On the Conflation of Daesh with Islam

In the last several months there has been an increased tendency for people to apportion blame for acts of terrorism to all Muslims, conflating extremism and extremist ideology with the religion of Islam. This is wrong. We should not come to hasty generalisations about an entire community of co-religionists based on the actions, ideology, or politics of the few.

Islam, like Christianity or Buddhism or Judaism, is not a monolithic faith. There are many variants. Like these other religions, some of these variants believe and preach intrepretations of the religion that differ radically from the mainstream. Daesh and their teachings are an example of this radical departure from religious orthodoxy. It is important to keep this in mind; Daesh’s ideology is not reflective of Islam as a whole, just as the Westboro Baptist Church is not reflective of Christianity, and Bodu Bala Sena is not reflective of Buddhism.

By conflating an extremist ideology such as Daesh’s with the mainstream forms of Islam, we distance ourselves from the overwilling majority of the world’s Muslims who want nothing more than to live in peace. By conflating Daesh and Islam we fall victim to Islamophobia, and in doing so, feed the extremists in our own societies who are all too happy to exploit our fears for their own political and social agendas. We have warrant to be phobic of Daesh, just as we have warrant to be phobic of violent Christian fundamentalist groups like the Christian Identity Movement. But being justifiably phobic of a tiny subset of any religion does not mean we have the justification to be phobic of an entire religion.

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Posted by on November 21, 2015 in Uncategorized


Remembering the Forgotten.

April 8th marks Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day set aside to commemorate, to mourn, and to reflect upon the six million Jewish people who were killed during the Second World War. This is a fine and noble aim; to remember those who perished and to meditate upon the atrocities that humanity is able to commit against itself is important. Lest we forget.

However, there are other atrocities that were played out closer to home that should also be commemorated and mourned, yet sadly are not. Home-grown genocides–in the United States, Australia, Mexico, Canada and elsewhere–in which countless millions were killed or forcibly disinherited of their lands and histories are a fundamental aspect of the historical narratives of these nations. These genocides, in which entire cultures, languages, and peoples were forever erased are hidden away behind a screen of more recent events and essentially forgotten.

To forget about the multitudes who died, were subjugated, or disinherited of their cultures is to silence an already voiceless people; an act that makes current and future generations as complicit in the genocides as those who committed the original atrocities.  It is the final act of erasure.

So why is there no day of remembrance for these countless millions?

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Posted by on April 8, 2013 in Uncategorized


Review: Carol Karlsen’s “The Devil in the Shape of a Woman.”

Carol Karlsen’s The Devil in the Shape of a Woman, was first published in 1987 and reissued as a paperback by W.W Norton from New York, NY in 1998 with a new afterword.  The Devil in the Shape of a Women focuses its attention on Massachusetts and Connecticut during an eighty-year period of history from 1630 to the early eighteenth century. Karlsen pays special attention to the outbreaks of witch hysteria that brought fear to New Englanders from the mid to late seventeenth century. Using the tools of the social historian and the anthropologist, Karlsen painstakingly reconstructs the demography of witchcraft in colonial New England to answer the question of why women were seen as witches in New England Puritan society, a question that Karlsen accuses previous scholars of the period such as John Boyer, Stephen Nissinbaum and John Demos of leaving unasked.[1]

Karlsen’s thesis argues that independent, older women who were the sole heirs of an estate, had acquired their estates through non-traditional means, or who were in a precarious social and/or economic situation were most likely to be accused of witchcraft because of the challenges to the economic, social and gender hierarchy these woman presented; challenges that threatened the precarious order of Puritan society.

Karlsen breaks the work into three main sections.  The first examines religious beliefs of the Puritans and early New Englanders arguing that belief in witchcraft was not an anomaly but an integral part of the ever-changing doxa and praxis of Puritan religion.  The second section delves into the demography of witchcraft, analyzing what seems to be the entire extant records of the period to discover the common social and economic characteristics of accuses witches.  The final third of Karlsen’s work uses the same set of primary sources and demographic data to explore the gender relationships that were predominant during the time-period and why the accused represented a challenge to the established order.

Karlsen’s work is thoroughly researched using what seems to be the entire body of extant records from the period to draw her conclusions.  These conclusions themselves are well-supported by the evidence presented to the reader.  The numerous tables and lists showing ages, economic status, inheritance patterns and other social and economic data conclusively support her claims as to the ages, social position and familial relationships of the accused witches. However, the latter third of the book relies more on anthropological analysis and inference than previous sections, making this part of the text most likely to be challenged by future historians.

The Devil in the Shape of a Women is an essential read for any who wish to understand witchcraft its relationship to the prevailing social and gender patterns of early colonial society and provides a wealth of information for the scholar of early American history and could be used as a starting point for understanding the ever-changing gender roles in US history.  Karlsen’s book could also serve as the starting point for an analysis of the few male witches brought to trial during the seventeenth century, to see if any of the same concerns apply to this overlooked demographic

[1] Karlsen, Carol F. The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England. W. W. Norton & Company, 1998. 212f.

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Posted by on April 6, 2013 in History, non-fiction


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Review: Alan Taylor’s “American Colonies: The Settling of North America.”

Alan Taylor’s American Colonies: The Settling of North America, published by Penguin Books in 2002, presents to the reader an important interpretation of the early history of the United States that expands upon the traditional Anglocentric narrative.  Taylor’s work of historical synthesis takes in a broad sweep of history, looking back to the earliest peopling of the North American continent by Asiatic hunter/gather groups circa 13,000 BCE to the early national period c.1820 CE.  Taylor argues that the many different waves of colonization originating in diverse regions of the globe have had a lasting and profound impact on the history of the nation helping shape a unique American identity.[1]  In presenting this argument, Taylor moves the narrative away from the Anglocentric point-of-view that dominates the historiography of the period replacing it with a more dynamic, diverse, and holistic account.

By including the histories of the many different peoples who have inhabited the North American continent form the earliest Asiatic peoples who would become the forebears of today’s native peoples to the Spanish, French, Dutch, Russians, and English who freely choose to settle the “New World”, to the forced migrations of African peoples from a wide variety of nations, Taylor successfully forces the reader into thinking about American history differently through the use of a compelling narrative and a thematic approach to history.  By breaking history into small geographic and temporal segments, Taylor provides a framework that allows the narrative to explore individual groups and time-periods, while keeping the intercultural narrative of the text at the forefront of the reader’s attention.

Taylor’s work is an important text that should be at the top of any history buffs to-read list.  Those interested in colonial America, Native American history, the histories of non-Anglo colonial powers will find this large but eminently readable tome of great value while giving them a much more nuanced vision of the colonial period.

[1] Alan Taylor, American Colonies: The Settling of North America (The Penguin History of the United States, Volume 1) (Penguin (Non-Classics), 2002). xii.

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Posted by on April 6, 2013 in History, non-fiction


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Review: Richard Godbeer’s “Sexual Revolution in Early America.”

Published by the Johns Hopkins Press, Richard Godbeer’s 2002 monograph Sexual Revolution in Early America provides an in-depth look into sex and sexuality in the colonial and early national periods of American history.  Using the tools and methodologies of social and cultural history, Godbeer seeks to shine a light on an overlooked theme in American history, early American sexuality.

The bulk of Godbeer’s analysis focuses upon New England and the Puritans, with the occasional foray into Philadelphia, Virginia and the Carolinas.  The work takes in a period of two hundred years, from the years immediately prior to the British settlement of North America in the early seventeenth century, to the period immediately after the Revolutionary War in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  Throughout the text, Godbeer argues that during the eighteenth century a new sexual ethos regarding sex and sexual culture emerged in British North America as the result of a culture war that pitted differing conceptions of proper sexual etiquette against one another.  This shift represented a move away from traditional conceptions of sex and society brought to the New World by English colonists toward a more individualistic worldview informed by, and predicated upon, the revolutionary ideology of the late 18th century.[1]  By showing the evolution in American sexual culture, Godbeer challenges conventional wisdom used by contemporary culture warriors that looks to the early years of American society as the exemplar of traditional sexual mores and shows this point-of-view to be little more than a wishful fiction.

Sexual Revolution in Early America begins with an examination of popular attitudes toward pre-marital sex, the sexual proclivities of exotic natives of the uncivilized New World, and inter-racial sexual relations as portrayed through English high and literary culture in the years immediately before permanent British colonization of North America.  Godbeer’s use of theses accounts works to show that these concerns were emerging but does little to show that these pre-conceptions were normative or even widespread in English society of the period.  Despite this shortfall, this small introductory section provides a foundation that highlights the contested nature of sexuality in early seventeenth century English society, and the existence of a multi-faceted discourse regarding sexual mores.[2]

Godbeer moves the focus of the discussion in the first part of the book to New England and its most famous inhabitants: the Puritans.  Here Godbeer challenges the traditional notion of the Puritans that dominates the modern mind, by showing them to be highly sexual beings exhibiting many of the same sexual foibles as modern Americans.  Furthermore, even the small group of Puritans who evangelized regarding sexuality were concerned not with controlling all sexual activity but with delineating licit and illicit behaviors and relations; relations then enforced through a punitive legal system and societal pressure.  This pressure by Puritan moral evangelists to enforce a rigorous moral code in a heterogeneous society is the first of the sexual revolutions in Godbeer’s account.

The second of the books three parts moves the narrative to the southern colonies, focusing heavily on the Carolinas and the special circumstances that many early settlers found themselves.  Many of those who lived on the border between civilization and the untamed wilderness found themselves having to create a new type of moral code suited to their new environment.  This pragmatic and unorthodox approach to sexual morality was in many cases in direct opposition to the prevailing religious and civil notions of correct behavior.  Religious and civil powers regulated licit sexual behaviors in an attempt to provide order in chaos.  Worries of miscegenation and its affects on English civility and civilization provided much of the impetus for a new set of mores—especially after the move from a society with slaves to a slave society—while the serial monogamy and seeming licentiousness of these frontiersmen and women spoke of a breakdown of civil society itself.  It is in this region that Godbeer first sees the identification of womanhood with virtuousness that would become a popular trope as the colonies moved toward independence and the new ideology of republicanism took shape.

In the third and final section of the text, Godbeer argues that with the declension of Puritan ecclesiastic power and the increasing complexity of civil society, the power of the state/church to enforce its own brand of sexual morality waned as other matters took legal precedence.  A moral code that had once been the purview of the legal system now relied more on the sanction of society to enforce sexual ethics.  A consequence of this move was that as society changed so to did the ideas about proper sexual etiquette.  As revolutionary ideas swept the colonies and the rhetoric of individual freedom seized the imaginations of the citizenry, especially those who lived in the urban north.  This philosophy of individual liberty clashed with the emerging concept of virtuous womanhood that came to the fore during and after the Revolutionary War.

The evidence mustered by Godbeer supports his thesis well.  The historian uses a wide variety of primary source material; court transcripts, plays and other fictional works, almanacs, newspapers, diaries, and sermons.   By highlighting a recurring theme of tension and conflict in American sexual history, Godbeer successfully shows that sexuality has always been a contentious issue in American society while undermining long-held but erroneous conceptions of the early American people’s and their attitudes toward sex.  Sexual Revolution in America successfully casts aside the stereotype of the Puritan, replacing the dull, staid, highly religious citizenry for a more nuanced vision that was intimately concerned with “proper” sexual relations.

One weakness is Godbeer’s almost exclusive focus on the British colonies of North America fails to account for the fact that during the colonial period people’s from all over Europe settled in what would become the United States.  As Alan Taylor argues so well in his 2002 monograph, American Colonies, these immigrants brought with them a wide variety of cultural and religious forms, which must surely have included culturally specific attitudes toward sex and sexuality.  By focusing so heavily on the English—and specifically the Puritans—these other cultures influence on the evolution of American society are seemingly discounted by Godbeer.

This book should benefit those with an interest in early colonial North America or human sexuality in history.  For the student of history, Sexual Revolution in Early America could be used as a starting point for a more comprehensive account of American sexuality by examining the whether the sexual attitudes of the German, Dutch, French and other non-Anglo colonists influenced American attitudes toward sex and sexuality.

[1] Richard Godbeer, Sexual Revolution in Early America (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002). 9-10.

[2] Godbeer, 1-4.

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Posted by on April 6, 2013 in History, non-fiction, US History


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Thought for the Day

Unhappy events abroad have retaught us two simple truths about the liberty of a democratic people.

The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism – ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.

The second truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if its business system does not provide employment and produce and distribute goods in such a way as to sustain an acceptable standard of living.  – F.D Roosevelt

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Posted by on July 4, 2011 in Quotations


Income Inequality as a Moral Hazard

Recently, the Washington Post published an article entitled “Breakaway Wealth: With executive pay, rich pull away from the rest of America.”  This article, as the name implies, is a study of the wealth inequality in the US.  One statistic given by the author gleaned from a study of tax data for the richest Americans shows that as of 2008, the top wage earners in the US earned a disproportionate amount of income in comparison with their numbers; the top 0.1% of wage earners, 152,000 people, took home approximately 10% of the total amount of money earned by the entire workforce, with an average earnings of $5.6 million dollars per annum.  In comparison, the bottom 90% of wage earners, approximately 136,800,000 people, earn an average wage of $31,244.  When inflation is taken into account, over the last 40 years wages for the top 0.1% have grown by 385%, while for the bottom 90% wages have shrunk by 1%, with corporate executives making up the largest single group (~41%) within the elite cadre.

While income disparity is inevitable in a capitalist society, the sheer size of the gulf between the richest Americans and the average wage earner when taken in concert with rulings such as Citizen’s United vs. the F.E.C and the advent of PAC’s and Super PAC’s essentially undermines the fundamental concept of political equality for all citizens.  This inequality allows the rich (and the corporations that they control) to have a much more influential political voice than the rest of society by allowing these groups to spend unlimited amounts of money to promote candidates and legislation.  This in itself is not morally suspect; however, it becomes so when this power is used not for the public good but for the enrichment of the corporation (or corporations) which in turn leads to the further enrichment of executives or is used to undermine the basic rights and/or quality of life of others.  In effect, these executives are using the public processes of democracy for personal gain at the expense of the average person; the very people that the system of representative republicanism is meant to empower.

Proponents of supply-side economics, commonly known as trickle-down economics, argue that this inequality leads to the enrichment of all levels of society as these super rich people spend money which then enters the economy and benefits those lower down the food chain. Due to the fact that all segments of society benefits from this trickle-down effect, it is actually right for those with money to exercise political power in an attempt to gain more wealth.  Yet as the data given by the authors of the study show, this is not the case; the lower 90% of income earners have not benefited from the massive consolidation of wealth by the richest 0.1%.  As such, this trickle-down argument is specious.

As long as the consolidation of massive amounts of wealth in the hands of a few continues, which is then used to promote policy that further enriches these people while the rights and freedoms of the vast majority of people are imperilled, such gross income inequality will remain a moral hazard.

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Posted by on June 19, 2011 in musings, Philosophy, politics


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