paleo Ideofact

Thursday, March 13, 2003
Scots, the Pope and God
Via the always excellent Cronaca blog comes the news that the Pope considers Scotland to be an un-Christian country:
The Pope has declared that Scotland is no longer a Christian country and is in effect a spiritual wasteland.
Well, that's certainly going to increase Church attendance. Meanwhile, I found this story about Elizabeth Smart -- the Utah girl who was abducted nine months ago and incorrectly presumed by quite a few people, myself included, to have met a sad end (and I have to say it was nice to hear some good news for a change) -- had an interesting bit:
The sources said Mitchell, who left the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the late 1990s, was “strongly” extremist in his religious views and had been preaching to officers during his interrogation. Law enforcement sources said he appeared to know a good deal about the law.

The sources said Mitchell was articulate and smart and did not believe he had done anything wrong. He saw himself as a “prophet” who was paid by God, they said.
Which reminds me of a line delivered with aplomb by a Scottish actor in the first James Bond film. "Our asylums are full of people who think they're Napoleon," Sean Connery says, "or God."

Sorry for the lame post, but it's been a long week...

Wednesday, March 12, 2003
Month of the Bat
The other day, Meryl Yourish mentioned the somewhat goofy film Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt, which, I have to admit, I watched (well, I had the TV on while I was doing some actual work, but -- full disclosure -- the only actual work I did was during the commercials).

I watched in part because my favorite four year old has discovered the Batman (or is it the Bat-Man? I can never keep it straight). His introduction to the Dark Knight has been the excellent Warner Brothers cartoons and the rather clunky line of toys that go with them (durable enough, though, to withstand the punishment a four year old can inflict). I, on the other hand, got my first taste of Bat-Man from the 1960s ABC television show, although I was young enough at the time that it did little lasting damage.

What interested me most about the TV movie was a scene in which the actor playing the young Adam West sat in a bar with the actor playing the young Frank Gorshin (the Riddler in the series). "Gorshin" tells "West" that they have real problems -- Frederic Wertham says Bat-Man and Robin are homosexual lovers. Bruce Wayne, a bachelor, takes in Dick Grayson, an orphan... the scene went on a bit in this vein, then the discussion was dropped.

Frederic Wertham was a reasonably famous man in the 1950s, and his work even led to Senate hearings on the issues he raised (Estes Kefauver, perhaps better known for his roll in the investigations into organized crime, chaired them). With juvenile crime rates rising in the 1950s amidst post-war affluence, the rise of suburbs, the birth of teen culture, and -- well, I don't mean to be overly dramatic, but let's not forget the constant threat of nuclear war, the effect on many families of the horrors that soldiers -- who became fathers -- witnessed in World War II while liberating Europe and Asia -- Frederic Wertham blamed the problems of youth on ... comic books:
Wertham wrote yet another book, and this would ring the final bell for many comics companies, and almost comics themselves. Released in 1954, "Seduction of the Innocent" was Wertham's epic tome on the effects of comics on children. He gave graphic examples of sex and violence. He told of scores of stories with unredeemed criminals. Dope, sadism, rape.

It was the final straw! Between the protests, senate hearings, rising violence in America and just plain old fear, comic books were about to be classified as trash and only barely escaped extinction.

By the end of 1954 almost three quarters of the comics publishing industry was gutted. Dozens of publishers went out of business, many others stopped publishing comics and yet others transformed their products into the sort of publication that today is compared to bubble gum and homogenized milk.
Wertham, of course, was a crank and a crackpot, as this story notes:
Social scientists have since picked apart much of his methodology, and even to a layman, many of his stories strain credibility. One passage in Seduction of the Innocent, for instance, relates the deleterious effects of comic books on “Annie, aged ten, [who] engaged in sex play with men for which she received money,” and who is quoted as saying, “I meet the men on the docks.” A ten-year-old who trawls the docks looking for tricks? Could it be that comic books are not the real problem here? [emphasis added]
It's probably worth noting that the spirit of Wertham is still alive. The Road Runner, the Six Million Dollar Man, and Starsky and Hutch are blamed for spousal abuse (full disclosure: I loved Road Runner cartoons as a kid, and now enjoy watching them with my son; as a kid I had the Steve Austin action figure; Starsky and Hutch never really appealed to me; and I would sooner gouge my eyes out than harm a single hair on my lovely wife's head). In other words, as the old saying goes, correlation is not necessarily causation.

The Batman -- the classic, golden age, Bob Kane Batman (and the later Neil Adams/Dick Giardano Batman, the Marshall Rogers Batman -- with the baroque capes the size of 747 wings -- and the unforgettable Frank Miller Batman -- was wonderful because, horrifying as the criminals he dealt with were, he was always more horrifying to them, an unforgiving, unrelenting avenger.

Frederic Wertham saw things differently:
It did not matter to Dr. Wertham if comic stories showed that crime didn’t pay or that evildoers would be punished. Even the adventures of Superman were a threat—“phantasies of sadistic joy in seeing other people punished again and again.” And “the Batman stories are psychologically homosexual,” Batman’s relationship with Robin “a wish dream of two homosexuals living together” that must corrupt children. Wonder Woman was “the lesbian counterpart of Batman.”
Batman had fought criminals of every description -- the lunatic Joker, the suave and deadly Penguin, the Jekyl-and-Hyde-all-at-once-like Two-Face. But, thanks to Wertham, all those villains disappeared:
...1954 had also seen the publication of something far more frightening: a book by Frederic Wertham called Seduction of the Innocent. This lengthy tirade, the culmination of Dr. Wertham's campaign against comic books, was a surprisingly successful attempt to convince Americans that comics were corrupting their children, luring them into acts of sex and violence. The effect on the inudstry was devastating, and Batman was very nearly destroyed.

The biggest blow to Batman's career came when attacks on comics by Dr. Wertham led in 1955 to the formation of the Comics Code Authority. DC's comics were never very lurid, but nervous times led to drastic changes. Batman's classic crooks gave way to aliens whose deeds couldn't be emulated by impressionable youths, and in response to charges that Batman and Robin might be gay, they were saddled with an unwieldly "Batman family" that included Batwoman, Bat-Girl, Bat-Mite, and Ace the Bat-Hound.
The quote is from Les Daniels' Batman: The Golden Age.

For what it's worth, the deranged Dr. Wertham got his comeuppance:
New York Comic Art Convention founder and promoter Phil Seuling invited Wertham to be a member of a panel at the coming convention to speak to "his fans". In reality it was a setup.

When Wertham arrived at the panel he found himself the target of angry comic fans who complained he ruined the field in the fifties. Hecklers were throughout the audience and with the animous reaching a fever pitch, Wertham left the panel and the convention.

He never wrote another word on comics and died in 1981.
If only he had never written a word about comics in the first place. In any case, disturbing as it was to hear the name of Frederic Wertham in a show dedicated to the goofy Adam West Batman, otherwise it was nice to be reminded of the series that caused me, as a five-year-old, to insist my father lower the ragtop on his dark blue 1964 Ford Falcon so I could sit in the driver's seat and pretend to be Batman...

Aziz remembers the Alamo!
And his post is illustrated! Also, stop by and wish him a happy one year anniversary.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003
Alamo redux
Well, the hit counter shows that I've gotten a lot of visitors from the excellent Winds of Change blog (thanks, Joe!), no doubt expecting a rousing post on the subject of the Alamo, and instead finding my post baiting Tacitus and Aziz Poonawalla of Unmedia. Which is too bad (too bad that I took the low road, that is), since it's well worth remembering the Alamo.

There are inexplicable moments in history, when great contests are decided not by historical forces or numbers or reason, but by the character of individuals. I think the D-Day landing was an example of this; the carefully choreographed landing plans were destroyed within minutes by Nazi guns, and the scared, disoriented Americans found new leaders on the beach to execute their orders. The colonists on Lexington Green had been embarrassed by the British regulars who dispersed them with a few shots; again, they regrouped, and maintained a deadly barrage of fire as the regulars marched back to Boston. The Alamo was such an affair -- the 189 men who manned the mission faced somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 troops of Mexican dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, who had boasted -- perhaps idly -- that one day his troops would take over Washington, D.C. Santa Anna declared that his victory at the Alamo was a glorious affair, but those 189 men who defied him killed an incredible 1,500 of Santa Anna's soldiers.

The following month, at the Battle of San Jacinto, Sam Houston's army of Texans defeated Santa Anna, and Texas won its independence. Their battle cry, of course, was "Remember the Alamo!"

Bin Gregory had a post last Friday (although the link doesn't seem to be working; click here and scroll down to March 7) on the area of the Arabian penninsula known as the Najd, whence Wahhabism sprang in the 18th Century. He writes in reference to a post of mine,
It reminded me of an article I read a while back at Masud Ahmed Khan's excellent website. Written by Karim Fenari, it describes the narrations of the Holy Prophet regarding that region:
Among the best-known of these hadiths is the relation of Imam al-Bukhari in which Ibn Umar said: ‘The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) mentioned: "O Allah, give us baraka in our Syria, O Allah, give us baraka in our Yemen." They said: "And in our Najd?" and he said: "O Allah, give us baraka in our Syria, O Allah, give us baraka in our Yemen." They said: "And in our Najd?" and I believe that he said the third time: "In that place are earthquakes, and seditions, and in that place shall rise the devil’s horn [qarn al-shaytan]."’

This hadith is clearly unpalatable to the Najdites themselves, some of whom to this day strive to persuade Muslims from more reputable districts that the hadith does not mean what it clearly says.
Bin Gregory provides additional links and information; the articles are well worth reading. The one whose link I reproduced in the quoted section reminded me of something I read before, in Hamid Algar's short book Wahhabism: A Critical Essay. I'm not crazy about Algar, who wrote a glowing introduction to Qutb's work Social Justice in Islam; he also recently issued a collection of lectures he gave on the Iranian revolution in 1980, Roots of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, in which he gives no indication of having second thoughts about the consequences of that revolution, which he treats rather favorably. Stephen Schwartz commented on Algar in this story on a Wahhabi front group -- whatever else you can say about Algar, he's no fan of the puritanical sect.

In reference to the Hadith that Bin Gregory cites, Algar wrote
Najd had not been notable in Islamic tradition for scholarship or movements of spiritual renewal; its topographical barrenness seems always to have been reflected in its intellectual history. There are, indeed, indications in hadith that as a recipient of divine blessing Najd compares unfavorably with such regions as Syria and Yemen, and that it is there that "disturbances and disorder and the generation of Satan" (al-zalazil wa 'l-fitan wa qarn al-shaytan) will arise. Correlating apocalyptic hadith with observable historical phenomena is a hazardous task, best left unattempted, and this particular hadith, if indeed authentic, may ultimately be seen to have a sense entirely unconnected with Wahhabism.* However, its occurence in the hadith literature does convey a sense of foreboding with respect to this part of the Arabian penninsula and suggest that any movement originating there should be viewed with great caution.

*--It may, in fact, have already found its fulfillment in the welcome accorded by the Najdis to the false prophet Musaylama al-Kadhdhab soon after the death of the Prophet.
Forgive me for saying so, but doesn't it seem that Algar's reading of the Hadith -- that any movement originating in Najd be viewed with great caution -- is an attempt to correlate an apocalyptic hadith with observable historical phenomena?

Monday, March 10, 2003
I've mentioned a few times that I'm reading A History of Saudi Arabia by Madawi Al-Rasheed, which is excellent and informative. It has all sorts of interesting tidbits of information -- in the early, pre-oil days of the Saudi monarchy, the jizya, or tax paid by non-Muslims, was levied against the Shi'ite population of the country. And then there's this anecdote, which probably can't be verified historically. It is nevertheless an oral tradition, suggesting that even if it's not true, it's one of those things that everyone believes is true:
The day was Friday, the time for noon prayers at Riyadh's main mosque. Shaykh ibn Nimr, the imam of the mosque in Riyadh, was delivering his usual khutba [sermon] to a large audience. Ibn Sa'ud was listening. The shaykh recited several Qur'anic verses including 'And incline not to those who do wrong, or the fire will sieze you; and ye have no protectors other than Allah, nor shall ye be helped' [Qur'an, sura 11, verse 113]. Ibn Sa'ud was furious. He asked Shaykh ibn Nimr to step down. Ibn Sa'ud began to recite sura al-kafirun: 'Say: O ye that reject faith. I worship not that which ye worship, nor will ye worship that which I worship. To you be your way and to me mine' [Qur'an, sura 109, verses 1-6].
I am certainly not quoting this to disparage the second verse; I believe that in traditional Qur'anic exegesis, the verse is supposed to regulate relations between the faithful and the unbelievers. That it is not always practiced is another story, but here I'm interested in the context. The Friday afternoon in question was in 1933, and Ibn Sa'ud had just signed an agreement to allow an American team to explore for oil, a fact that apparently had not been missed by the religious authorities of the kingdom. Hence the imam's sermon, and Ibn Sa'ud's angry reaction and deuling quotation.

In the post on marital practices below, I went too far in my transition from the first section, about the situation as it now exists in Saudi Arabia, and the second, in which I glossed a discussion from the work A History of Saudi Arabia. As Razib K. of Gene Expression was kind enough to point out in a pair of emails, the marrying of first cousins within the Islamic world is not limited to Saudi Arabia (Saddam Hussein's first wife, for example, is a first cousin; the practice is also found among non-Arab Muslims). Razib sent two links along, one to a map showing its prevalence by country (note that the figures include marriages of second cousins, according to the background information, the second from ParaPundit on the same topic. (Incidentally, I owe ParaPundit a reciprocal link, which I've added.)

I think I was most interested in how Ibn Sa'ud used marriage both symbolically and practically to centralize his rule, but then again I'm not sure this was unprecedented either.

I should also note that the post immediately below is really obnoxious; I meant it as a gentle ribbing, but it doesn't seem to across. I was just kidding...