From the indispensible KurdishMedia.Com comes this story (which originally ran in The Independent) on the Yezidis with the unfortunate headline "Hell's Angels." The Independent piece initially identifies the Yezidis as a tribe. I believe that ethnically speaking, the vast majority -- if not all -- of Yezidis are Kurdish, although this may be a distinction without a practical difference if they do not marry outside their co-religionists, and so on. The piece offers this brief description of the faith:
The Yezidi sound like the stuff of legend, or 19th-century novels - a people who live in the remote mountains at the borders of Turkey and Iraq, and pray to the fallen angel Christians and Muslims call Satan, because they believe he was forgiven by God and reinstated in heaven.
The Yezidi never wear the colour blue. They are not allowed to eat lettuce. They do not believe in heaven or hell -- instead they believe in reincarnation, which they call the soul "changing its clothes". They have two holy books, but they believe the only copy of one of them, the Black Book, was stolen years ago and taken to Britain, where, they say, it is kept in a museum.
They have kept their religion alive through oral tradition. Yezidis known as Talkers can recite the entire lost book from memory. They are taught it as children by their fathers, and teach it to their own sons in their turn.
The Yezidi believe that after man’s creation, God ordered the angels to pray for Adam, but that one angel refused - there is a similar belief in Islam. But the Yezidi believe that instead of becoming the fallen Satan, the recalcitrant angel was forgiven by God. They do not call this angel Satan - they will not say the word, and are deeply offended by it -- but Malek Tawwus, or the Peacock King, and they pray to him. As a result, the followers of other religions have condemned them as Devil-worshippers.
After a brief (almost derisively so) nod to the persecution of Yezidis suffered under Saddam Hussein's regime, the article notes what may be a disturbing source of continuing persecution:
After the war, Kurdish guerrillas poured into this area from further north. They appointed their own mayor and tried to take over the town. Eager to expland the area under their control, Kurdish forces were trying the same across northern Iraq. The victors were trying to take the spoils.
In a dingy liquor store on the outskirts of Sinjar - in Yezidism, drinking alcohol is allowed - we met Nawroz Ali, a local Yezidi who said the Kurds had ordered him out of his house in Sinjar and taken it over when they came.
There were many similar cases.
But, after so many years of persecution, the Yezidi were not going to take this lying down. Sheikh Kaski chuckled as he told us how he dealt with the problem. As Saddam’s troops fled Sinjar, he and his Yezidi followers had collected the weapons they left behind. When things got out of hand with the Kurds, Sheikh Kaski and the Yezidi took the arms and surrounded the building in town where the Kurdish guerrillas had set up shop. The Yezidi were armed with rocket-propelled grenades. They even had an anti-aircraft gun pointing at the Kurds. Enough, said the Yezidi. Leave us alone. The Kurds got the message, but nobody here believes the problem is over.
Obviously, I can't vouch for the veracity of the account, and I'm not sure that the article's author can either. If true, it's disturbing, to say the least. The article goes on to note,
Across the rest of their homelands, the situation has been worse. In Georgia and Armenia, the Yezidis were forced out by nationalist movements that emerged in the new republics after Soviet rule, demanding that they become ethnic homelands and other races leave. Muslim Kurds have faced similar problems but the Yezidi have been rejected by the Muslim Kurds as well. In Turkey, the Yezidi suffered both as Kurds and because of their religion. The Turkish government has long made life uncomfortable for religious minorities. In the middle of a war between the Turkish military and Kurdish separatists, the Yezidi were particularly vulnerable. Looking to divide and rule, the Turkish government turned a blind eye when Kurdish Muslim extremists attacked the Yezidi. Yezidis were issued identity cards with "XXX" printed where their religion should have been entered. With those ID cards, they could expect no help from the police. They could not get jobs.
There's more to the piece than that -- the whole thing is worth reading, although I can't help noticing that The Independent's writer seems fixated on the notion that the plight of the Yezidis is potentially worse because of the toppling of Saddam Hussein. This strikes me as lunacy. For example, he notes in the article that the Yezidis pass on their religion orally; that their language is Kurdish, and the Saddam declared them Arabs and made it illegal for anyone (themselves included) to deny their "Arabic" character. I can't imagine a more direct way to suppress a religious tradition (excepting, of course, actually killing the believers, which, the article hints, Saddam wasn't above doing either).
For those, like me, contemplating tomorrow's cooking, I thought I'd provide some helpful tips. From F. Scott Fitzgerald's notebooks, published as part of The Crack-Up, come these Fitzgerald family recipes for the Thanksgiving bird:
1. Turkey Cocktail: To one large turkey add one gallon of vermouth and a demijohn of angostura bitters. Shake.
3. Turkey and Water: Take one turkey and one pan of water. Heat the latter to the boiling point and then put in the refrigerator. When it has jelled, drown the turkey in it. Eat. In preparing this recipe, it is best to have a few ham sandwiches around in case things go wrong.
6. Stolen Turkey: Walk quickly from the market, and, if accosted, remark with a laugh that it had just flown into your arms and you hadn't noticed it. Then drop the turkey with the white of one egg -- well, anyhow, beat it.
9. Feathered Turkey: To prepare this, a turkey is necessary and a one pounder cannon to compel anyone to eat it. Broil the feathers and stuff with sage-brush, old clothes, almost anything you can dig up. Then sit down and simmer. The feathers are to be eaten like artichokes (and this is not to be confused with the old Roman custom of tickling the throat.)
12. Turkey with Whiskey Sauce: This recipe is for a party of four. Obtain a gallon of whiskey, and allow it to age for several hours. Then serve, allowing one quart for each guest. The next day the turkey should be added, little by little, constantly stirring and basting.
I originally posted this on paleo Ideofact last year, and intended to provide a link, but the archives seem to be bloggered again...
I also belatedly got around to updating the link for Head Heeb (sorry it took so long).
Finally, to my Muslim friends, happy Eid.
Just out of curiosity, I plugged the word "tantric" into the online catalog I mentioned immediately below, and came up with one discontinued item, an instruction tape for -- ahem -- enhancing one's pleasure in the bedroom (and no, I'm not talking about finding a more comfortable position for reading). I was curious, because of this Washington Post story, which ran today:
DEHRI, India -- Madan and Murti Simaru were desperate for a son. So when nature failed to provide them one, the impoverished field hand and his wife did what many Indians do in times of need: They went to see a tantrik, practitioner of an ancient spiritual art -- tantrism -- that aims to harness supernatural powers for the resolution of worldly ills.
The outcome could hardly have been more shocking.
Acting on the instructions of the tantrik, the couple arranged for the kidnapping last month of a 6-year-old neighbor and then -- as the tantrik led them in chanting mantras -- mutilated and killed the child, Monu Kumar, on the bank of an irrigation canal, according to a police report. Murti Simaru allegedly completed the fertility ritual by washing herself in the child's blood.
After noting that an Indian English language newspaper, the Hindustan Times, had counted 25 human sacrifices in one area of India, western Uttar Pradesh, in the last six months, the article continues,
The killings and the stern official response have focused renewed attention on tantrism, an amalgam of mystical practices that grew out of Hinduism. But tantrism also has adherents among Buddhists and Muslims and, increasingly, in the West, where it is usually associated with techniques for prolonging sex. Often likened by its critics to witchcraft, tantrism has millions of followers across India, where it is thought to have originated between the 5th and 9th centuries A.D.
"This is a problem you can identify somehow with the Indian psyche," said Police Superintendent Sunil Kumar Gupta, who launched the crackdown in the state's Saharanpur district. "Let's hope that now we will have a national focus on this and let's hope in due course this will go out of society."
For all its association with black magic, tantrism has many benign forms and is practiced across a broad spectrum of Indian society. Billboards in the capital carry advertisements for tantriks, who often charge handsome fees for their services. Some tantriks enjoy near-celebrity status in India, hosting seminars at five-star hotels and hobnobbing with politicians and film stars.
There have been various explanations offered for the causes of the witch hysteria in Salem -- that the accusers were suffering from ergot poisoning, that they were liars, that the superstitious, closed-minded Puritans were uniquely susceptible to seeing vast, dark forces arrayed against them. In 1969, a historian by the name of Chadwick Hansen wrote a book arguing that the explanation was much simpler, that there were in fact some people (though not nearly the number eventually accused) who practiced witchcraft:
"The more I studied the documents of what actually took place in the community," Hansen writes, "the more I found myself in opposition to the traditional interpretations. It seemed to me that a serious consideration was in order." He argues, for instance, that witchcraft was actually practiced in seventeenth-century New England, as it was in Europe at the time. Moreover, the behavior of the afflicted persons was not fraudulent, as some have claimed, but pathological; these people were hysterics in the clinical rather than the popular sense of the term. Further still, the clergy did not inspire or take advantage of the witch hunts as has been charged; on the contrary, they were among the chief opponents of "mass hysteria."
I've put Hansen's book among those I mean to get around to sooner or later, but this piece offers a brief summation:
In his 1969 book "Witchcraft at Salem," Chadwick Hansen made an astonishing claim -- that a few of the accused were guilty, that witches did practice in Salem, and that they did cause real harm to others.
"There was witchcraft in Salem, and it worked," wrote Hansen, a former English professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "There was every reason to regard it as a criminal offense."
Belief in witchcraft was far from unique to Salem, Hansen argued; it was endemic to Europe at the time and a constant in the English culture that New England reflected. Reputable citizens invoked "white magic" as a defense against witches, using charms such as a horseshoe above the door.
In Salem, the aunt of one of the afflicted girls invoked sorcery to attempt a cure, asking that a "witch cake" including the girl's urine be fed to a dog. Fortunetelling and white magic were frowned upon by the church but usually tolerated, Hansen wrote.
Against that backdrop, Hansen argued that witchcraft had real power -- not based on any trafficking in the supernatural, but in the power of the victims' beliefs. The girls who were central to the Salem trials were genuinely sick, he wrote, suffering from symptoms that were psychosomatic but nonetheless real.
"It worked then as it works now in witchcraft societies like those of the West Indies, through psychogenic rather than occult means," Hansen wrote. "They [the afflicted girls] were hysterics, and in the clinical rather than the popular sense of that term. These people were not merely overexcited; they were mentally ill."
There is yet another possibility, a slight variation on the theory Hansen proposes: As the example in the Post story suggests, witchcraft need not operate by either supernatural or psychomatic means to cause harm. For the parents of the child, brutally killed, the damage of the magic will last a lifetime (I cannot quite express how sick this aspect of it made me). And as for the murderers -- the tantrik, the husband and his infertile wife bathing herself in the victim's blood, putting themselves beyond the bounds of human decency or self-restraint, I think the line from the King James version is perhaps most appropriate: Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.
Before I go any further, I should note that the title of this post is entirely in jest, chosen largely because I'm reading In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692 by Mary Beth Norton. (It's an interesting book, by the way -- Norton tries to situate the Witch trials in the broader context of the late 17th century First and Second Indian Wars -- I may have some comments on the book later.) Reading the quoted testimony of those who claimed to be bewitched -- how the Devil promised them riches and finery and good things if only they would sign their names in his little red book -- somehow seemed related to the Pyramid Collection catalog that arrived in the mail, along with dozens of others, over the weekend. Like its brethern, it was aimed at the holiday shopper, although I imagine a non-traditional shopper was intended. Pentagrams, skulls, spellbooks (and I don't mean the New England Primer, complete with the Westminster Assembly Shorter Catechism), and the like. It's an odd collection of things, but really -- that doesn't bother me at all (a point I'll return to in a moment). But the catalog advertises itself (I'll quote the Web version, though the paper isn't much different) as offering "personal growth and exploration."
The items for sale do not seem to include the Confessions of Augustine. There's a Witches' Datebook that "features monthly rituals, Wiccan holidays and important dates, prize recipes, best days to plant/harvest, moon signs/phases," and so on, a Witches' Bible, cauldron and broomstick, even vials "of Salem Witch Laurie Cabot’s special potion," which I gather is a sort of perfume.
Lest I give a false impression, items for the practicing witch or witch wannabe make up only a fraction of this treasure trove. There are pages (both virtual and printed) devoted to the Renaissance, Egypt, Celtic heritage (read: Druids), "Tarot, Astrology and the Oracle" (all one category), and Eastern Philosophy, which features such classic works as the Harem halter and matching Harem pants, the Tibetan Phone Bell (which apparently replaces the irritating ring of the telephone with a soothing gong sound), and, for those inclined to more serious studies, the nude Yoga VHS tape. Not that it's particularly odd, but one thing I noted: the Renaissance section features a few anachronisms, but not Egyptian goods -- there was a real fascination with "Egyptian" religion during the period -- but rather Druid goods. And nothing says authentic Renaissance like the 100 percent polyester Princess Rose Dress (but I digress...).
My pedagogic nature is a little offended by the many missed opportunities (why not offer the Corpus Hermeticum, and other Egyptian items, on the Renaissance page instead of the crushed velvet Druid capes?), but those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. Littering my shelves are dozens of odd volumes, from what I presume is either a very bad translation or a very faithful translation of the badly written Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz, the Nag Hammadi Library, works by Marx and La Mettrie, a half dozen or so translations of the Bible, three translations of the Qur'an, volumes by Descartes, Bacon and Breton, even a volume of selections by Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, better known as Paracelsus. What is worse, I do not even pretend to have mastered any of these texts. It's a little hard for such a sorcerer's apprentice to sit in judgment of the small number of people who peruse a catalog hoping to find "personal growth and exploration" (as opposed to those searching for the nude Yoga VHS tapes).
According to this commentary by Max Holland in The Washington Post, the notion that rogue elements in the C.I.A. or the military industrial complex was behind the assassination of John F. Kennedy originated with the KGB. I have noticed that one element of some of the conspiracy theories is motive: that Kennedy, a Cold Warrior it there ever was one (try to imagine Kennedy sending Elian Gonzalez back to Cuba), was about to secure "peace in our time" in the Cold War, and the military industrial complex acted to prevent that from happening. (Which isn't to say that this is the only motive posited by the conspiracy theorists.)
The first inkling of an aggressive KGB posture is revealed in a document gratuitously cited by Boris Yeltsin in his 1994 memoir. In a letter to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union dated Nov. 23, 1963 -- when Oswald was still alive -- KGB Chairman Vladimir Semichastny recommends publishing in a "progressive paper in one of the Western countries," an article "exposing the attempt by reactionary circles in the USA to remove the responsibility for the murder of Kennedy from the real criminals, [i.e.,] the racists and ultraright elements guilty of the spread and growth of violence and terror in the United States."
Two months later, R. Palme Dutt, the Stalinist editor of a Communist-controlled British journal called Labour Monthly, published an article that raised the specter of CIA involvement without offering a scintilla of evidence. "[M]ost commentators," he wrote, "have surmised a coup of the Ultra-Right or racialists of Dallas. That may be; but the trail, if followed up seriously, seems to reach wider . . . on the face of it this highly organized coup (even to the provision of a 'fall guy' . . . and rapid killing of the fall guy while manacled in custody, as soon as there appeared a danger of his talking), with the manifest complicity necessary of a very wide range of authorities, bears all the hallmarks of a CIA job."
Five months later, in June 1964, a freelance journalist named Joachim Joesten posited a strikingly similar analysis in his book "Oswald: Assassin or Fall Guy?" Following a chapter on "Oswald and the CIA," Joesten asserted that the agency was beyond presidential control and bitterly opposed to Kennedy's policy of "easing the Cold War." It has long been a matter of record that Joesten's book was the first published in the United States on the subject of the assassination. Until the notes of a former KGB archivist named Vasili Mitrokhin were published in 1999, however, it was not known that Joesten's publisher, the small New York firm of Marzani & Munsell, received subsidies totaling $672,000 from the Central Committee of the Communist Party in the early 1960s.
Holland notes in his concluding paragraph,
If and when the archives of the Communist Party's "sword and shield" are fully opened, the KGB's indispensable role in propagating the lie of CIA involvement will take its place among other triumphs of Russian deception, such as the infamous Czarist forgery "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion." Until then there is only this sobering thought, long an axiom of professional intelligence officers: We are never truly deceived by others; we only deceive ourselves.
This is the sort of thing that David of the excellent Cronaca is usually the first to unearth, so forgive me if I try to copy his style:
A Greek play believed lost when the Library of Alexandria is said to have burnt down in 48 BC is to be revived after fragments of text were found in an Egyptian mummy.
Papyrus inscribed with excerpts of Aeschylus's Trojan War trilogy Achilles were found by archaeologists.
Cyprus's national theatre company, Thoc, is planning the world première in Cyprus and Greece next summer.
Although historians questions the existence of the Alexandria library, the play is very real.
The plays have been reworked using the original extracts and drawing on references in texts like Homer's Iliad.
The story revolves around Achilles, the supposedly invincible warrior who was killed by Paris with a poisoned arrow at his only vulnerable spot, the heel.
From the BBC.
Thinking of Aeschylus reminds me of a passage from Borges' essay, The Modesty of History, which can be read several places (I'm quoting it from Other Inquisitions):
The phrase aroused my interest because of its enigmatic quality: "He brought in a second actor." I stopped; I found that the mysterious subject of that mysterious action was Aeschylus and that, as we read in the fourth chapter of Aristotle's Poetics, he "raised the number of actors from one to two." It is well known that the drama was an offshoot fo the religion of Dionysus. Originally, a single actor, the hypokrites, elevated by the cothurnus, dressed in black or purple, and with his face enlarged by a mask, shared the scene with the twelve individuals of the chorus. The drama was one of the ceremonies of the worship and, like all ritual, was in danger of remaining invariable. Aeschylus' innovation could have occurred on but one day, five hundred years before the Christian era; the Athenians saw with amazement and perhaps with shock (Victor Hugo thought the latter) the unnanounced appearance of the second actor. On that remote spring day, in that honey-colored theatre, what did they think, what did they feel exactly? Perhaps neither amazement nor shock; perhaps only a beginning of surprise. In the Tusculanae it is stated that Aeschylus joined the Pythagorean order, but we shall never know if he had a prefiguring, even an imperfect one, of the importance of the passage from one to two, from unity to plurality and thus to infinity. With the second actor came the dialogue and the indefinite possibilities of the reaction of some characters on others. A prophetic spectator would have seen that multitudes of future appearances accompanied him: Hamlet and Faust and Segismundo and Macbeth and Peer Gynt and others our eyes cannot yet discern.
I tend to think that Aeschylus, who wrote as many as 90 plays--of which only a few are extant--knew what he was doing.
...but the Dracula theme park in Romania isn't. As this article in the Telegraph (link requires registration, I'm afraid) explains, a plan to build the theme park at the medieval town of Sighisoara, the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler fell through. Now it will be built on a property with connections to both the Vlad and a tyrant of more recent vintage:
Now, the tourism ministry has authorised construction of the park at the town of Snagov, 25 miles north of Bucharest, where Vlad Tepes is thought to have been buried.
"Work is to start in March with an initial investment of £50 million," said Sorin Marica, a tourism ministry official.
In fact, the 1,500-acre state-owned Ylasia farm at Snagov was once the pride of Ceausescu, who was deposed and shot 14 years ago.
"He was extremely careful about what he ate," said Nicolae Dima, from the Snagov municipality. "He would only touch food he was sure was 'pure'. So everything for his plate came from this farm."
While the previous attempt to breathe life into the Dracula park faced stiff opposition - including religious objections to the "sinful" project - authorities in Snagov have encountered no protests. "There are no problems with campaigners or the Church," said Mr Dima.
The park will feature Disney-style children's rides (with a Gothic theme, I'd imagine), a golf course, and other amenities.
I'm feeling a bit burnt out tonight, so a short post. I found this piece from KurdishMedia.Com on alleged Ba'athist spies in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdish Democratic Party of interest. The author, a Dr. Rebwar Fatah, looks at the implications, and the potential damage, to Kurdish society. After proposing several different means of investigating the charges, he concludes,
The objective is not only to give the spies a chance to defend themselves, but also to allow the truth to be revealled. The democratic process would set a precedent which would no doubt contribute to the development of a civil society in Kurdistan.
He also notes what the dangers of not proceeding in this manner:
Unless the "spy affair" is dealt with professionally and publicly according to the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’, there will be serious consequences on Kurdish society. The problem will not go away with the political parties putting their heads in the sand and the spies shedding crocodile tears. The issue raises a number of very serious questions and people are reluctant to trust the political leadership. Until credible and honest answers are provided by the political leadership, this mistrust is unlikely to disappear.
Meanwhile, Cinderella Blogger Feller, back from a hiatus, has been tracking the situation in Georgia (the old world version) -- there are earlier posts, but I think one can start here and scroll up to get the flavor of it. It's really amazing -- how much goes on in the world that one misses, particularly if one relies solely on one's hometown newspaper...
Finally, I should write something on Viktor Shklovsky one of these days. He was a Russian emigre; while in Berlin he wrote an experimental novel that actually works (well, experimental -- it's a collection of letters, like Les Liaisons Dangereuses), called Zoo Or Letters Not About Love (amazingly, the translation appears to be back in print!). Elsa Triolet, another emigre in Berlin whom Shklovsky loved, forbid him to send her letters about love. So he wrote other things...well, here's a sample from letter nine:
You gave me two assignments.
1) Not to call you. 2) Not to see you.
So now I'm a busy man.
There's still a third assignment: not to think of you. But that one you overlooked.
Poor Shklovsky. Elsa -- Alya in the book -- becomes for him much more than just a woman. To him, the exile, she becomes all that he has given up by going to Germany. What makes the novel so pathetic -- so effective -- is that the recognizes his pathos, the unfair expectations he has of her, yet he can't quite help himself. In real life, Triolet went on to marry the unreadable surrealist-cum-Stalinist poet Louis Aragon; from the relative safety of France, she got to participate in her husband's monstrous project of justifying totalitarianism. Shklovsky returned to Russia, and managed to be a successful literary critic despite the limitations imposed on him by living in that same totalitarian system.
The third letter in the book, Alya's second, in which she asks Shklovsky not to write about love, she tells him,
I'm writing in bed, because yesterday I went dancing. Now I'm going to take a bath. Perhaps we'll see each other today.
Shklovsky adds, "The letter is tired." So am I, I'm afraid, so I'll end this here...
Have open comments, and there's no telling what will turn up. I wrote a post last Wednesday on the resemblance between al Qaeda's alleged plan to employ booby-trapped copies of the Qur'an to blow up the faithful in Saudi Arabia to the early Wahhabi sect, whose founder declared that any Muslim who didn't share his idiosyncratic theology to be a legitimate target of jihad. A Dr. Abdullah Mohammad Sindi, a Ph.D. in international relations, left this unremarkable comment:
Wahhabism is a reactionary shackle that prevents Arabs and Muslims from advancement. Wahhabism created the Saudi monarchy which is one of the most corrupt, brutal, undemocratic, and feudal ruling classes in the world.
I think that's a bit of a simplification -- it's not Wahhabi Arabia, after all, and the Sa'uds, over the years, showed a remarkable ability to manipulate the Wahhabis to achieve their own ends. Be that as it may, Dr. Sindi left a link to his homepage. It was rather disconcerting reading it, and I'm not sure where to begin. Perhaps here, with his essay suggesting that the Jews who run Hollywood are "alien interests" who "foment artificial distrust and enmity" between Americans and Muslims. Note to Dr. Sindi: Except in extraordinary circumstances involving outright treason, Americans generally tend to view their fellow citizens as Americans first. The "Jews" in Hollywood are every bit as American as I am. So what's your problem with Americans running Hollywood? I'm not crazy about everything Hollywood puts out, but my objections are largely aesthetic. I don't much care for bad movies.
Then there's this piece of Holocaust denial. I don't know how to respond. Here's a couple of quotes I've taken from a page devoted to the Americans and Brits who liberated some of the death camps. The first is from Lewis H. Weinstein, who served on Eisenhower's staff, and was written about Eisenhower's inspection of Buchenwald:
I saw Eisenhower go to the opposite end of the road and vomit. From a distance I saw Patton bend over, holding his head with one hand and his abdomen with the other. And I soon became ill. I suggested to General Eisenhower that cables be sent immediately to President Roosevelt, Churchill, DeGaulle, urging people to come and see for themselves. The general nodded.
And here's what Ike himself had to say:
I have never felt able to describe my emotional reaction when I first came face to face with indisputable evidence of Nazi brutality and ruthless disregard of every shred of decency...I visited every nook and cranny of the camp because I felt it my duty to be in a position from then on to testify at first hand about these things in case there ever grew up at home the belief or assumption that the stories of Nazi brutality were just propaganda.
Note to Dr. Sindi: Perhaps you should visit the Holocaust Museum here in Washington, D.C. There is a fairly extensive collection of documentary evidence -- German archival evidence -- of the Holocaust that is open for scholars to inspect. And, generally speaking, Americans revere the World War Two generation, particularly the soldiers who fought what was the greatest threat humanity ever saw. Their eyewitness testimony carries particular weight.
Finally, there's this lengthy critique of the House of Sa'ud. By and large, I share Dr. Sindi's antipathy to the House of Sa'ud, although, I suspect, for entirely different reasons. He writes
Finally in 2001, Fahad fully collaborated with the US in its war against the so-called Islamic "terrorism," permitted the US to flood Saudi Arabia with American FBI agents (some of them were Jews) to interrogate, intimidate and harass Saudis as they wish; and allowed the US to use military bases in Saudi Arabia to destroy Afghanistan, which was accused (without any solid proof) by the US to be behind the September 11, 2001 catastrophic events in New York and Washington, D.C.
Rereading my original post, and Dr. Sindi's brief comment, I am beginning to suspect that what moved him to respond to my comparison of the early history of Wahhabism and the al Qaeda plot to booby trap Qur'ans was his sense that I was being unfair to al Qaeda...
Here's something I'd like to think I forgot but which I think I didn't know. Max Brod did not honor Franz Kafka's request to destroy his unpublished manuscripts, diaries and letters (Brod says he told Kafka he wouldn't honor the request). But someone else, who had other works of Kafka in her possession, honored the request.
The letter ... went on to direct Brod to burn all of Kafka's manuscripts, "without exception and preferably unread." Another note, written later, reiterated the command even more emphatically; and Dora Dymant, the young woman with whom Kafka shared the last year of his life, obediently did destroy those portions of the Kafka hoard within her keeping. (Emphasis added.)
Quoted from the forward by John Updike to The Complete Stories.
I asked the five year old what he knew about Thanksgiving. Without taking much time at all, my normally loquacious son replied, "No presents, just eating."
Needless to say, a closer examination followed. Yes, he knew all about the Pilgrims and Indians, the bountiful harvest, and just whom we are thanking.
Zack of Procrastination has been excellent as always, and I'm remiss in not recommending the series he's posted on life in Kashmir, for which Zack has created a handy index here. He also has a post well worth reading on Slavery, Women & Islam.
I've wondered for some time at the odd parallels between, on the one hand, the resemblances between Kurds -- the largest nation without a state -- and Jews, on the one hand, and between Kurds and Palestinians. Perhaps no people would be better able to understand the intellectual framework of Zionism -- that a nation without a state is unable to prevent its own persecution. That Kurds have been persecuted by Arabs (and Turks and Persians, one should add) is a matter of historical record.
But the Kurds find themselves in a position that is somewhat analogous to the Palestinians. The State is Israel, threatened though it may be, exists. The Palestinians have no state, and in fact haven't been treated all that well by their Arab brethern.
Kurdish journalist Sivan Amedi, who's written a travelogue of his recent return to Kurdistan, has written an article on exactly these themes. (Incidentally, the other pieces in his interesting series are linked at the bottom of the article I've linked -- they're all worth reading.)
The piece is written in a simple language that I find highly affecting. After noting that the Palestinians are the most famous of the stateless people, he distinguishes between the Israeli Arabs and those living under occupation. Amedi notes, "In their struggle against occupation, during which they have rejected many compromise proposals of varying fairness, they have used immoral tactics that include targeting civilians worldwide to promote their cause. These are terrorist tactics." He adds that Kurds have employed the same tactics, but now condemn them.
I found this passage particularly interesting:
The Palestinians will eventually achieve statehood, and would have long ago if it were not for their leadership’s selfish machinations and foolish gambles coupled with the trickery of their Arab brothers. The citizens of Israel will have to accept their new Palestinian neighbors as a nation like any other, proud of their identity. The Palestinians will remember their own struggle against occupation, and will erect statues of their heroes, many of whom may very well have strong terrorist credentials. This will have to be accepted.
The Kurds of today are the Jews of decades and centuries ago. They are divided by different foreign oppressors. Some of them are forgetting their own language. Many of them are in exile. The Kurds, like the Jews, strive to live in peace with their neighbors and establish a democratic nation-state of their own. The Kurds, like the Jews, are also surrounded by “neighbors” who may hate each other but can call agree on one thing –a common cause in opposing any and all aspirations of the Jewish and Kurdish nations.
I also sympathize with the Palestinians. Anyone who has spent a day in Amed knows the feeling of occupation. Those who have visited Amed in the not so recent past have experienced a day in the life of a Palestinian in the West Bank, seeing armored personnel carriers on the side of the road. They have also experienced another indignity unknown to even the Palestinians under Israeli occupation – they have seen an entire city that could only speak the language of the occupier in public for fear of being accused of separatism and terrorism.
He writes of martyrs -- those the Palestinians claim, and those the Kurds revere, and adds, "I am of course also humbled when I read about American soldiers who gave their lives to liberate Iraq, fighting a war that I felt I should have personally fought myself." Earlier, he wrote,
While Palestinian organizations make headlines today by threatening the US and blowing up busses full of civilians, Kurdish organizations do not indulge in these tactics. Perhaps that is why Kurdistan will never be the darling cause of liberals and radicals worldwide, from the parliaments of Europe to the college campuses of America. The Kurds do not curse the US.
Read the whole thing.
Via the always engaging Regions of Mind, I found this meditation on the meaning of the Confederate flag by Clayton Cramer. By and large I'm in agreement with him. And while I understand that to many Southerners it symbolizes their unique Southern heritage, I think this is pretty good advice:
I'm not saying that you need to feel any shame about your expression of Southern pride--but is there perhaps another symbol that doesn't have the baggage?
I'd suggest a flag unique to the South with a somewhat less controversial history, which also seems singularly appropriate for the times we live in: the Fort Moultrie flag:
The Fort Moultrie flag was carried by Colonel William Moultrie's South Carolina Militia on Sullivan Island in Charleston Harbor on June 28, 1776. The British were defeated that day which saved the south from British occupation for another two years.
Some versions of this flag have the word "LIBERTY" in the crescent moon. The South Carolina state flag still contains the crescent moon from this Revolutionary flag.
The version with "LIBERTY" in the crescent moon can be seen here.
Culture, sometimes, can be a near run thing. We are perhaps all familiar with Franz Kafka's instructions to his friend Max Brod:
Dearest Max, my last request: Everything I leave behind me... in the way of diaries, manuscripts, letters (my own and others'), sketches, and so on, [is] to be burned unread....
Brod did not fulfill his friend's wish, for which we can all be grateful -- otherwise, we would know Kafka only through a handful of tales. I was less familiar with the subsequent story of how Kafka came to be published, and of the role of Schocken Books in the story. The brief, linked essay was published in this relatively recent translation of The Castle, and tells us,
Between 1933 and 1938 German Jews were barred from teaching or studying in "German" schools, from publishing or being published in "German" newspapers or publishing houses, or from speaking and performing in front of "German" audiences. Publishers that had been owned or managed by Jews, such as S. Fischer Verlag, were quickly "Aryanized" and ceased to publish books by Jews. Kafka's works were not well enough known to be banned by the government or burned by nationalist students, but they were "Jewish" enough to be off limits to "Aryan" publishers.
When the Nazis introduced their racial laws they exempted Schocken Verlag, a Jewish publisher, from the ban against publishing Jewish authors, on condition that its books would be sold only to Jews. Founded in 1931 by the department store magnate Salman Schocken, this small publishing company had already published the works of Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig as well as those of the Hebrew writer S. Y. Agnon, as part of its owner's interest in fostering a secular Jewish literary culture.
Max Brod offered Schocken the world publishing rights to all of Kafka's works. This offer was initially rejected by Lambert Schneider, Schocken Verlag's editor-in-chief, who regarded Kafka's work as outside his mandate to publish books that could reacquaint German Jewry with its distinguished heritage. He also doubted its public appeal. His employer also had his doubts about the marketability of six volumes of Kafka's novels, stories, diaries, and letters, although he recognized their universal literary quality as well as their potential to undermine the official campaign to denigrate German Jewish culture. But he was urged by one of his editors, Moritz Spitzer, to see in Kafka a quintessentially "Jewish" voice that could give meaning to the new reality had befallen German Jewry and would demonstrate the central role of Jews in German culture.
The demonstration was not to last, however.
Inevitably, many of the books Schocken sold ended up in non-Jewish hands, giving German readers-at home and in exile-their only access to one of the century's greatest writers. Klauss Mann wrote in the exile journal Sammlung that "the collected works of Kafka, offered by the Schocken Verlag in Berlin, are the most noble and most significant publications that have come out of Germany." Praising Kafka's books as "the epoch's purest and most singular works of literature," he noted with astonishment that "this spiritual event has occurred within a splendid isolation, in a ghetto far from the German cultural ministry." Soon after this article appeared, the Nazi government put Kafka's novels on its blacklist of "harmful and undesirable writings." Schocken moved his production to Prague, where he published Kafka's diaries and letters. Interestingly, despite the ban on the novels, he was able to continue printing ad distributing his earlier volume of Kafka's short stories in Germany itself until the government closed down Schocken Verlag in 1939. The German occupation of Prague that same year put an end to Schocken's operations in Europe.
Salman Schocken moved to Palestine in 1939, and brought his library with him. I found this brief sketch of interest:
The Schoken Library is a rare book and research library serving scholars in Israel and throughout the world. The nucleus of the collection contains the private collection of the late Zalman Schoken whose dedication to public affairs was immeasurable. Unlike other collectors, Zalman Schocken neither collected books for collection's sake alone nor for the sheer purpose of exhibiting them. He was guided by a deep sense of respect and awe towards the books in the “Wandering Jew's” travelling sack. Those books became the portable homeland of the people in exile - setting it apart, as well as uniting it.
The Schocken collection is unique among private collections, both in its immense size, as well as its importance. The collection consists of several hundred manuscripts, a Hebrew incunabula collection (housed in The Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem), and more than fifty thousand volumes including numerous first editions, and unique research material. The Schocken Library ranks as one of finest Judaic libraries in the world.
The Schocken collection is the only collection of Jewish books which escaped the hands of the Nazi's. In 1935 the collection was smuggled out of Germany in a complex operation. During the Holocaust the library in Jerusalem served as a hideaway for Jewish writers and researchers on the run from the hands of Hitler.
When Zalman Schocken chose to build a home for the library in Jerusalem he contacted the renowned architect Eric Mendelsohn. The building was planned to include a research institute whose purpose was to publish material based on the Schocken collection. The library also includes a spacious exhibition and conference hall.
it's worth noting that Mendelsohn also designed the Kaufhaus Schocken in Stuttgart, which you can see thumbnails of. The building itself is no longer standing...
I'm not entirely sure that this story is true:
RIYADH (Reuters) - Muslim militants planning attacks in Saudi Arabia's holiest city, Mecca, booby-trapped copies of Islam's holy book, the Koran, to kill and maim pilgrims, a leading Saudi-owned newspaper has reported.
The London-based daily Asharq al-Awsat on Wednesday quoted Saudi security sources as saying that this novel weapon was discovered in the arms caches police found after raiding militant hideouts in Mecca and the capital Riyadh in recent weeks.
If the Saudi security sources -- or for that matter, the editors of Asharq al-Awsat, wanted to put out a story intended to inflame popular opinion amongst Muslims against al Qaeda, I imagine they'd be hard-pressed to come up with one better than this. (It's worth noting that, according to the last line in this story, Asharq al-Awsat is a "sister paper" of Arab News, which is not exactly the most trusted news source on the Internet).
I'm not particularly adept at reading tea leaves, and after all, it's also possible the story is true, in which case it reminds me slightly of something Hamid Algar wrote in Wahhabism: A Critical Essay:
Muhammad b. Sa'ud pledged his aid to Muhammad b. 'Abd al-Wahhab in waging jihad against all who deviated from his understanding of tauhid. ...The stage was thus set for a campaign of killing and plunder all across Arabia.
In 1159/1746, the Wahhabi-Saudi state made a formal proclamation of jihad against all who did not share their understanding of tauhid, for they counted as non-believers, guilty of shirk and apostasy.
Tauhid, incidentally, is the affirmation of the unity of God. As I flipped through the book, looking for that passage, I came across something else, another incident from the period that is vaguely reminiscent of another recent event, the attack on the shrine of Husayn at Karbala:
The conquest of the Hijaz and the atrocities that accompanied it were preceded in 1217/1802 by a Saudi raid on the city of Karbala in southern Iraq, the place of martyrdom and burial of Imam Husayn. According to some accounts, the raid took place precisely on Muharram 10, the day on which Shi'is gaterh to commemorate his martyrdom. If such was the timing of the assault, it must have been deliberately chosen to inflict maximum insult and pain on the Shi'is.
Algar quotes a Saudi chronicler, who notes that the raiders killed the majority of Karbala's people, destroyed the dome over the tomb of Husayn, and stole anything that wasn't nailed down. "All in a day's work, it would seem," Algar drily comments.
I wholeheartedly endorse Robert Musil's sentiments about Veterans' Day, and have little to add:
I sometimes wonder if those of us who did not serve in the Armed Forces can ever understand what that involves - still less what is involved in combat.
I can add that I'm grateful to the men and women who know what this entails.
Since Veterans' Day commemorates the armistice that ended the First World War (November 11, 1918, at 11 a.m.), I thought I'd quote a few lines from a book on the Battle of the Somme, The Old Front Line, by John Masefield:
The battle was the most terrible in British history. It killed or maimed over one million, two hundred thousand men, over half a million of them British. It has been said, with truth, that the flower of the British Empire died on the Somme. It broke the back of the German field army, and killed the cream of their infantry, the finest professional troops in Europe. For the men who fought there, and the nations they fought for, it was never the same after the Somme.
But it is the soldiers themselves we remember on Veterans' Day, and it's worth recalling, as Masefield eloquently does, what it was like to "go over the top":
The men of the first wave climbed up the parapets, in tumult, darkness, and the presence of death, and having done with all the pleasant things, advanced across the No Man's Land to begin the Battle of the Somme.
Bear with me -- a lengthy post signifying little is to follow.
One of the advantages of spending a few days under the weather is that I get to think about things I otherwise don't think about at all. And one of the things I was thinking about was a cartoon I enjoyed when I was a kid, and that, through the miracles of DVDs and the Cartoon Network, my son has been able to enjoy: Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?
Let me here note that I'm well aware of all the flaws of the show. It premiered in 1969, at a time when the expense of producing quality animation was prohibitive (I'm not sure, but I seem to recall that at that point, outsourcing it to a lower wage country wasn't an option -- at least, one can assume that if one reads the credits of those early Scooby-Doo cartoons). Hanna Barbera produced the show, and the team was responsible for a great number of shlocky cartoons that blighted the Saturday mornings of any number of children, myself included. They certainly played a role in the odd phenomenon of dumbing down characters -- every cartoon had to have an idiot in it, or two or three. But I digress...
As a kid (a five year old kid -- the same age my son is now -- when the show premiered), several things impressed me about Scooby-Doo. First, the smartest one in the gang was Velma, a gasp...a girl. Remember, this first aired in 1969, and the intellectual of the group was female. I found it odd that Fred was the leader, but it was soon apparent why -- he was the one who could persuade anyone -- even the recalcitrant Shaggy and Scooby -- to go into the scary house, and later, to try to catch the "ghosts". (Plus he drove the van.) He was intelligent, certainly, but not nearly as smart as Velma -- clearly, leadership involved something else, something that couldn't be reduced to SAT scores or IQ points (this is a useful lesson for intellectuals everywhere -- intelligence, in and of itself, does not necessarily make one a leader). Daphne, whom the group occasionally teased for being "Danger Prone Daphne," was nevertheless brave. She was more intuitive than the rest, but at the end -- when the gang had foiled the crooks and offered the explanation to the police -- she always showed that she had gotten it too. As for Shaggy, he's the loyal opposition, the one who questions the wisdom of going into the haunted house. Yes, he's cowardly at times, but he and Scooby draw most of the fire from the ghosts while Velma, Freddy and Daphne go about the hard work of solving the mystery. Scooby was the comic relief (along with Shaggy), but something more as well. The late Don Messick, the original voice of Scooby Doo, put it this way:
I've loved Scooby from the inception, and so has everyone else. I think it's because he embraces a lot of human foibles. He's not the perfect dog. In fact you might say he's a coward. Yet with everything he does, he seems to land on his four feet. He comes out of every situation unscathed. I think the audience - kids and more mature people as well - can identify with Scooby's character and a lot of his imperfections.
I should add that when the chips are down, when things are most dangerous, a Scooby snack is all it takes (well, or two or three) to get him to put life, limb, and tail on the line.
Add to that the various villains -- ghosts of pirates, zombies, witches, headless men, spectral knight and phantoms -- and you have, for kids at least, a winning show. But by 1972, Hanna-Barbera began tinkering with the format -- they added first Scooby-Dum, a cousin of Scooby's who was incredibly stupid, then the insufferable Scrappy Doo, presumably for comic relief (wasn't that the original Scooby's role?).
Of late, there have been two new Scooby series; I see them occasionally with the five year old, whose taste in cartoons is even more discriminating than his old man's. One, A Pup Named Scooby Doo, has dispensed with adding stupid sidekicks for comic relief. Instead, Fred is the idiot (there are breaks in the action in which the announcer tells the audience, "Freddy had a good idea," to draw attention to the incompatibility of Fred and intelligence). The other, which I think is called the New Adventures of Scooby Doo, is slightly better, but only slightly -- Fred is still the idiot, but he's also the leader (in A Pup Named Scooby Doo, Velma is clearly the leader of the group). My son finds both series subpar; he hasn't told me why, but I can't help but note that the same kid who can watch the same episode of the original series 53 times can't get through a single episode of either of the new series. I suspect this has something to do with the idiot factor -- I don't think kids get much out of watching people who are far stupider than they are, and also lack much in the way of other redeeming qualities. There are other Scooby products in which the Fred character is downplayed -- Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island comes to mind -- but nevertheless retains something of his appeal. He might not be the leader, he might not be as smart as Velma, but nevertheless he's a credible character, and shows some flashes of the old Fred (particularly when he reunites the old gang). My son enjoyed that cartoon, but somehow loses interest when one of the members of the gang is reduced to the level of the butt of jokes. I think there's a lesson in that for the makers of Saturday morning (or now 24-hour-a-day) programming: kids tend to respond more to characters they find likeable, and idiots held up as such are rarely likeable.
So I take a few days away from the blog (wish I could say I was having fun -- it was actually a bad head cold), and when I come back, I find Ideofact has been turned into billboard city. "Commenters" left ads for prescription drugs, online services, even an adult site. So I had to prune the comments, and I hope I managed to find -- and delete -- all of them. For anyone who visited and came across such rubbish, let me apologize. I've gotten one or two in the past, but never so many in such a short period of time.
A point I didn't make in the previous post: For both Calvin and Knox, the sovereignty of the people was limited in one important respect: in their minds, it could be invoked only in defense of proper Christian practice, which, of course, they identified with their own theology. But the idea of liberty slipped its religious harness. By 1625, Hugo Grotius was writing that natural law (a term Calvin used, almost interchangeably, with divine law) derived not from a particular reading of the Gospels, or even from God, but was apparent from man's reason.
Grotius was a Calvinist himself, a humanist, lawyer and scholar, who broke somewhat with Calvinism in formulating his own ideas. Certainly he was a Christian, but he noted that, even if there were no God, the ideas of natural law were true and provable by light of man's reason. The cat was out of the bag at that point. What had begun as a search for a justification for defying earthly princes and prelates became a justification for asserting the right of the individual, to freedom of conscience. As Grotius put it in the twentieth chapter of the second book of his work, On the Law of War and Peace,
It seems unjust to persecute with punishments those who receive the law of Christ as true, but entertain doubts or errors on some external points, taking them in an ambiguous meaning or different from the ancient Christians in their explanation of them. ... But if there should be any weighty error, that discerning judges could easily refute by an appeal to sacred authority, or to the opinions of antiquity; here too it would be necessary to make allowance for ingrafted opinions, that have grown up to form an inseparable part of the human mind, and for the zealous attachment of every one to his own tenents; an evil which Galen says is more difficult to be eradicated than any constitutional disease.
I have a hard time imagining Calvin agreeing with such an argument, which is an appeal for tolerating even "weighty errors." True, we haven't quite reached Jefferson's broadmindedness as far as religious freedom goes, but we're getting there...
A while back, I responded to a post by Brian Ulrich on the subject of an Islamic counterpart to the Protestant Reformation. (I made a few comments on this theme in an interesting discussion along the same lines over at Unmedia a while back.) I have been unhappy with what I have written, largely because the subject of the Reformation is vast--the extant primary sources are overwhelming, never mind the secondary literature. It's not a subject that lends itself to blog posts.
The other day I was skimming through The Emergence of Liberty in the Modern World: The Influence of Calvin on Five Governments from the 16th through the 18th Centuries by Douglas F. Kelly, and came across this quote, dealing with John Knox, the Scottish reformer, and his dealings with Mary Stuart, the Scottish queen who wanted to reimpose Catholicism on the Scots and, more broadly, the British Isles. Knox opposed her marriage to Don Carlos, the son of King Philip II of Spain, and told her so to her face.
Mary: What have you to do with my marriage? Or what are you within this Commonwealth?
Knox: A subject, Madam, born within the same. And albeit I neither be Earl, Lord nor Baron within it, yet has God made me (how abject that ever I be in your eyes) a profitable member of same; Yea, Madam, to me it pertains no less to forewarn of such things as may hurt it, if I foresee them, than it does to any of the Nobility.
If I recall correctly (and the Kelly book is a useful refresher) Knox derived his notion of political liberty and popular sovereignty almost exclusively from his reading of the Old Testament. Calvin, who had some legal training at a time when legal scholars were trying to understand their civil, Roman legal codes in historical context (a lesser known by-product of the humanist, Renaissance tradition) came up with two notions -- one, that lesser magistrates could resist the tyranny of the top magistrate (read checks and balances), and a second, that individuals had recourse to "private law" (that is, their own moral consciences) to justify resisting tyrants. The former idea came from Calvin's reading of Roman law (Justinian, actually, so the reference is to the later, Christian Roman law); I can't recall for sure, but I think Calvin developed the latter idea out of whole cloth.
A lot of these ideas were developed out of a specific historical context. On the one hand, the Catholics were only too happy to persecute Protestants. On the other, the spectre of truly radical, millenarian, anarchical groups forced the moderate Protestants (and I'd include Calvin and Knox in that group) to temper their rhetoric -- to make clear that they accepted temporal authority, while suggesting conservative grounds (conservative, that is, relative to the true whackos -- the Christian Taliban of the day) for opposing temporal authority. So as radical as it was for John Knox -- a nobody in the eyes of traditional Europe -- to give a queen marital advice, one notes that in addressing her, he is polite nonetheless.
I have to confess a certain sadness that Halloween is over -- I had a great time with the now five-year-old. We decorated the house and the yard, shopped for his costume, planned the way in which I would greet the other children (all of whom I was supposed to scare within an inch of their lives) -- he and I had so much fun that it's rather sad that it's all over.
And it was upsetting to see, in the middle of Monday Night Football tonight, a Lowe's commercial about Christmas decorations. Our jack-o-lantern on our front stoop has lost none of his lustre (I'm sure the rot will set in soon), and I'm supposed to be picking Christmas lights? Have a little respect for the dead holidays, please...