Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Thousand Years of Mutual Cultural Indifference

On September 16, 2001, mere days after the horrific terrorist attacks on the United States, President George W. Bush stood on The South Lawn of the White House to answer questions and comfort a shocked and grieving nation. He invoked his Judeo-Christian faith, extolled his confidence in his nation and the peoples of that nation, and he denounced the “barbaric” “evil-doers” who had attacked his fellow citizens (Bush, 2001); and then he declared war against the perpetrators with the forewarning that “This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while” (Bush, 2001). His unfortunate choice of the word “crusade” resonated across the world, especially among many in the Middle East, for whom the term remains loaded with the weight of centuries of rancor and acrimony, (Buzbee, 2001). This incident illustrates only one small instance of how views shaped by centuries of contact and conflict between Christian Latin West and Islamic Middle East, in the Middle Ages, has had a strong and lasting impact on attitudes and relations between Muslims and the West.

While the Bush Administration quickly back-pedaled from the implication of the word, it nevertheless caused widespread consternation and concern (Buzbee, 2001). This is most likely due to the arresting similarity of his entire speech to one given about 910 years before, on November 27, 1095, in Claremont France, by Pope Urban II (Tyerman, 2004). This speech, rooted in the Latin traditions of the Judeo-Christian faith, also extolled the faith and virtues of his people, not only Latin Christians, but particularly Urban’s own people, the Franks, (Munro, 1895; Tyerman, 2004). In addition, Urban, too, denounced the enemy, referring to them as an “accursed” and “wicked race”, and calling them “a race utterly alienated from God”, urging those present to take up the cross and wage war, in order to “wrest that land from the wicked race” (Robert the Monk, RHC Occ., III, pp. 717-882, trans. in Munro, 1895, p.12). In short, Urban also called for a military action, one that came to be known as a crusade.

There was no shortage of information about Muslims available to the people in 1095 (or for that matter, in 2001). The Franks and the Muslims had come into conflict nearly three centuries before Urban’s speech. Indeed, after the Umayyad Muslim invasion of Andalusia, in 713, the Muslim army drove victoriously northeast, into Frankish lands in what is now southwestern France, which they held until it was wrested from them by Frankish warlord Charles Martel, at the Battle of Tours-Poitiers, in 732 (Falk, 2010). Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that, in the centuries immediately prior to the initiation of the First Crusade, there was ample information about Islam, and the actual character of Muslims, available to the people of Latin Christendom (Cruz, in Frasseto & Blanks, 1999). It would further be a valid assumption that the failure of the Latin Christian literati to take advantage of this knowledge came from “a general lack of interest in the subject” (Kedar, B.Z., 1984, cited in Hamilton, 1997, p.2). Nonetheless, Latin Christians formulated their own often misguided and misinformed views about Muslims and Islam.

Among the earliest and most enduring of these views are those that appear in the various versions of La Chanson de Roland (Cruz, in Frasseto & Blanks, 1999). Here, Muslims are portrayed as beyond villainous, they are duplicitous, craven, bloodthirsty, and most significantly, idol worshiping pagans, even, in later versions, “hating God and actively seeking Satan” (Cruz, in Frasseto & Blanks, 1999, p.57). Another of these early Frankish epics, Le Couronnement de Louis, demonstrates only slightly more knowledge of Islam, but with no more real understanding, as one of the protagonists exclaims to the Muslim antagonist “Mohammad…was a prophet of our Lord Jesu. He crossed the mountains preaching the truth and came to Mecca where he abused our faith with drinking and pleasures crude and fittingly ended as pigs’ food. If you believe in him you are deluded” (Guillaume d’Orange, in Ferrante, 2001). It is, in fact interesting to note that the treatment of Muslims in these epics not only becomes, over a relatively short time, more detailed but also overtly religious. Protagonists are depicted as exemplifying Latin Christian virtues, in direct contrast to their “Saracen” enemy, who remain vile, “willing to sacrifice their firstborn sons…hideous and treacherous, arrogant and cowardly, also wealthy and cultivated” (Cruz, in Frasseto & Blanks, 1999, p.56).

Cruz (1999) and Hamilton (1997) suggest that the injection of erroneous religious information about Muslims into the tales of the day was done so “not with the intention of wilfully (sic) [mislead] the reader” (Hamilton, 1997 pp. 373-387), but rather represented the beliefs about Muslims popular among the people of the time. It is unlikely that, in the time immediately prior to the First Crusade, a great many Latin Christians had had very much firsthand interaction with Muslims. However, they nevertheless seem to have demonstrated an almost prescient understanding that their two faiths were bound to come into wider conflict (Stearns, 2004).

Perhaps one of the reasons for this general hostility stems from the glaring disparity in the general quality of life between Latin Christian civilization, and that of the Muslims both in the Caliphate of Cordoba and in the Levant. It is telling that, of the many slanders and vilifications that appear in several pre-Crusader Frankish texts, one oft included description, that of Muslims being erudite and wealthy, is one of the most correct (Stearns, 2004).

At the time of Urban’s speech, there existed a tremendous economic disparity between Latin Christian Europe and the Islamic world (Munro, 1911; Saunders, 1965). Life in the Eleventh century was hard for most people in Latin Europe, where struggle and starvation were the norm (Nicholas, D, in Power, 2004). Even for the relative few at the top of the socio-economic ladder, existence was seemingly a matter of perpetual conflict and competition, both for access to the scarce resources of the land and for authority over the people who provided them with the necessary labor force to retain their status (Aurell, M, in Power, 2004; Tamim, 2009). In other words, centuries of intertribal conflict had left a fragmented and disunified populace, disconnected from their rulers, and from each other, by seemingly insurmountable gulfs (Aurell, M, in Power, 2004; Tamim, 2009). By contrast, however, in Islamic lands from Andalusia to the Persian Gulf, there existed a reasonably unified collection of diverse peoples, brought together under a relatively stable system of governance, which allowed for nearly three centuries of steady economic growth (Kennedy, 2008; Tamim, 2009). It is not entirely known how Latin Europeans would have known of the precise nature of this Islamic prosperity prior to direct contact with Islamic kingdoms during the Crusades (Hamilton, 1997). However, it is clear that, aside from the popular belief that Muslims were perfidious idolaters, they were also falsely derided for the perceived immorality brought about by their affluence (Comfort, 1940; Tolan, in Frasseto & Blanks, 1999).

These stereotypes were repeated by Christian chroniclers throughout the First Crusade, and beyond, particularly pressing the image of their enemies as being pagans, and never once using the correct terminologies of “Islam” or “Muslim”, and instead calling them “’Mahummicolae’”: ‘Muhammad-worshippers’” (Tolan, in Frassetto & Blanks, 1999, p. 98). According to Tolan, (in Frassetto & Blanks, 1999), the categorization of the Muslim foe as pagans served to justify the impetus to wage war for land with them, and helped to cast the Latin Christian Crusaders as “the new apostles and martyrs, ushering in a new age for Christ and His church” (p.100). In this way, the negative generalizations of the Crusaders acted as a moralizing force for their actions, and allowed them to believe themselves to be actors in a cosmic struggle of good against evil (Tolan, in Frassetto & Blanks, 1999).

Subsequent to the bloody Latin conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 (Tamim, 2009), and the foundation of Latin Crusader kingdoms in the Levant, Muslim attitudes towards westerners also began to take a sharper focus. Whereas prior to this Latin encroachment, Muslim views appeared to only suspect Franks of being backward, brutish, and ignorant (Stearns, 2004), close contact with them seemed to have confirmed it (Stearns, 2004; Tamim, 2009). There exists, for example, a wealth of exemplar accounts of Frankish lack of knowledge and cultural differences in the memoir of Usama ibn Munqidh. Usama ibn Munqidh was an erudite Syrian warrior-scholar who “spent most of his long life in contact with the Franks” (Gabrieli, 1969, p.xxiii), and “whose life spanned almost the whole of the first century of the Crusades” (Gabrieli, 1969, p.44). One such account graphically contrasts the differences between Frankish and Muslim medical practices and knowledge, and portrays the Franks as superstitious, ignorant, and unskilled in the medical arts, as after having been skillfully tended to by a Muslim physician, the two Frankish patients die horrifically at the hands of a Frankish doctor (Usama ibn Munqidh, trans. in Gabrieli, 1969, p.46).

In fact, Ibn Munqidh discusses several intriguing differences between his own people and the Franks, including what he perceives to be their strange lack of marital protectiveness (Gabrieli, 1969, pp.46-47), their bizarre behavior in and out of combat (Gabrieli, 1969), and their odd and generally ethnocentric behavior, even among those Franks who had settled in the Levant. These, he states had “taken to living like Muslims” and “are better than those who have just arrived from their homelands, but they are the exception, and cannot be taken as typical” (Usama ibn Munqidh, trans. in Gabrieli, 1969, p.47-48). In another example, he recounts how “an affectionate friendship grew up between” himself and a Frankish knight who “had come on a pilgrimage and was going home again” (Usama ibn Munqidh, trans. in Gabrieli, 1969, p. 50). Before the Franks return, however, he offered to take Usama’s son back to Europe with him, “’so that he [the boy] could meet the noblemen of the realm and learn the arts of politics and chivalry. On his return home he would be a truly cultivated man,’” (Usama ibn Munqidh, trans. in Gabrieli, 1969, p. 50). “A truly cultivated man” Usama tells the reader, “would never be guilty of such a suggestion” and he provided the knight with a reasonable excuse, and politely declined his offer (Usama ibn Munqidh, trans. in Gabrieli, 1969, p. 50).

What is also intriguing is that, as contact between Latin Christians and Muslims in the Levant normalized between periods of outright conflict, the negative stereotypes of Muslims perpetuated in Latin Christendom continued to spread and build well into the Twelfth and Thirteenth centuries, despite an increase in educated, Arabic speaking, Latin Christians (Hamilton, 1997). Hamilton (1997) suggests that, as more information of Arabic and Islamic theology and mythology found its way to Europe, Latin Christians “imaginative awareness of the Islamic world made it more difficult to think of Muslims in the black and white terms which the logic of twelfth-century Christian theology required” (p.8). In other words, the quasi-mythological nature of Islamic allegory prohibited Latin Christians from fully comprehending the genuine qualities of Islamic faith and Arab culture (Hamilton, 1997). While Latin Christians who lived closest to Islamic civilization in the Levant (as well as in the border regions of Andalusia) seemed better able to relate with Muslims as individual people, treating the Islamic faith with more compassion, genuine acceptance and understanding of their culture seemed exceedingly scarce (Hamilton, 1997; Usama ibn Munqidh, trans. In Gabrieli, 1969, p. 48).

Nevertheless, as new generations of Latin Crusaders came to the Levant, with their preconceived beliefs about Islam, and then experienced Islamic civilization first hand, very few seem to have changed their underlying beliefs about their enemies (Tyerman, 2004). In chronicle after chronicle, Muslims continue to be referred to as “pagans”, their realms “pagandom” and their place as outsiders to be reviled, firmly solidified (De Joinville, in Wedwood, 1906; Tyerman, 2004). In addition, Muslims continued to be portrayed as standing in direct diametric contrast to the faithful knights of Christendom, and the the entirety of their faith (De Joinville, in Wedwood, 1906; Riley-Smith, 2003), with little regard to actuality, veracity, or fact.

In contrast, while the behavior of Christians in the Levant was no less difficult for Muslims to understand, few Arab chroniclers appear to condemn the entirety of Latin Christiandom for the failings of their leaders or the ignorance of their people. Imad al-din al-Isfahani, an advisor to Salah al-Din, recounts (in Maalouf, 1984, p.193-194) an encounter following the Battle of Hittin (July 4, 1187), in which the victorious Salah al-Din asks of his prisoner Prince Arnat “How many times have you sworn an oath and then violated it? How many times have you signed agreements that you have never respected?” To which Arnat responded, “Kings have always acted thus” (Imad ad-din al-Isfahani, in Maalouf, 1984, p.193). Whether the prince was indulging in hyperbole or expressing a fact, as he understood it, this sort of behavior for leaders was considered anathema in Islam (Maalouf, 1984; Saunders, 1965). In fact, repeatedly, Arab historians found treachery and deceit a common trait of Crusading Frankish leaders in the Levant (Gabrieli, 1969), a trait that, more often than not, was paid for in the blood of non-Latin Christians (Gabrieli, 1969).

The attitudes of both Latin Christians and the Muslims in the Levant were greatly influenced by contact and conflict (Allen, 2010). Many of the prominent stereotypes about Muslims and Islamic civilization seem to exist today. The medieval belief that Muslims were “violent, barbaric and merciless” (Allen, 2010, p.29), and that Islam was “a Satanic force….planning to destroy Christianity” (Allen, 2010, p.29) seem to have resurfaced in the post 9/11 world. Today, the negative qualities cast on Muhammad by Latin Christian chroniclers, such as “licentiousness, promiscuity, sexual depravity” (Allen, 2010, p. 29) are commonly believed about the whole of modern Islam (Allen, 2010).

It is also interesting to note that the Islamic perception of a Western tendency for betrayal and treachery also seems to have resurfaced in the modern age. For many, it is typified by the betrayal of the Arabs who took part in the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans in the First World War (Voirst, 2006), and the failure of the H.W. Bush administrations promises to back a domestic uprising in Iraq immediately following the First Gulf War (Voirst, 2006, p.159). The situation in the Middle East prior to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 are strikingly similar to the disparate economic condition that existed between Latin Europe and the Islamic world prior to the First Crusade; the modern Islamic world has struggled to remain economically viable to the West, leaving many disillusioned and disenfranchised (Slackman, 2008). There are, today, all across the Middle East , many who are “aware that the Islamic world has fallen behind the Christian West and the Jewish State in education, science, democracy, and development”” (Friedman, 2002, pp.334-335). Consequently, charismatic preachers across the Middle East have leveraged this into the impetus for holy war (jihad) against those whom they perceive to be the largest threat to their way of life (Friedman, 2002, pp.334-335), grotesquely mirroring Urban II’s call to Crusade.

While the ways that Christian West and Islamic East may have changed, in some ways, over the centuries, it is evident that the tendency for ignorance of the other has not. People in the West continue to remain largely uninformed of both classical and modern Islamic Civilization, preferring to see them as inferior, backwards, or somehow stuck in a different century. In turn, many in the modern Middle East seem to remain threatened by the dominance of the West, viewing any disproportion of economic or cultural supremacy as a deliberate attack on them, their faith, and their way of life. Nevertheless, it appears that many of the present attitudes of both toward the other are shaped by the conflicts of the past (Allen, 2010), and continue to play an important role the continuing conflicts of the present. The repeating pattern of competition for cultural dominance seems likely to continue until a more open cultural and social exchange and dialog can be established. Until such time, sadly, it is difficult to foresee a way to break the enduring cycle of violence and conflict that has typified historical contact between Christian West and Islamic Middle East.


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Allen, C. (2010) Islamophobia Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company.

Cruz, J.A.H.M. (1999). Popular Attitudes Towards Islam in Medieval Europe. In Blanks, D.R. & Frassetto, M. (Eds.), Western Views of Islam in Medieval and Early Modern Europe: Perception of Other (pp.55-83). New York: St. Martin’s Press.

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Sunday, December 06, 2009

A Short Examination and History of The Second Amendment

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
-U.S. CONST. amend. II.
The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution is made up of 27 small and simple words, so it would be easy to assume that its meaning and interpretation would also be simple. That would be a mistake. The Second Amendment, its meaning and origin, has evolved over time and taken on, rightly or wrongly, new and different interpretations to different people, but where did this amendment come from, why did the Framers include it in the document that would help define the identity of the new American Nation, and what does it mean today?
One long standing impediment to a better understanding of the Second Amendment is the general tendency for legal scholars and historians to gloss over or, in some cases, to completely avoid a direct analysis of the Second Amendment, treating it as the “equivalent of an embarrassing relative, whose mention brings a quick change of subject to other, more respectable, family members” (Levinson, 1989). There are, perhaps, several reasons for this avoidance, ranging from the deliberate dodging of the politically charged issue of gun control legislation to the conspicuously absent attention historically paid to this amendment by the United States Supreme Court.
Overall scrutiny of this amendment, however, can be delineated into two, seemingly, mutually exclusive interpretations; the first is that “the Second Amendment guarantees an individual’s right to own a firearm, and…[the second] that it merely guarantees the right of the states to maintain militias, and thus does not guarantee an individual right” (Oder, 1998). These interpretations rely on the separation of the clauses of the text since “[w]hat is special about the [Second] Amendment is the inclusion of an opening clause…that seems to set out its purpose” (Levinson, 1989). This amendment “is one of only two provisions of the Constitution that contains its own preamble, and this raises a question of the extent to which this statement of purpose should guide the interpretation” (Rakove, 2002).
This makes it difficult to clearly interpret the meaning of this amendment because “legal analysts who wish to limit the Second Amendment's force…focus on its "preamble" as setting out a restrictive purpose” (Levinson, 1989), namely that the right to own a gun is dependent on membership in a state militia, and this guarantees only a collective right. Because the foremost, and only (until recently), direct Supreme Court opinion relating to the Second Amendment, United States v. Miller, (307 U.S. 174, 1939) “strongly suggested that no right to possess a firearm exists outside of a well-regulated Militia” (District of Columbia v. Heller, 2008), this interpretation of the amendment has gained a strong hold over general public opinion and has been used as the basis for popular and restrictive firearm legislation (Levinson, 1989).
Furthermore, proponents of the collective right position assert that this amendment also “protected against domestic insurrection” (Cress, 1984) in that it can be read to prohibit the ownership of firearms by people not belonging to those who are duly authorized by the state to put down such uprisings (Cress, 1984); In other words, “[i]t did not guarantee the right of individuals, like Daniel Shays and his followers, to closet armaments” (Cress, 1984), but ensured against such insurgents from possessing them. In addition, supporters of this view interpret the term “the people” in the operative clause as a collective term (Cress, 1984); to support this they turn to state constitutions, many of which “use the words "man" or "person" in regard to "individual rights…[but use] the term "the people"…to refer to the "sovereign citizenry" collectively organized” (Levinson, 1989).
This view suggests that the Framers intended the role of “well regulated militia” to be the duty of every citizen. Consider the martial connotation of the term “bear”, as in “to bear arms” in the operative clause; Since the Second Amendment, taken in this context, seems to merge the concept of the militia with both the right to keep and bear arms, it has been suggested (Cress, 1984) that “citizenship…was defined in part by militia service…not an insistence on individual prerogative” (Cress, 1984).
Opponents of this interpretation, however, hearken back to the Florentine tradition “articulated most clearly by Niccolo Machiavelli, [who] idealized the citizen-warrior as the staunchest bulwark of a republic” (Shalhope, 1982), suggesting that the Framers intent was to preserve the individual right to keep and bear arms in order to secure the framework for a lasting republic. Arguments from this side point to a clear division of the clauses as ensuring two separate and distinct rights, drawing as evidence on the clearer “usage of the term “the people” in the First, Fourth, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments” to refer to the protection of the individual right to keep arms (Levinson, 1989).
Furthermore, they, too, turn to the constitutions of the states, such as those of Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, New Hampshire, and New York, to show that each of these clearly established, as an individual right, the right to keep and bear arms, separate from the right of the state to have and control their own militias (Shalhope, 1982). For those in this camp, the Second Amendment secures the individual’s right to keep and bear arms as a bulwark against the possible tyranny of federal authority “since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary powers of rulers” (Story, 1833, cited in Shalhope, 1982).
Both of these viewpoints rely on differing interpretations of events and ideologies of the eighteenth century, and both draw differing conclusions from similar philosophical and historical influence on the Framers. The conflict between these views remained unresolved, chiefly because, for many on each side of the argument, the political ramifications of this amendment reach far into the courts and the lives of Americans today and, for some, it is difficult to divorce their research from their own personal agendas and opinions (Shalhope, 1982). History, however, remains intact regardless of how it is interpreted, therefore in order to begin to completely understand the full meaning of this amendment, it is first important to understand the historical context in which it was drafted.
The Framers did not create the Constitution or the Bill of Rights “within a vacuum” (Shalhope, 1982); they were deeply influenced by the political theories of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and other Enlightenment thinkers (O’Conner & Sabato, 2008); they drew on these, and various other social and political philosophies to devise a frame of thought that has come to be described as “republicanism” (Shalhope, 1982). In this way of thought “a republic’s very existence depended upon the character and spirit of its citizens” (Shalhope, 1982), and “survived only through the constant protection of the realm of Liberty from the ceaselessly aggressive forces of Power” (Shalhope, 1982).
That the Framers were aware of the necessity to safeguard against the possibility of tyranny from within the government is easily evident in the complex system of checks and balances that they established for the new nation (O’Conner & Sabato, 2008), thus insuring against the possibility of one section of the government growing more powerful than any other. It was important for these early Americans that the authority of the government reside with the citizens. This makes it “essential…to understand the place of the armed citizen in libertarian thought and the manner in which this theme became an integral part of American republicanism” (Shalhope, 1982) .
When James Madison drafted the amendments to the Constitution, he did so out of a dire necessity to achieve a compromise among the states, in order to assure consensus on ratification (Higginbothom, 1998). The origin of the Second Amendment can be traced to the tempestuous and passionate debates surrounding the achievement of this accord among the states, and from the events that shaped the lives of those who offered suggestions and opinions on how these amendments would be shaped.
For example, much examination has gone into the events surrounding the creation of the U.S. Constitution and those directly preceding it in order to understand what kind of nation that the Framers were trying to create. Most of this study has centered on events related to the American Revolution and have completely ignored the legacy of the Colonial Wars, such as the French and Indian War. The reason that these prior conflicts should be considered is because of the extensive use of colonial militias by the British in their struggle against French, and the impact this may have had on the Framers views of “a well regulated militia”.
“Throughout the seventy years of conflict”, writes military historian Howard H. Peckham, “England never solved the primary problem of America’s indifference to military service” (1964). Again and again, throughout the Colonial Wars, and even during the American Revolution, colonial militias failed to achieve success as well as regulars (Peckham, 1964); more significantly, however, was that, even when their homes and territory were directly threatened by French encroachment, Americans remained wholly ambivalent toward military service of any kind (Peckham, 1964).
The mutually exclusive dichotomy of the idealized militia, held by so many states’ leaders during the ratification debates, and the dismal reality of the militia, displayed in actual historical events, shows that the Framers had many great and noble ideals, but that “the revolutionary generation redefined its experiences and made them as virtuous and as heroic as they ought to have been” (Shalhope & Cress, 1984). ‘This impulse”, writes Shalhope (1984), “helps to explain the exaggerated significance accorded the militia by Americans in the 1780’s”, and better illustrates the “environment filled with hyperbolic praise of the militia” (Shalhope, 1984), during the drafting of the Bill of Rights, and Congressional subsequent debates.
Much emphasis is placed on the fact that “colonial and Revolutionary Americans were virtually of one mind in espousing a well-regulated militia under local authority“ (Higgenbotham, 1998) for defense, and aggressively shunned the establishment of a standing, peacetime military force under federal control. The fear that such a force could be used as an instrument of oppression is reflected in the text of several states’ bill of rights and constitutions, which affirm, in one form or another, that standing armies are “dangerous to liberty” in times of peace and “should not be kept.” Furthermore, within these separate state documents, the right of individuals to keep and bear arms is solidly espoused, as separate and distinct from articles relating to militias (Shalhope, 1982).
Security of the nation, then, should be the domain of militias and, as many anti-federalists argued, these militias should be controlled by the individual states. The trouble with this was that Federalists were concerned that “they [the states] would not provide the resources required to maintain readiness” (Rakove, 2002). To address this, Article I, section 8 of the U.S. Constitution was drafted to help to ensure that “its [the militias] establishment, exercise, and weapons would be uniform in all the states” (Higgenbotham, 1998), however there is “no authorization for the central government under any circumstance to assemble for training or any other reason even some small part of the state militias” (Higgenbotham, 1998). The individual right to keep arms, it seems, was regarded as a distinct liberty, completely detached from any connection to service in a militia, or service to the government, whatsoever, as no mention of it is made.
The suggestion that James Madison drafted the Second Amendment to ensure a collective right to bear arms solely to those belonging to the militia, then, would seem, at best a form of well intentioned naïveté or, at worst, the intentional subversion of an individual right for the benefit of political and legislative gain. Moreover, it becomes clearer that the researcher need not be wholly versed in Colonial or legal history, or even Revolutionary ideology to better understand the original meaning of the Second Amendment, but must be at least somewhat familiar with what James Madison himself intended.
“Madison and his colleagues on the select committee…were anxious to capture the essence of the rights demanded by so many Americans in so many different forms” (Shalhope, 1982); to this end they were forced to consolidate and reword many of these suggested changes (Shalhope, 1982). The original wording of this amendment, according to “Madison’s original suggestion reads: “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country; but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person” (Dumbauld, E. 1979, cited in Shalhope, 1982). This wording makes it very clear that the meaning of the Second Amendment was “to protect two separate rights: the individual’s right to possess arms and the right of the states to form their own militia” and not “to subordinate one right to the other nor to have one clause serve as subordinate to the other” (Shalhope, 1989).
The text, as it was put forth to Congress, was altered slightly, to read: “ A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, being the best security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; but no person religiously scrupulous shall be compelled to bear arms”. Shalhope illustrates (p. 610) that the debate that followed the presenting of what was then the third clause of the second proposition in Congress centered mostly on the phrase “scrupulous of bearing arms”. According to The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States, (1 Cong., 1 sess., Aug. 17, 1789, p. 778) the representative from Massachusetts, Elbridge Gerry, worried that “this clause would give an opportunity to the people in power to destroy the constitution itself ” by giving them the power to “declare who are those religiously scrupulous and prevent them from bearing arms”, (cited in Shalhope, 1982). A lively debate is recorded that shows that other representatives were more concerned with matters such as to whom exactly the phrase “scrupulous of bearing arms” referred, that no one sect should be singled out, and that, perhaps, it should be made clear that “paying an equivalent” instead of serving themselves would later “be established by law”. The entire amendment was considered by Rep. Gerry “a declaration of rights…intended to secure the people against the mal-administration of the government” which “if…in all cases, the rights of the people would be attended to, the occasion for guards of this kind would be removed” ( 1 Cong., 1 sess., Aug. 17, 1789, p. 778). Not a word is recorded in that debate that either denies or supports the individual right to keep and bear arms, but it could be inferred from this silence that such a right existed as a safeguard against the future possibility of the government becoming a threat to the liberty of the citizens, and did not even require questioning.
In late 2008 the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear the landmark case of District of Columbia v. Heller, which opened the gate on tidal wave of historical, textual, and legal analysis of the Second Amendment provided as amici curiae briefs in support of each side. While the question at hand involved the constitutionality of specific city codes, the greater debate centered, once again, on the individual versus collective right to bear arms, with much textual, historical, and legal evidence in support of each side. Of these, one of the most sweeping is the brief for the State of Texas, et. al. in which the attorney generals of 31 states stood together to protect the right of the citizens of their states to keep and bear arms. “An individual right” this brief asserts, “that can be altogether abrogated is no right at all.”
On June 26th 2008, the Court offered a 4-5 split opinion, with Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority: "Undoubtedly some think that the Second Amendment is outmoded in a society where our standing army is the pride of our nation, where well-trained police forces provide personal security and where gun violence is a serious problem” he wrote, addressing the issue of the amendments militia clause. “That is” he continued ”perhaps debatable, but what is not debatable is that it is not the role of this court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct." (District of Columbia v. Heller, 2008). Most importantly the Court affirmed the “individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation” (District of Columbia v. Heller 2008). “This meaning” wrote Justice Scalia, “is strongly confirmed by the historical background of the Second Amendment. We look to this because it has always been widely understood that the Second Amendment…codified a pre-existing right,” (District of Columbia v. Heller 2008).
The debate over, and search for clarity about, the Second Amendment will, no doubt, continue in the lower courts; questions concerning the proper restrictions and limitations on the individual right to bear arms will, no doubt, linger into the coming decades. In short, the examination of the Second Amendment is far from over. Nevertheless, the Heller decision has helped to at least establish a strong basis from which to begin that work, and it is “most notable for…its complete and unanimous rejection of the “collective rights” interpretation” (Reynolds & Denning, 2008). Perhaps now genuine progress can be made towards building strong legislation which protects, not only people’s rights, but their lives.

Cress, L.D. (June, 1984). An Armed Community: The Origins and Meaning of the Right to Bear Arms. The Journal of American History, 71(1), p. 22-42. Retrieved from JSTOR Database April 12, 2009. Document ID: 1899832.

District of Columbia et. al.. v. Heller. 554 U.S. ___ (2008). Retrieved April 3, 2009 from

Higgenbotham, D. (January, 1998). The Federalized Militia Debate: A Neglected Aspect of Second Amendment Scholarship. The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, 55(1), p. 39-58. Retrieved from JSTOR Database April 11, 2009. Document ID: 2674322.

Levinson, S. (December,1989). The Embarrassing Second Amendment. The Yale Law Journal, 99(3), p.637-659. Retrieved from JSTOR April 13, 2009. Document ID: 796759.

O’Connor, K. & Sabato, L. J. (2008) American government: continuity and change (9th ed.). NewYork: Pearson Education.

Oder, B.N. (1998). Teaching the Meaning of the Second Amendment: A brief note on recent research. Magazine of History, 13(1), p.64. Retrieved from ProQuest April 20, 2009.

Peckham, H.H, (1964). The Colonial Wars: 1689 – 1762. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press

Rakove, J.N. (January, 2002). Words, Deeds, and Guns: "Arming America" and the Second Amendment. The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, 59(1), p.205-210. Retrieved From JSTOR Database April 11, 2009. Document ID: 3491652.

Reynolds, G.H. & Brannon, D.P. (2008). Heller’s Future in the Lower Courts. Northwestern University Law Review, 102(4), p. 2035. Retrieved from ProQuest April 22, 2009.

Shalhope, R.E. (December, 1982) The Ideological Origins of the Second Amendment. The Journal of American History. 69(3), p.599-614. Retrieved April 12, 2009 from JSTOR Database.

Shalhope, R.E. & Cress, L.D. (December, 1984) The Second Amendment and the Right to Bear Arms: An Exchange. The Journal of American History,. 71(3), p. 587-593. Retrieved from JSTOR Database April 12, 2009. Document ID: 188743.

The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States, (1 Cong., 1 sess., Aug. 17, 1789, p. 778) , retrieved April 25 from

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Dark Days

Well it’s official. The NBA is rigged, George W. Bush is surrounded by yellow-dog turn coats, and the Angel of Weird still smiles in Denver. I was sitting on Tuesday night, trying to drink off a nasty funk as everyone in town cursed the day that Joey Crawford was born, when I took a call from a friend in another State.
“What about that last play?” he asked, sure that I would launch into an angry diatribe.
“What about it?” I said. “Barry was off and the Spurs lost it…End of Story.”
“But it was clearly a foul!” he screamed into the phone. “Fisher smacked Barry on the head intentionally. Barry was on fire all night long, that shot was meant to go in!”
“Barry dribbled and finished the play,“ I reminded him. “It was a good no call.”
“The hell you say! If nothing else Barry deserved a floor call, it was so clearly a foul. They could have tied the game, gone into overtime.”
“What? So Ginobili, Parker and Duncan could go on missing shots for another five minutes and hand us an even worse loss? You sadistic swine, what kind of Fan are you?”
“It was Crawford’s fault,” he whined. “Joey Crawford has it in for the Spurs!”
In fact, the entire city on Wednesday seemed to echo that same sentiment, openly reviling a respected member of the NBA Referee establishment in every local newscast, and on every street corner.
“If I were [Crawford] I wouldn’t start my own car for the next few weeks” offered one critic. Others were not so nice or nearly as subtle. But let us draw the curtain on that brand of ugliness and face up to facts. David Stern and the rest of the League would much prefer to have a Lakers/Celtics Finals in order to hoist up their faltering ratings. The NBA never did entirely recover from the lock out in ’99, and viewership has been regulated to die-hard fans and sad, sick holdouts like me who would like to have seen the Spurs go back to back at least once before Tim Duncan get’s too old to strut.
Was Tuesday’s loss the fault of a crooked official with a grudge? Was it just the Will of the League? Were the Lakers really the better team? Or was it just bad playing on the part of the Spurs. One thing I have learned over these last few seasons is to never count the Silver and Black out until the very end. Though, to hear some people talk about it, Thursday’s game will be as embarrassing as a fart in church.
It wasn’t only the Spurs who woke up to the dismal sound of doom and despair on Wednesday. George W. Bush heard his own banshee wailing within the pages of Scott McClellan’s damning memoir. McClellan was White House Press Secretary from May 2003 to April 2006 (Ah, the good years) and as such his book gave a supposedly inside look at the inscrutable W. Bush White House but in doing so basically calls the President a liar and the media a bunch of enabling cowards. He even says of himself: “I fell far short of living up to the kind of public servant I wanted to be.”
Yes Scott, you most certainly did. What happened to Loyalty? What kind of media whore did you turn out to be, after all, and what makes you any different from those you’ve condemned?
Since when has “Washington's Culture of Deception” been any different? I don’t recall being handed the whole truth by any U.S. President while I’ve been alive…Not from Nixon, Not from Ford, Not from Carter, Not from Reagan, Not from Bush and certainly Not from Clinton. Can Scott McClellan really so naïve as to believe that Politics is anything other than self promotion of some sort? Or is he just practicing his own sorry brand of it and trying to cover his own sorry ass so he can find a job when the dust settles?
What really pisses me off with his book is that it’s just going to give those idiots who blame the White House for 9/11 even more fodder for their already out of hand insanity. Show some responsibility, Scott. And let’s face it- if he’d really had that much of a problem with what was going on shouldn’t he have taken a more honorable way out? It’s not too late to fall on your own sword and regain a measure of what honor you have left, Scott.
Wait, did I just say that? No, I didn’t. And even if I did surely it didn’t suggest what it sounded like. This isn’t Feudal Japan, or Ancient Rome, or even the Nixon White House, where dissenters were in serious danger of getting threatening late night phone calls and strange packages delivered to their mother’s at grey-care.
Hell no! We live in a kinder and gentler age; a Different Time Altogether. Why, it could very well be the age of First Contact. Well, at least according to The Rocky Mountain News, who reported on Rocky Mountain Oddball Jeff Peckman. Peckman, who has been pushing an initiative to create an Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission to prepare for the day that we make First Contact, has promised to show a video on Friday that purports to show a “Living Breathing Space Alien”.
Now, I’m not saying that there isn’t anything out there. Nor am I saying that Peckman might not have actual footage of something “far out”. But seriously, does he really believe that he is going about it the right way?
Of course, I know, I mean what exactly would be “the right way” to go about letting people know that “we are not alone”? Still, the only ones that are going to buy into it are the odd ball fringe that will buy into anything that will distract them from their mediocre lives. It’s going to take a ship landing on the Washington Mall to make believers out of most skeptics, and even then it’s going to take some convincing to assure them it’s not a promotion for a movie or for Pepsi.
Let’s face it, people don’t want to know if there’s intelligent life outside of our solar system. Most of them are too concerned with the orbits of their own lives to worry about such things as First Contact. They’ve become a nation of worriers, concerned about the environment, and gas prices, and being well liked by the people who want to blow us up.
They are, like I said, a kinder and gentler people…And we’re all the more fucked because of it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Trouble with 9/11 “Truthers”

"Whenever a man does a thoroughly stupid thing, it is always from the noblest motives."
-Oscar Wilde

This post by Tallyman over on Surfing the Apocalypse is another good example of the stupidity that has crippled otherwise sensible people. Have we all become so brain addled and complacent that we can suffer fools like these to spew their nonsense on any public forum?
This post shows all the hallmarks of the typical “truther”. For example, notice how he begins by stating how he “was at first inclined to believe” that the attacks on 9/11 were carried out by “Arab terrorists”. He states this as though belief has anything to do with facts, putting terrorists in the same category as Santa Clause or the tooth-fairy. But wait, he has something better than facts! For, he goes on to state, “[s]omething did not look right, feel right”. Jump Back! Wait a moment! It’s all about how he FEELS, all of a sudden, and never-you-mind empirical evidence, logic, or reason. Why, in mere days (not the months of painstaking forensic study, computer diagramming, metallurgical inquiry, architectural and structural examination, etc.) this genius was able to reject the “Official Version of Events” and then “actively sought out similar points of view”...Because, as we all know, the way to seek out the truth is to find people who agree with you.
He then goes on to invoke the name of one of the nuttiest fruitcakes on the rack, David Ray-Griffin, who was neither a “main writer” nor an “investigator”, but rather a retired theologian and philosopher, who suddenly decided that he had a moral leg up on everyone else in the field and was somehow, more qualified to discuss history, politics, and the global economy.
Mr. Tallyman’s post then degenerates into a sordid miasma of quasi-religious, self-righteous ramblings, misquoting the Bible for his own ends and, at times, making up his own theological interpretations of the teachings of Christ. Through it all he remains completely laughable, taking wild strides of fancy that have made these 9/11“truthers” some of the shadiest, most devious, and dangerous chumps to hijack the alternative media.
In what I can only assume is meant to be some kind of scathing indictment of Christian leaders’ silence on his dismal view of the “truth”, he exposes some of the major flaws in the “movement”.
Take, for example, the complete lack of any textual or empirical support for his point of view (which, I suppose, is along the lines of all the other cracked pots who blame our obviously hyper-competent government for secretly masterminding and perpetrating the events of that terrible day) and instead, focuses on the absolute wrongness of those who do not Feel the way he feels. Why should Christian leaders back up his point of view? Although at one point I’m pretty certain he comes close to likening himself to Jesus Christ, I’m not entirely certain that this is enough to convince the American clergy to take it to the streets Old School 60’s style.
No, today’s modern Jesus Freak needs more than the word of a few college drop outs and mainstream burnouts. When it comes to this brand of nonsense, they need more than faith, buddy, they need facts. What does it say when the same people that reject Evolution have also, according to his post, rejected the “truth” movement?

"A word to the wise ain't necessary, it's the stupid ones who need the advice.”
-Bill Cosby

A few months back, I was talking to a Canadian friend of mine, who thought it would be a good idea to share some of her beliefs on the events of that day, mainly about how not only did the US government let it happen, but that Bin Laden and his group were the invention of the CIA, and were being used as part of a “neocon plot” to steal away our civil liberties and lead the country into war.
It was unfortunate timing on her part that I happened to be drunk, ornery, and mean when she brought all this up, and I sliced into her stupidity like a thresher into a farm boys arms. I haven’t heard much out of her since then, but then I’m not losing any sleep over it. It did make me wonder, however, because she was one of those that spent some time in the Middle East around the same time as I. Did she not encounter Islamist fundamentalist sympathizers in her time there? How could she have spent several years in the region and not once have run across some taxi driver or local yokel who tried to convert her to Islam because it was a superior way of life, and would one day spread across the world? Or meet even one glaring-eyed, gallabaya wearing idiot with a dark spot on his head (from all the praying) who condemned her with his stare for being a loose and immoral western harlot who he’d like to see stoned in the streets for corrupting his sons? Was her time in Cairo so insulated that she never once paid attention to the wild ravings on the loudspeakers from the mosques on Fridays? Could it be that she just never paid attention or was I just too over exposed to the culture?
And so it has come down to that, hasn’t it? Is it possible that my absolute certainty that a pack of knife waving, kaffeyya wrapped desert devils want nothing more than to run through the streets of American cities, shrilly chanting Quranic verses and blowing themselves up in orgiastic fits of religious expression comes from my having spent a little too much time around the natives over there?
Things were different back then, weren’t they? When they’d gather together to monotonously chant “Boosh-Boosh-Boosh” they were talking about Herbert Walker, the Liberator of Kuwait, and they meant those chants in a good way. Now when they do that they are talking about his son, our sitting president, the Liberator of Iraq, but they say it as though they are trying to spit beard hairs out of their throats, and they mean it in a most decidedly bad way. Back then the worst America-bashing I encountered came from our so called allies, the Brits, the Canadians, the Australians, all those “Commonwealth” vassals-of-the-Queen countries, who could not stand that we were, basically, their bigger, badder, and just plain cooler cousin.
Those same people are still bashing us, only now they have the company of most everyone else in the world, and a good plenty of our own people here in the Homeland, as well. This brings us back to Mr. Tallyman and his vacuous ilk, the “truthers”.
They’re the worst kind of America-Bashers. They’re not trying to seek out the truth because they’re any more righteous or moral than anyone else; they’re doing it because they want to placate the rest of the world. I think that on some deep, dark, dirty level they genuinely believe that if the Enemies of America see how well they think of themselves that they’ll just give up, put down their knives, take off their suicide belts, and want to be their friends. These people are the lowest kinds of coward, hiding behind their make-believe causes and pretending to be noble. I could excuse naiveté, even pity it, but these people are dangerously stupid if they think they’re going to make the world a better place with their delusions and fantasies, and I for one, am sick of them.

"Most people would die sooner than think; in fact, they do. "
-Bertrand Russell

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Weekly World News Silenced

So they’ve finally killed-off the Weekly World News and the world is a duller place because of that. No more shall we stand in a supermarket checkout line and let our attention take in the shocking news that “Dick Cheney is a Robot”. (“Just Like a Stepford Wife!” The splash assures us.) This publication started out around the time that I first started to read the things around me...I mean really take in my surroundings. For a kid, sitting caged in one of those rolling metal death traps that are shopping carts, those magazines racks were right at eye level, and I took it all in, along with the candy and bubble gum right beside them.
Now, those supermarket rags, as I understand this, are holdovers from the 1950’s, that glorious Post-War era that seems to have just paved the Yellow Brick Road to Hell for Western Civilization. It was a time when women were expected to stay at home and do housework, which, of course, included the shopping. In between her doing the vacuuming (in heels and pearls, of course!) and using the latest technological advances of a modern kitchen to prepare delicious meals for her family, she would take time out and amuse herself with a variety of entertaining game shows, variety programming, and, of course, the “stories” on television, (many of them still brought to you courtesy of the very same brand name sponsors as back then.)
Of course, this relic, this model of the “Modern Wife” of that era would also find distraction(and some still do, I believe) at the checkout line, by browsing tabloids that told not only of the gossip of the Hollywood Stars and various pop celebrities but hyped also the fictional happenings and machinations of the various characters from their stories. But I digress. You see, as a kid, sitting there, in a supermarket, deciphering these cryptic headlines on my own, I made a serious and solid decision…I chose the one about Bigfoot and UFOS over the “Who Shot JR” ones.
I wasn’t intentionally exposed to such garbage, you understand. I mean, my mother taught English and expected better from me. She selected, and made sure I completed, a summer reading list every year, and would engage me in conversation (i.e. quiz me) on selected topics from the readings, and, once, she went to bat for me with the nuns when I got kicked out of fifth grade for reading Mark Twain during recess. How could I let her know that I would cunningly purchase and read any copy of that pulp rag that I could lay my hands on? Thanks to some skillful distribution of comic books and newspapers in my life, however no one ever caught on that I was reading the Weekly World News.
In high school I realized that, no matter how cool it was to believe that Debbie Gibson was pregnant with Elvis’ two headed love child, it was really not going to happen. But by that point I was also writing actively, and taking great pleasure in learning about it as a craft, an art, and a potential livelihood, and I looked at the Weekly World News as a fun guide to outlandish creativity.
You see, the headlines were always fun and clever: “Man Marries Computer & Becomes a GIGAMIST!”, “Imelda Marcos Skins Children for More Shoes!”, “Vegan Vampire Attacks Trees”. And they always pulled it off with just the right edge of suspicion and veracity to make one both chuckle and wonder. It helped me develop a healthy understanding of the relatively plausible, the plainly outlandish, and the just plain freaky. (Gotta love those Freaks!)
In later years, through college overseas, then coming back and living in a brand new kind of neo-post-modern hell, The Weekly World News offered only small portion of its former vigor. Batboy had become all the rage and they were putting out way too many headlines about him, and about Jesus, God, and the End of Days. But they still came through, every week, drawing readers into a style and place, where anything could, sometimes did, happen.
But, in the end it seems that The Paper was just past it’s time. Still published in glorious black and white, still hawking Elvis sightings, alien encounters, conspiracies within the government, and newly discovered prophecies, it was, after a point, doomed.
I once told a good friend that I believed that, if indeed, Signs of the End of the World were to be made manifest, and the Four Horsemen were to Ride, the Weekly World News would most likely report it first. Now, I’m pretty sure, it would be on the Drudge Report, or YouTube, or some such site long before it made it to print. (And would be followed for days by talking head commentary, analysis, and reaction.)
We are living, now, in an age where real world worries and horrors far outweigh the imagined ones of extra terrestrial rectal probes and Chinese organ stealing rings. These days nothing is shocking, nothing takes us by surprise, and not much makes us think, anymore. People openly accuse the government of the most ridiculous schemes and revile their elected leaders as the worst kind of diabolical cabal, and it passes for insightful mainstream political criticism.
Parent company, American Media, Inc. gave no public reason for their decision to close down the presses at the WWN, but one insider said that the reasons for shutting down don’t make any sense. Now, they say that the Website will remain and that it’s only the print edition that is defunct, but people seem to have long given up on Bigfoot, The Loch Ness Monster, Elvis, and Batboy. What people want now are sources, they expect hard facts, and as much of the illusion of accuracy that television or the internet can offer them. Why shell out for a black and white tabloid when you can log in and find any number of strange happenings, bizarre tales, and weird people. Mostly they’re a lousy bunch of loudmouth whack-jobs sounding off about their brand of insanity but, because of the way it’s delivered, people believe that it is “Now fortified with 10% more Truth!”
I’ve long since drifted away from reading tabloids, have only scanned a few stories while waiting in line at the stores, but losing the WWN a loss is to me because they were never afraid to take it one step too far, and they never took themselves too seriously, they did as much to inform as to entertain. Their twisted style of trashy strangeness, their unapologetic exploitation of Freaks, Geeks and Weirdos, it all appealed to sick bastards out there like me. Their lurid stories were like junk food for my brain, a kind of mental candy on which to chew, and I will miss the headlines at the checkout counter, about Elvis, and Bigfoot, and even Batboy…but you know...I believe that I will miss the Freaks most of all.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

I was tagged by Kel over on KelKnits for a Wikipedia Birthday Meme a few weeks ago. I figured that since it was so close to the actual birthday, I would just wait and post it now.

August 1st
3 Events:
30 BC - Octavian (later known as Augustus) enters Alexandria, Egypt, bringing it under the control of the Roman Republic.
1966Charles Whitman kills 15 people shooting from the Main Building at The University of Texas at Austin before being killed by the police.
1981 - MTV begins broadcasting and airs its first video, "Video Killed The Radio Star" by the Buggles.

2 Birthdays:
1819 - Herman Melville, American writer (d. 1891)
1942 - Jerry Garcia, American musician (The Grateful Dead) (d. 1995)

1 Holiday:
Lammas - Neopagan festival of Lammas.

I don’t know how much fun that was, but it was certainly informative.