Me Too, To My Everlasting Shame

Ezra Azra

Copyright 2022 by Ezra Azra
Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons
Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

In the 1960s there was a petition circulated on the campus of the University of Natal, Durban, South Africa, against Mrs Fatima Meer, a professor in the Department of Sociology.

Mrs Meer was tenured, with a Master of Arts degree. The petitioners demanded her dismissal from the University because it had come to light that Mrs Meer was in an incestuous marriage with her first cousin, and had adult children in the marriage.

The petitioners claimed to be defending the integrity of Christianity, upon which the University had been founded. Christianity, the petitioners claimed, was against incest, as was the secular law of South Africa.

Mrs Meer's defence was that incestuous marriage was allowed within her sect of the Islamic religion, and that freedom of religious worship was allowed by the Country's Constitution, and that Islam was one of the religions recognized in the Constitution.

Mrs Meer found an ally in Miss Sarojini Pillay; but not for the obvious reason. The obvious reason was that in some sects of Miss Pillay's Hindu religion, incestuous marriage was allowed. Miss Pillay expressed her support for Mrs Meer through a prescribed University class assignment.

Sarojini was enrolled in classes in the Department of Speech and Drama. In one of her classes, for academic credit, students were required to form groups and stage scenes from onstage plays. I was a student enrolled in that class.

In a classroom there were pages on tables for students to enter their names for the character roles in which they volunteered to be cast. As always expected, all roles were sought by many volunteers. The student director of the scene made the final selection.

Sarojini chose to stage a scene from a play that had a principal theme of father-daughter incest. William Shakespeare's "Pericles, Prince of Tyre", written in England in the year 1608.

Sarojini was most respected and popular, and so it was not surprising that, with one exception, every one of the eight-or-so male students signed up to be cast in the scene she would be directing for onstage presentation. The role was Antiochus, king of Antioch, the incestuous father.

Surprisingly, only one of the many female students signed up for the role of the daughter. That brave soul was Miss Rajaluxmi Pillay; no family relationship with Sarojini. Curiously, the daughter character in the play has no name; she is designated as "The Daughter." That Rajaluxmi had no competition must have been a first. Usually, there is fierce competition among Actors and Actresses for onstage roles.

I was the exception who did not sign up for the role of the father. At the time, my thinking was shallow, harmless prejudice. Incest as a happening was a no-brainer to me. I did not know, or know of anyone close to my family, or in my circle of friends, who, either, was in an incestuous relationship, or was a result of one. I knew incest was something that was not to be talked about in public, and so I paid practically no attention to the matter. Mrs Meer was the first incestuouser of whom I came to know a lot about, in a very short time, because of the campus unrest.

Mrs Meer was in the Department of Sociology. I was not aware of knowing any student who was enrolled in Sociology. To this day I do not know where the Sociology Department was on campus.

Yes, at the time, my reason for not volunteering to be cast in the scene was shallow, harmless prejudice, but it did have an immediately practical purpose. You see, I had not read "Pericles, Prince of Tyre." It was not on our prescribed list of class texts, and so if I avoided being cast in a scene from the play, I was not obliged to read the play. In other words, righteous commitment in moral solidarity with an honorably principled colleague was of lesser importance to me than selfish temporary practical convenient expedience.

Professor Elizabeth Sneddon was the Head of the Department. While she had no intention to disallow Sarojini's choice of play or scene, she did have a fairly long discussion with Sarojini in an attempt to persuade her to select another scene, advisedly from another play. Sneddon averred her only concern was to keep the Department at arm's length from the campus unrest that was being stirred up by the Christian petition against Mrs Fatima Meer, a fellow professor.

There was no reason to think Sneddon had any other objection to Sarojini's scene. After all, Elizabeth Sneddon was a scholar in the works of William Shakespeare, and she was well aware of the recurring theme of incest in his plays. Her other field of expertise was Ancient Greek theatre. The central theme in the play "Oedipus Rex", written and staged in Greece over two-thousand years ago, is mother-son incest.

Sarojini said Sneddon congratulated her, somewhat subduedly, after Sarojini played her final card: the Bible.

Abram, the first Hebrew in the land of Canaan, married Isaac, his only child by his wife, Sarai, to Rebekah, Isaac's first cousin. Hence, every Hebrew derived from Isaac and Rebekah since, is of incest. Almighty God, Jehovah, approved: "God said, Thou shalt call his name Isaac, and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him."

Isaac's son, Jacob, had two wives, Leah and Rachel. They were sisters. Both were his first cousins. He had nine children with them. Almighty God, Jehovah, approved: "And God said unto Jacob, I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a community of nations shall be of thee. Kings shall come out of thy loins."

One genetic lineage of Jesus, the prophesied Christ Messiah, the only begotten Son of God Almighty, begins in father-daughter incest.

In the Book of Genesis, the story is told of Lot's two daughters seducing their father into wine intoxication in order to engage in sex with him to have babies. Those two children were the progenitors of the Ammonite and Moabite tribes.

In the Bible Book of Ruth, the story is told of Ruth the Moabitess who was a direct ancestor of Jesus.

William Shakespeare in his "Pericles, Prince of Tyre" has a line in his play that indicates he was fully aware of the problem with God Almighty allowing incest to be a part of his plan, "If Jove stray, who dares say Jove doth ill?"

Almighty Jehovah in the Bible is firm and unambiguous about favouring the children of incest. He commands Moses, "Distress not the Moabites, neither contend with them in battle, for I will not give thee of their land for a possession."

Of Jesus, the Moabite derived of incest, God Almighty said, for all to hear, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."

The Gods of the Ancient Greeks disapproved of the mother-son incest in Oedipus and his mother, Jocasta. The Gods punished both of them, even though neither was aware of the incest when they entered into their marriage. The Almighty God of the Ancient Hebrews fully, almightily and gloriously approved of, and promised to eternally reward the incestuous relationships into which, knowingly and willingly, were entered by Lot's two daughters; Isaac and his wife Rebekah; Jacob and his two sister-wives, Leah and Rachel.

Sarojini Pillay contended that, since nowhere in the Bible is incest categorically condemned, and in many instances openly approved by Almighty God himself, the declared Christian stance of the petitioners was untenable; that by the history of Christianity, beginning in the Bible book of Genesis, those petitioners should have supported Mrs Fatima Meer in her incestuous marriage that was in proper accordance with the history of Islam which also has its beginnings in the Bible book of Genesis.

All the scenes of the class assignment were staged in one two-hour session. For years, only the class professor and students enrolled in the class were the audience. This session was different.

All the professors in the Department were invited by the Head of the Department, Elizabeth Sneddon. Next to Elizabeth Sneddon in the audience, by special invitation, sat Mrs Fatima Meer.

In the days that followed, Elizabeth Sneddon invited Sarojini Pillay to address the class with her reasons for supporting Mrs Fatima Meer's cause against the petitioners. Most, if not all the information Sarojini presented at that address, I repeat in this story.

Sarojini observed that the petitioners' Christian stance was flawed in that Jehovah, Almighty God in the Bible, more than once, rewards continual incest with everlasting covenants of triumphs; and once with the promise of an (incestuant) Almighty Messiah, forever Saviour of the world.

Miss Pillay observed, as well, that, fortunately for the healthy continuation of ever progressive Civilization, artists like William Shakespeare take a direction opposite to that of Biblical Jehovah's. In his fiction work of literary art, "Pericles, Prince of Tyre", William Shakespeare invents his own Gods who kill the father-daughter culprits of incest:

"Antiochus from incest lived not free: for which, the most high gods not minding longer to withhold the vengeance that they had in store, due to this heinous capital offence, even in the height and pride of all his glory, when he was seated in a chariot of an inestimable value, and his daughter with him, a fire from heaven came and shrivell'd up their bodies, even to loathing; for they so stunk, that all those eyes adored them ere their fall, scorn now their hand should give them burial."

In classic Aristotelian cathartic counter-balance to the ugly evil father-daughter incest of Antiochus and his satirically "Hesperides" daughter, Shakespeare concurrently narrates a longer narrative in the play of the trials-into-triumph of the father-daughter adventures of Pericles and his daughter. The playwright gave this daughter character a name: Marina.

I do not recall what eventually happened with that on-campus petition. Over the years when I try to remember, I hope word of Sarojini's class address became known to the Christian organizers, and caused them to desist and disband. Mrs Fatima Meer continued as Sociology Professor until her legal retirement many years later.

In the following year, the play "Pericles, Prince of Tyre" was one of the prescribed class plays in the Department of Speech and Drama at the University of Natal, Durban, South Africa.

I expected and dreaded Sarojini would ask me why I did not include my name on the list to be considered for the role of Antiochus, king of Antioch. She never asked.

She and I spent another year in that Department, and then went our separate ways to different countries.

Forever, I feel ashamed that I did not support a fellow student who had the courage in turbulent and seemingly hopeless times, to undisguisedly support a cause she believed to be righteous, by the terms of world literature: Secular; Historical; Artistic; and Religious.

Sarojini Pillay was retired many years when she died some forty years later, of natural causes in a faraway country.

Omnis gloria tibi, Sarojini. Requiescat in pace, carissime.

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