Monday, May 16, 2005

The power (and the staying power) of the myth of desecration

Ever since I heard about the violent reaction to the Newsweek Koran story, a little bell has been going off in the back of my head. One of those things that says, "This is familiar. This reminds me of something. What could it be?" You know how it is; you think and you think, but nothing specific comes up, just this general feeling.

This morning, though, it finally came to me, in that state of half-consciousness between sleep and wakening. The blood libel. The host desecration. Of course.

For those of you unfamiliar with the myth of the blood libel and the host desecration, please go here. These are two ancient and false accusations that seem utterly preposterous today, but were believed at the time by many Christians, and have caused widespread violence against Jews--for centuries, and in many parts of the world.

Please read the entire link to learn about it. But here's a short summary:

In 1144 CE, an unfounded rumor began in eastern England, that Jews had kidnapped a Christian child, tied him to a cross, stabbed his head to simulate Jesus' crown of thorns, killed him, drained his body completely of blood, and mixed the blood into matzos (unleavened bread) at time of Passover. The rumor arose from a former Jew, Theobald, who had become a Christian monk...
The host is a wafer used during the Roman Catholic mass...the church teaches that it is converted into the actual body of Jesus Christ, just as the wine becomes Jesus' actual blood. These elements of the mass are then eaten by the believers....A variation of the blood libel myth developed in Europe early in the 11th century. Instead of accusing the Jews of killing an innocent child, they were accused of desecrating the host. Sometimes they were accused stabbing pins into the host, or of stepping on it. Other times, they were accused of stabbing the host with a knife until Jesus' blood leaked out. Sometimes, they were accused of nailing the host, in a symbolic replay of the crucifixion.

The elements are very similar, particularly in the host desecration myth. In each case, we have believers in the sanctity of the object itself (for medieval Catholics, the host; for present day Moslem fundamentalists, the Koran), and a belief that another group showed lack of respect for the sanctity of said object and violated it in a terrible way. In the case of the blood libel, we also have allegations of an actual murder of an innocent for purposes of ritual desecration.

As in the present situation, we have a fundamentalist group deeply enraged that another group is said to have desecrated its most holy object. Just as many medieval Christians believed the blood libel and the host desecration to be just cause for killing Jews, so some Moslems of today think the penalty for the current charges should be death. In the case of the former, the Church tried to do damage control and say the rumor was a lie, just as Newsweek is attempting to do today. (Unlike Newsweek, though, the Church was not itself responsible for originally spreading the libel). And, as is true today, it is very difficult to clear the record once these things are in the public domain. In fact, it is amazing that, in an age of fairly primitive communications in terms of technology, these myths still had the power to get so far, to have such staying power, and to cause so much damage.

Of course, Christianity has changed a lot since those days. The blood libel and host desecration myths no longer have any traction for Christians, and haven't for a long while. But the world of Moslem fundamentalism is still very susceptible to this type of thinking.

One very big difference, though--at least so far--is that the scope of the damage in the present case has been relatively small compared to its historical precedent. I sincerely hope it stays that way.

ADDENDUM: I wanted to add once again that I do not think this rumor was promulgated by Newsweek with any appreciation of its meaning in the Moslem world, or the severity of the possible consequences. Whether Newsweek ought to have foreseen these things is a question discussed here, including the comments section.


At 6:47 PM, May 16, 2005, Blogger Baron Bodissey said...

As you may have seen, my co-blogger Dymphna is highlighting the taqiyya aspects of the disinformation behind all this mess. That is, the jihadis in Gitmo are deliberately lying, as they have been trained to do (see the al Qaeda training manuals), as an aspect of jihad.

Newsweek would do well to keep this kind of thing in mind before they breathlessly relay the tales of the prisoners. But don't hold your breath.

At 11:43 PM, May 16, 2005, Blogger Scorekeeper said...

I thought of how the world walks on egg shells when any story involves a Muslim individual or group in violence or hate.
Anything involving Islam - a Koran, Mosque, a claim etc... anything.. is treated as though its mystically 10 fold more important than anything 'Western'.

Israel can't say shit about the destruction of Biblical and Historical treasures nor about the caving in of the wall because it will be 'assumed' they're "invading our ""holy"" mosque"
Yet Muslims can deface, burn to the ground and build on top of Joseph's Tomb, deface, steal and shit all over Church in Bethlehem, blow up a gigantic Budda in Afghanistan, murder a Coptic Xtian ritually in New Jersey for simply debating them on line.... AND

all the time the media handles any Islamic Extremism with kid gloves.

Check out my post where I talk more in detail about the media hesistation to ever declared the Copt in Jersey City was murdered by Muslims, yet will jump all over a 1 source story that Guards flushed (It fit downt the hole?) a Koran down the toilet bowl.

At 12:17 AM, May 17, 2005, Blogger TmjUtah said...

The Islamists don't hate me for the color of my skin. I am not condemned because I am Christian (of a murky, non-denominational stripe). There are no records extant of any Tmj ancestors involved in clan or tribal conflict with any of the houses of Araby.

I'm not muslim. And that's all it takes.

I have watched this conflict closely since 1979; 1983 made it personal and today I can say without blush that it's even odds on whether or not there will be a religion called "Islam" when the next century rolls around.

Just who are the "moderate" muslims? Seen any lately? Does moderate mean they get points for not actively engaging in murder, assassination, organized vandalism, or any of the other flaovors of political expression our western self-apologists accept as "just what those poor people do"?

Not all muslims may be terrorists. The ones we are engaged in killing right now all base their ACTIONS on the Koran, which defines Islam as "submission".

There is no Pope of Islam. There are tribes and sects and the odd cult figures, but there is no defining authority beyond what sect is best positioned to claim (and make stick) interpetation of what is is written in the Koran. If you read the Koran, and read it again, and pay attention to the inflexible nature of its directions and laws, and stack that up against your western political and religous background, and THEN look at the actions of the terrorists, and the moderates...

... you may find a lot of similarities between "moderate" muslims and our own "moderates" here.

They are happy in the middle, while others do the heavy lifting. We don't need "moderate" muslims.

We need vociferous and forceful adherents of Islam that will condemn the barbarism currently defining the religion, while embracing western values of representative constitutional rule.

The "moderates" managed to scrape up a few hundred demonstrators for a token demonstration in D.C., where the largest American muslim organizations were conspicuously absent.

Newsweek's cock-up is just the latest indicator that the Best and Brightest in our media class (and the clientelle they seek to impress) have no clue about the conflict we are in. They are combatants, just as sure as our soldiers in Iraq or any infidel who happens to read this post is.

This war will end with a victor, and a loser. I do not doubt the outcome of this conflict; the seeds of Islam's failure have flowered and withered over and over again through history, along with the other flavors of totalitarian social adventures. I do worry what the cost will be for this round.

At 1:04 AM, May 17, 2005, Blogger Joan said...

Catholics throughout history believed in the sanctity of the Host; we still do. The desecration of the Host is still something we take seriously -- there was recently a consecrated Host put up for auction on eBay, and we were all horrified. But we're not about to start a pogrom because some people do not understand what it is they are dealing with, and do not respect our beliefs.

I think you are being just a bit naive about Newsweek's culpability here. They chose to run unsubstantiated, inflammatory information, and now they feign surprise at the consequences. It makes it rather obvious what outcome they are hoping for in this current war.

At 6:47 AM, May 17, 2005, Blogger fojalla said...

What does all this rhetoric have to do with neocon? Is this all a case of whose ox is being gored? 911 was tragic and costly but so is Iraq. Most religions are by their very nature biased and judgmental of non-believers. This blog seems to be chasing the heroin dragon of the media. Following media smoke means charging up the adrenal gland and then pumping up the blood preasure. Finally, with all of our juices flowing we can write something witless and harsh and somehow satisfy our need to re-energize our newest prejudice.

At 7:19 AM, May 17, 2005, Blogger goesh said...

The point is well taken how the media and governments treat Islamic fundamentalists with kid gloves. For instance, I note the complete lack of even referencing the terrible treatment of women by Muslims, let alone any condemnation of it. I recall the recent elections in Saudi Arabia and not a single peep over the fact that women did not get to vote. That is relatively mild compared to clitorectomy and honor killings, yet it is somehow taboo to talk about any of it. Islam as it is practiced by much of the world is vicious, dogmatic, violent and oppressive. To me it boils down to these fanatics wanting to drag the rest of the world back to the stone age and having no compunction over killing anyone to attain their ends. I think simple fear on the part of many people is the operative word here. The violence of 9/11 and homicide bombs at hospitals, markets, even the UN headquarters in Iraq and the Red Cross headquarters, the taped and published beheadings are so hideous that people want to hide from the reality of it. They ignore and placate hoping it will go away, and what we get in return for this is more of the same. Placating is itself quite insidious. Recently in Canda there was a move under foot in one area to allow Sharia Law/Imams to regulate Islamic divorces, which is nothing other than circumventing Constitutional Law. In Sweden there is a developing issue of Arabic being taught as a primary language and a number of public schools have been burned. According to one Blog I read, there have been 120 fires of this nature. How then can anyone be surprised when based on a rumor of desecrating a book there are riots and violence and death thousands of miles away? This really shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. Since the US is the only remaining superpower representing civilization and democracy and rule of collective law, the message that they want us, our children and our way of life killed is evident via 9/11. The full import of this 'message' has simply not registered with many people.

At 1:36 PM, May 17, 2005, Blogger Kat said...

Just an fyi on the blood libel and it's sticking power..

I was reading some palestinian supporting websites and there are huge rumors that the Israelis have kidnapped Palestinian children, drained their blood and made matzoh balls with it.

Just thought I'd share the humor of how a 12th century lie is still perpetuated today in other cultures as well.

At 3:44 PM, May 17, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I myself kept seeing the next exhibition of Piss Christ being attacked by a bunch of folks demainding an American Standard toilet with a Quran be placed next to it.

At 4:16 PM, May 17, 2005, Blogger Judith said...

"The "moderates" managed to scrape up a few hundred demonstrators for a token demonstration in D.C., where the largest American muslim organizations were conspicuously absent."

Unfortunately it wasn't even a few hundred, more like 50.

"We need vociferous and forceful adherents of Islam that will condemn the barbarism currently defining the religion, while embracing western values of representative constitutional rule."

Khaleel Mohammed. Irshad Manji. And Robert Spencer is trying to discredit Khaleel Mohammed. Go figure.

At 4:52 PM, May 17, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I certainly agree with the overriding theme of the posts but wonder when and what to do about the situation. We can all agree with each other forever and nothing will change.

At 7:23 PM, May 17, 2005, Blogger Pierre said...

Sorry I don't see the parallels between the blood libel and dunking the Koran for a well deserved bath.

In the blood libel Jews were said to be murdering Christian children. In the latest example of the Religion of Peace we see grown ups murdering each other about a book taking a bath.

Your comparison is so stretched as to almost seem the work of an apologist which I don't believe you are.

There is no equivalence here.

Great blog by the way!

At 8:38 PM, May 17, 2005, Blogger chuck said...

Yes, yes. I have been thinking, "First they came for the Americans..."

At 8:38 PM, May 17, 2005, Blogger chuck said...

Yes, yes. I have been thinking, "First they came for the Americans..."

At 9:09 PM, May 17, 2005, Blogger TmjUtah said...

Now that the white, blinding rage has subsided...

Ladies and gentlemen, I present you with the distillation - the crystalization - of inanity and ingnorance that can only be achieved by years of public education and mindless absorption of pop culture:

"911 was tragic and costly but so is Iraq."

The terrorist attack committed on 9/11 was planned and executed by a stateless entity committed to the mass murder of any human outside their religion and the eventual destruction of western civilization.

The invasion and ongoing liberation of Iraq was an act proposed by an elected executive, affirmed by an elected legislature, and upheld by the highest court of the land. The war is fought with the aim of protecting our security (the only valid reason for a republic to fight a war, btw) but using the tools of freedom and self-sovereignty as the mechanism by which the formerly hostage populations will arrive at a state of civilization where they can live as neighbors, instead of being obliterated to the limits possible as has been the case the previous times Jihadist Islam hemorraged across the planet.

They are not nearly the "same" in any way shape, or form, beyond the fact that lives are being lost every day the struggle continues.

Want the horrible killing to stop, fojalla? You certainly wrote something witless; maybe you can stop trying to organize your navel into some sort of utopic, moral relativist crystal ball and choose a side in this fight - and stop being witless.

At 10:22 PM, May 17, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There have been Americans, missionaries even, threatened and killed in Central America because the local yokels think there's a plot to steal their kids for organ harvesting.
What some people will believe is unbelievable.

But you can't build your policy around the known morons, because either the powers-that-be will use them as tools to tie you up, or you'll get blind-sided by a bunch even more moronic than the folks you were originally trying not to offend.

At 10:23 PM, May 17, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone at Newsweek who failed to realize the effect even a rumor of desecrating the Koran would have must be so incompetent that he/she is unworthy of being a reporter. Do they not know that Muslims execute people merely for "insulting Islam", and that they are absolutely paranoid about their so called religion? Bush and Cheney are so incompetent they should be impeached, if only for lying and for failing to even begin to understand that Muslims are a "red ant's nest" and stepping on the nest would create reaction that makes the Viet Cong seem like pansies.

At 1:29 AM, May 18, 2005, Blogger Emmunah said...

There are many muslims who abhor these people, they are mostly Kurds, but there are others. No, I'm not making excuses...but neither are many muslims. just visit for the condemnation.

One of the bravest critics of these crazy people I've read is a Muslim in Iran, also a kurd though, at I's easy to see a bunch of illiterate people, who probably do not understand how a real toilet works (and how unlikely it is that a book would go down the toilet), but they are the extremists, they are the illiterate and they are really looking for a reason to riot anyway.

I just do not want to be as intolerant as those we are fighting against. Some say that's too nice, but I would build bridges wherever I can rather than group all people into one group to demonize.

I know that Christians and Jews have their own fundamentalist wings, maybe there is no "riot" but it gets close to nutty when people get too fundamentalist. I know Jews have done some questionable things, but I defend them, or at least I do not go out and critisize them openly because I figure they are already getting attacked from everyone else. Yet, in my head I'm rolling my eyes in embarrassement at some of the things we do, and some of the things Americans do. So, we aren't exactly willing to condemn our crazies either.

I applaud the Muslims that are trying and I give them a LOT of credit. It may only be 50, but those 50 are the beginning, and I'm not going to minimize their voices, instead I'm going to applaud them, talk to them and join them. Like the organization Muslims against Terrorism...very brave people. The more we give them credit for their efforts, the more Muslims will join them.

At 12:45 PM, May 18, 2005, Blogger troutsky said...

The Koran story was simply the spark that set the smoldering fire ablaze. In case none of you noticed, Muslims are a little upset about some other issues, some going back a long ways ,some a little more recent like military bases on sacred ground, ill treatment at Guantanamo, support for Israeli policies seen as oppressive etc..Some little details that probably just got by you because of the "liberal" media.

At 4:02 PM, May 18, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Troutsky. You left out the tragedy of Andalucia. There are more like that.

At 6:11 PM, May 18, 2005, Blogger BigFire said...

As for Newsweek, and the rest of MSM, any story that paints American military (and more importantly Bush) in bad light MUST be true, regardless of the eventual outcome. Getting Bush is the goal of the enlightened.

At 11:40 AM, May 19, 2005, Blogger troutsky said...

How about the staying power of these myths :Iraqis took the babies from incubators, or one of my favorites, returning Viet Nam vets were spit on. This is a powerful one that shapes US opinion: Arafat rejected a great deal at Camp David.I can hear the cries now, those are FACTS! but sourcing and references pull us into that murky area where knowledge and propoganda continually struggle.

At 4:40 PM, May 19, 2005, Blogger Rachel said...

I thought about the blood libel, too. And it's still going strong in the Middle East where there have been stories of Israelis kidnapping Palestinian children and drinking their blood. And then there's the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a recent hit miniseries on Egyptian TV.

At 9:22 PM, May 19, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Troutsky. The spit-upon vet story is true. Tough for you. There were, of course, many other acts of hostility and disrespect and actual assault, but the spitting captures the whole thing. And it was true
I suspect you know this, but if you keep repeating a lie long enough, we may get tired of refuting it, leaving the field to the more determined.
Not this time.

At 9:28 PM, May 19, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Forgot to mention:

My brother, Lt. James G. Aubrey, USAF, a C130 Nav, was killed in a crash on Taiwan in early October 1970.

My father mentioned, for the first time, several months ago, that he and my mom got harassing phone calls saying Jim had gotten what he deserved.

No myth, sport.

With Caller ID, now, it's a lot tougher.

At 7:18 AM, May 20, 2005, Blogger fojalla said...


Now that the white, blinding rage has subsided... What a vivid image!

You certainly put me in my place and thanks for all the valuable insights...

It is so nice to know that you Spartan-like rush to justify the war and the loss of life using the majority voting of a group of waffling Washington millionaires whose moral authority and personal values reflect the shifting winter winds on the Chesapeake in January.

Oh to be so young, heroic and naive.

It is so good to know that you have gone through your entire life with singular purpose never driven to question the popular notion. How can one be more comforted than to know that the one true God is on your side! Ah, back to the Crusades. Where men were men and idiocy prevailed.

You love to quote... Permit me...

”The terrorist attack committed on 9/11 was planned and executed by a stateless entity committed to the mass murder of any human outside their religion and the eventual destruction of western civilization.”

I cheer you on making a statement so terribly direct and yet so uncompromisingly ignorant as well. How could we live without your succinct yet sweeping generalization? I guess you felt a surge of self-righteousness flow through your lower extremities when you were finished sending your comment.

By the way, I didn't have the privilege of a public education nor the luxury of a pop culture like so many of you yanks. Although I do particularly like the Beach Boys.

At 9:25 AM, May 20, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fojalla. I believe the gentleman was paraphrasing the mission statement of the Islamofascists.

I say, take them at their word.

Or we could condescendingly conclude the wogs are always running on about something and there's no need to take them seriously.

At 9:51 AM, May 20, 2005, Blogger fojalla said...

I never had the chance to read over their mission statement. I never even saw their annual report for that matter. Do they also have an employee handbook?

Where did you people find this language?

A paraphrased mission statement? Give me a break...

The statement libels all muslims and I don't even like religions ...

At 10:05 AM, May 20, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The statement never said a thing about "all Muslims" as you know, since you can read.
You therefore deliberately misrepresented the statement. There must have been a goal to the misrepresentation, but since you misrepresent it to me, who made it, I'm not sure I see what you intended to accomplish. Other than reveal another facet of your argument.

Anyway, the Islamofascists want to destroy the non-Islamic societies and take over.

You can pretend they don't say this sort of thing, but what the goal of that preposterous view would be is also unclear.

Perhaps you hope to encounter someone who got loose from a group home and may believe you.

Or perhaps you think the Islamofascists are just gassing on.

BTW. You are the one who equated "all Muslims" with Islamofascists.

At 10:25 AM, May 20, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the latest iteration--if I am keeping up--see a demonstration in London.
Kill Bush. Bomb New York. Signs saying Islam will rule, Islam will not be superceded.

This, of course, represents a tiny minority, exceeded in tininess only by the tinier minority who showed up in Washington for a rally of Muslims Against Terror. That was about fifty folks.

At 1:41 AM, May 21, 2005, Blogger TmjUtah said...

It is so nice to know that you Spartan-like rush to justify the war and the loss of life using the majority voting of a group of waffling Washington millionaires whose moral authority and personal values reflect the shifting winter winds on the Chesapeake in January.

I lost my first close friend to terrorism in 1983. Five other guys I knew died that day, but they were only peers from boot camp.

And, Sport, the waffling Washington millionaires are there because they were elected by a constitutionally controlled process.

And where do you get "rush" from? We spent the nineties ensuring stability for the world oil price at the expense of several tens of billions of dollars and several hundred thousand dead Iraqis.

I cheer you on making a statement so terribly direct and yet so uncompromisingly ignorant as well. How could we live without your succinct yet sweeping generalization? I guess you felt a surge of self-righteousness flow through your lower extremities when you were finished sending your comment.

It's not often I get called ignorant by someone so blindingly capable of making an informed judgement.

Where's the references to the crusades in my post? Or the One True God?


I'm an infidel. I don't have to WANT anything from them. Don't have to support any program to CHANGE them. Don't even have to wipe my ass with a Koran.

The animus of fundamentalist Islam is a direct result of a totalitarian theocratic dogma running up against systems that work. Not work better, but simply work. The last Islamic Empire (the Ottomans) slid quietly into third world curiosity status about the time their neighbors attained the society and technology to keep the numeric superiority of the Turks & associated minions in a box.

They have to jihad. Hell, they don't have a life at all otherwise.

If it is a "popular notion" to pay attention to people who have repeatedly murdered friends, fellow citizens, random foreigners of all flavors, and even get mulligans for slaughtering their own "believers" if they MEAN to kill infidels...

... call me a slave to popular notion then. I guess you've got another mechanism for living as a target.

At 1:43 PM, May 23, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What Loyal means is that the Iraqis' fate may be anything but that which is enabled by the US.

Hitler was a home-grown tyrant, as were Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot.

Whether or not Hitler was elected as we understand it, or got his post by combining street violence and parliamentary manuvering is not an unimportant question, but the fact is that the German population supported him practically until Allied troops overran their particular homes.

Loyal probably thinks Arabs choose to be oppressed. Sort of like the battered wife who keeps returning to the batterer.


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