Treason in the Northern Quarter
by Henk Van Nierop
Princeton University Press – £27.95
If nothing else, this book wholeheartedly corroborates the rigidity by which guilt and religion have through the ages, amounted to nothing other than pain, death and a stasis inflected society; which, in and of itself, ensures further pain and death – ad infinitum. Indeed Treason in the Northern Quarter – War, Terror and the Rule of Law in the Dutch Revolt is a perfect, microclimatic example, of all that is potentially harrowing about humanity, once the (absurd) rule of law is dictated by that of sectarian divide.
The book’s full title alone, speaks volumes. Clearly there couldn’t have been a rule of law – especially if death and terror were condoned by the very lawmakers who were supposedly there to protect. But as Henk van Nierop writes in the Conclusion: ‘’Karl Marx remarked that history repeats itself, occurring first as tragedy and the second time as farce.’’
Never have such prophetic words been so widely quoted, yet unfortunately ignored. For said farce is continuing its elongated run amid a number of filthy theatres of war.
Moreover, that war and terror was able to reign supreme in Holland’s tiny Northern Quarter (the waterlogged peninsula stretching from Amsterdam to the North Sea) in the spring of 1575, underlines the depths to which man will invariably stoop, regarding uncertainty, the unknown, and an ideology of scapegoatism.
Since the outbreak of the Dutch Revolt a few years earlier, the Spanish had repeatedly failed to evict the rebels under William of Orange throughout said region, which triggered rumours that the war-weary population harboured traitors conspiring to aid the Spanish. In response, a vacuous witch-hunt pervaded the very fabric of what little there was left of ‘the rule of law,’ resulting in a terrible dirty war.
The sort of which was something to be survived.
Written with a true understanding and aligned with a delicacy that suggests the author is none the wiser (or at peace) for having unfolded such Dutch darkness and barbarity, Nierop remains objective. Yet he does so, whilst simultaneously bequeathing an opinion that with some hesitation, borders on the idealistic. Writing in ‘Historiography and Propaganda,’ he states: ‘’ The (Protestant) martyrs were never condemned for their religion, but for their lack of faith; not for their guilt, but for their crimes; not for sound doctrine, but for error; not for steadfastness, but for obstinacy; and that on the grounds of laws that were proclaimed long ago by the emperors.’’ Long ago by the very emperors who themselves, displayed a mighty lack of conscience when it came to the making and breaking of (their own) laws, at random and without hesitation.
As Nierop continues, one cannot help but wonder if mankind has learnt anything at all, whilst travelling along the dusty passages of time: ‘’It is a popular adage that it is not the punishment that makes a martyr, but the cause for which he stands.’’
Most causes are of course, prone to cataclysmic distortion, as those who continue to forfeit their lives in the name of whatever, readily lay claim to. That said, this is a more than courageous study, which as a book, resonates with surprising modernity.