student’s Centre quite a lot. I hadn’t seen him for years! Met him again at a cafe in the Boulevard Saint Michel on Old Year’s night. He was with a pretty Martiniquan girl. Always did have a weakness for West Indian girls.

In fact that’s how I got to know him. He had been terribly in love with a Jamaican girl at the time. Went steady for many, many months. Wanted to marry her something bad!

How come all this is the past tense? you say. Well. I’ll tell you ...

This fellow, as I said, used to be at the Centre regularly with the Jamaican girl. Would have married her, too, except that, like most Jamaicans, she was a religious fanatic. Still, there was nothing wrong with that, he would be the first to tell you.

‘After all, Christ was an African, even though a Jew. And if the world is prepared to accept the philosophy of an African that is something for us to be proud of. But I choose to reject him, that’s all.’

Many a time this argument would rage in the bar at the Centre.

‘But why?’ the author of this ballad would enquire. ‘Because I refuse to accept the history of the Jews for my religion.’

I must admit that I’d never thought of this one before. Had never heard it before for that matter. ‘Interesting’, I said to the character.

He stared at me for about half a minute, I suppose trying to decipher me, then he smiled.

‘Yes’, said he, then he made an interesting observation. ‘If I must accept the history of a people for my religion, then why not my own history? Or you’, pointing to me with his glass-holding hand. ‘West Indian history. Because that’s what Christianity is, Jewish history. The struggle of the Jews to maintain their integrity and so on.’

‘Interesting’, I said again, not knowing quite what else to say to the fellow.

He kept staring at me, smiling with evident amusement.

‘But Christ, you must admit that there is something in his philosophy that the world accepts...’

‘Not the world’, he quickly corrected. ‘Me, for instance, and large parts of this world, Africa, Asia, and so on.’ He paused and smiled then said: ‘Besides, his own people rejected him.’

‘Betrayed him, you mean’, I said.

‘No, correction, please. Rejected. Christ was rejected by his own people because they considered him a traitor.’

‘Good heavens, man! This is blasphemy!’ I said. ‘Are you mad?’

The fellow actually laughed in my face! ‘You West Indians are all the same. I’ll tell you’, he said. ‘First of all Christ was illegitimate; the son of a Roman centurion. Well, that’s not so bad, being illegitimate. But the son of a Roman soldier, now that was different. I’m relating Jewish history, mind you. Mary was refused admission at the Inns because she had broken strong orthodox Jewish law and custom. And worst! Consorting with the enemy. Now, remember, Jerusalem had been occupied by Rome at the time. The parallel here is with that of Europe under the Germans. Do you know what happened to people who consorted with the Germans in these occupied countries during the last war? Right, then. Did you see the film Ben Hur? Good. Ben Hur was a true Jewish patriot, wasn’t he? Right Do you know how Christ and his foster father earned their living?’ ‘No’. I said to this apparently well informed character.

‘I’ll tell you. He and Joseph used to build the crosses on which the Jewish underground fighters were crucified when they were caught by the Roman soldiers.’

‘Incredible!’ I returned. ‘You don’t mean this, really?’

‘Jewish history’, he informed me quietly after a sip of his corn and oil. ‘Jewish history.’

I stared at the man in unbelief.

‘Now consider’, he continued thoughtfully. ‘If your country is occupied by a foreign power, a much-hated foreign power. And one of your members was arrested, and charged, and convicted, for some crime or other, by that foreign power. And you. the citizens, the patriots of that occupied country, were asked whether you would like that man released or some other character who had committed a less obnoxious crime – I ask you candidly: Would you not ask for your man to be released? Then why did the Jewish patriots ask for Christ not to be released? Eh? “Crucify him! Crucify him!” was what they all shouted.’ My friend paused a while during which I considered this new angle. Then he said: ‘Amazing, isn’t it?’

‘Yes’, I said without having resolved anything really, but still turning the matter over in my mind. ‘Yes, you’ve got something there.’

He smiled with obvious enjoyment like a man who had made his point. ‘Now, you think it over’, he said.

By this time a small crowd had gathered around, listening. One fellow, a Barbadian Carol singer, would have none of this. He refused to let the matter pass off so lightly. If no one was prepared to take this fellow to task, he said, he would.

‘Listen, man,’ said this Carol singer. ‘Just because you don’t believe that don’t mean to say you’ve got a right to make fun of other people’s religion. In the old days they used to burn people like you for saying less than that.’

‘Ah! I see’, said the African. ‘They burnt people for less than that, did they? I see. You mean to tell me that ... that these burners ... their faith in their religion, their own conviction, was so weak that they had need to resort to fright to force people to accept it?’

Someone chuckled. ‘Like the forcing of their political institutions on colonial peoples by the Europeans’. This from the person who had chuckled. The African turned to him. ‘Exactly’, he said.

The Carol singer retorted nevertheless: ‘Don’t forget that millions of people believe in Christianity.’

‘That’s good. That’s good for them. At least it’s one of the things out of Africa which Europe has accepted. I’m proud of that, in a way.’

‘Out of Africa?’ objected the Carol singer. He was truly stubborn, this Barbadian.

‘You querying my statement?’ he asked. ‘Did Christ come from Bethnal Green? Or Golders Green? Listen, my friend, regardless of how white these Europeans try to make Christ, he came from Africa. And they cannot rewrite this piece of history, however much they would like to.’

‘Look, man! Don’t make fun of my religion, eh!’ This you can imagine could only have come from the Carol singer.

Well, the African did not argue much further. He said he would bring proof another time. Then, waving one hand in dismissal of the whole affair, he left with the parting words: ‘Okay, gentlemen. Okay.’

But next day the man was back at the Centre! With, of all people, an Israeli scholar from some university in Israel. Jerusalem university, I think. Can’t remember now. But I remember the fellow was an historian. The African had brought the man along to confirm all that he had been saying the previous day.

‘It’s the history of my people’, this scholar quietly informed everyone. ‘You don’t have to believe it if you don’t want to. But it’s my people’s history.’

Well, after that there was no more argument. The African continued to come to the Centre with his girl. As I said before, he was madly in love with her. Wanted to marry her. He would have done, too, anything to get her, or so it seemed to us at one time.

She even had him going to church with her! And that despite his attitude to the church! You see the power of this creature they call woman? Boys, I’m warning you all, watch them people. Watch them beings – Women! Eh, eh! Well, things came to a head one day, as it was bound to do. He had gone to High Mass, as the service is called, with the girl and sometime during the ceremony, the officiating priest had gone up into the pulpit to preach.

Apparently at some stage, I imagine it was at the end of his sermon, the priest decided to call upon his congregation to say a prayer for the Royal Family.

Fair enough, the African informed me afterwards. After all, it’s the people’s Royal Family. If they’re prepared to overwork their God, it’s their business. He must be a pretty insensible God dispensing favours to all and sundry so without even putting them through a means test. Anyway, the fellow said, they were entitled to pray for their Royal Family, eh. But then, he said, the priest had then addressed the congregation in these words:

‘And now, my dear brethren, let us say a prayer for our poor white soldiers who are so far away from home, in the heat and disease of the jungle, doing their best for us, in crushing the evils of Mau Mau in Kenya. An evil blacker than ...’

Well, what exactly happened at this stage was more than anyone could ever have imagined could happen. Up jumped my young African nationalist, and himself addressed the congregation. I can imagine him then, like the young barrister that he was, quick on his feet to defend his clients against the foul charges of the prosecution.

‘But what is this?’ he demanded, ‘Is this what they call a church, or what? Why no prayers for the Africans? Who invited white soldiers to go to Kenya, anyway? Why only prayers for them? Why none as well for the Kenya Africans? Make an excuse for them, too! Say even that they are poor, misguided beings or something like that. Say something on their behalf as well, eh. Oh!’

And with that the fellow had stormed out of the church with as much possible noise as it was possible for him to make.

I remember the papers saying that the fellow was mad!

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