Saturday, June 18, 2005

Dhimmi Savages

The West is hastening and intensifying its own dhimmitude in the war between Modernity and fascist reaction by appeasing the fascist Moslem umma on the one hand, and by cheerleading and pimping on the other; and both reactions come from our misguided Humanist traditions, our ignorance of why we believe and think the ideas we think we own. Many of our ideas are borrowed, and we should consider returning them for a wash. Our Humanist traditions are vitiated by a clear misunderstanding of their origins and by comtemporary deliberate misuse by the conflated fascist Left/Right reactionaries.

The three introductory pieces below show how the post-socialist Left, having lost its 19th century industrial proletarian constituency, has picked up a new group of 'victims' to keep itself in business; and how the Right, generally blinkered and ignorant of anything beyond tax return figures, having no clue as to how and why people live in other places, has fallen into the false nostalgia of "Religion of Peace" must mean that it's religion, which is good prima facia and good per se.

Welcome to the New Age, same as the Stone Age.

The sentimentalists of the middle, i.e. most Westerners, must come to terms with the bifurcation of Humanity to make a clear decision which side it is they are following. Many good-intentioned dhimmis in the West follow the ludicrous idea that there was some Golden Age that we Moderns have destroyed, and that we must preserve and protect the noble savages from losing what little of it they retain, losing it through our greed for oil, among other mineral and biochemical products. Our good intentions might possess us to care about the lives of others simply for the sake of the sanctity of Human life, but let's consider just what it is we think we are protecting, how, and why.

The following pieces deal primarily with Michel Montaigne's idea of the "Noble Savage," an essay he wrote in 1580. Once we see that he created a phantasy world based on his own imaginings we might be more aware of our own imaginings of how others truly are, and from there we might see that life is not for them the state of Eden we might like to think. If not, then what is it? And what do we owe those we are obviously at war with? What do we owe ourselves? Why do we think colonialism is a bad thing, and that William Walker is a daemon? How did we arrive at the shores of the ideological swamp of philobarbarism that leads our intellectuals and leaders to think that somehow the primitives of the world are somehow superior to the West?

Look, if you will, at the following accounts of our ideas of cannibals.

[1] Of the sixteenth-century South American Cannibals, Montaigne informs us: "These nations...have been fashioned very little by the human mind, and are still very close to their original naturalness." Montaigne's writings predate Rousseau by almost two hundred years, and from Montaigne's essay "Of Cannibals", we can see that the myth of the Noble Savage has been around at least from Montaigne's age, if not before. There are two creative forces at work behind the Noble Savage: the naturalistic fallacy, and racism. Let us examine these two in turn.

All of us, I think, have fallen prey to the naturalistic fallacy-- the popular but logically untrue idea that "natural is good"-- at some point or another, in issues both banal (such as choosing a breakfast cereal) and more philosophical ("What is human nature?"). Our mistaken associations are complicated when we try to consider what, after all, it means for something to be natural.

When considering human nature-- in its "purest" form-- Montaigne has clear ideas about how the Noble Savage (in this instance, the Cannibal) lives up to our primeval selves:

The laws of nature still rule them, very little corrupted by ours, and they are in such a state of Purity that I am sometimes vexed that they were unknown earlier, in the days when there were men able to judge them better than we. ...This is a which there is no sort of traffic, no knowledge of letters, no science of numbers, no name for a magistrate or political authority, no custom of servitude, no riches or poverty, no contracts, no successions, no partitions, no occupations but leisure ones, no care for any but common kinship, no clothes, no agriculture, no metal, no use of wine or wheat. The very words that signify lying, treachery, dissimulation, avarice, envy, belittling, pardon-- unheard of.

In other words, a total lack of "civilization" is what has allowed for the apotheosis of the Cannibal. Montaigne, as well-meaning as he may have been, takes for granted the exagerrations and outright lies spread about indigenous Americans, and subjects them to a Eurocentric analysis of what a civilization is or is not. Especially interesting is his belief that lack of words for an idea precludes it existence (echoed in works such as Orwell's essay on "Newspeak" found at the end of "1984"), although we know now that these peoples of course had words for all of the basic human vices, and were not limited in their application of them.

[2] Michel de Montaigne: On Cannibals (1580)
The discovery of so many new lands in the Renaissance had less impact on most Europeans than one might suppose. They were largely absorbed in recovering (and competing with) their own classical past and engaging in violent theological and political disputes among themselves. Yet some Europeans were profoundly shaken by the new discoveries into realizing that much of the world thought and lived very differently from what was then known as "Christendom." No writer was more strongly moved to view his own society from a new perspective in the light of reports brought back of the habits of the natives of the "New World" than Michel de Montaigne. He began a long tradition of using non-European peoples as a basis for engaging in a critique of his own culture, undoubtedly in the process romanticizing what Jean-Jacques Rousseau would later call "the noble savage." It is a theme which still appeals to many Westerners.

What reason does Montaigne give for judging cannibalistic Native Americans to be preferable to Europeans?

When King Pyrrhus invaded Italy, after he had reconnoitered the armed forces that the Romans had sent out against him, he said, "I don't know who these barbarians are"--for the Greeks called all foreign peoples barbarians--"but the organization of the army I see before me is not at all barbaric." The Greeks said the same when Flaminius invaded their country, as did Philip, when he saw from a hill the orderly layout of the Roman camp which had been set up in his kingdom under Publius Sulpicius Galba. These examples illustrate how one must avoid accepting common prejudices: opinions must be judged by means of reason, and not by adopting common opinion.

I had with me for a long time a man who had lived for ten or twelve years in this other world which has been discovered in our time, in the place where Villegaignon landed, which he named Antarctic France (1). This discover of an enormous land seems to me to be worth contemplating. I doubt that I could affirm that another such may not be discovered in the future, since so many greater people than I were mistaken about this one. I'm afraid that our eyes are bigger than our stomachs, and that we have more curiosity than comprehension. We try to embrace everything but succeed only in grasping the wind.

. . . I do not find that there is anything barbaric or savage about this nation, according to what I've been told, unless we are to call barbarism whatever differs from our own customs. Indeed, we seem to have no other standard of truth and reason than the opinions and customs of our own country. There at home is always the perfect religion, the perfect legal system--the perfect and most accomplished way of doing everything. These people are wild in the same sense that fruits are, produced by nature, alone, in her ordinary way. Indeed, in that land, it is we who refuse to alter our artificial ways and reject the common order that ought rather to be called wild, or savage, (2) In them the most natural virtues and abilities are alive and vigorous, whereas we have bastardized them and adopted them solely to our corrupt taste. Even so, the flavor and delicacy of some of the wild fruits from those countries is excellent, even to our taste, better than our cultivated ones. After all, it would hardly be reasonable that artificial breeding should be able to outdo our great and powerful mother, Nature. We have so burdened the beauty and richness of her works by our innovations that we have entirely stifled her. Yet whenever she shines forth in her purity she puts our vain and frivolous enterprises amazingly to shame.

Et veniunt ederæ sponte sua melius,
surgit et in solis formosior arbutus antris,
et volucres nulla dulcius arte canunt. (3)

All our efforts cannot create the nest of the tiniest bird: its structure, its beauty, or the usefulness of its form; nor can we create the web of the lowly spider. All things, said Plato are produced by nature, chance, or human skill, the greatest and most beautiful things by one of the first two, the lesser and most imperfect, by the latter.

These nations seem to me, then, barbaric in that they have been little refashioned by the human mind and are still quite close to their original naiveté. They are still ruled by natural laws, only slightly corrupted by ours. They are in such a state of purity that I am sometimes saddened by the thought that we did not discover them earlier, when there were people who would have known how to judge them better than we. It displeases me that Lycurgus or Plato didn't know them, for it seems to me that these peoples surpass not only the portraits which poetry has made of the Golden Age and all the invented, imaginary notions of the ideal state of humanity, but even the conceptions and the very aims of philosophers themselves. They could not imagine such a pure and simple naiveté as we encounter in them; nor would they have been able to believe that our society might be maintained with so little artifice and social structure.

This is a people, I would say to Plato, among whom there is no commerce at all, no knowledge of letters, no knowledge of numbers, nor any judges, or political superiority, no habit of service, riches, or poverty, no contracts, no inheritance, no divisions of property, no occupations but easy ones, no respect for any relationship except ordinary family ones, no clothes, no agriculture, no metal, no use of wine or wheat. The very words which mean "lie," "treason," "deception," "greed," "envy," "slander" and "forgiveness" are unknown. How far his imaginary Republic would be from such perfection:

viri a diis recentes (4)

Hos natura modos primum dedit. . . . (5)

They have their wars against peoples who live beyond their mountains, further inland, to which they go entirely naked, bearing no other arms that bows and sharpened stakes like our hunting spears. The courage with which they fight is amazing: their battles never end except through death of bloodshed, for they do not even understand what fear is. Each one carries back as a trophy the head of the enemy that he has skilled, and hangs it up at the entrance to his home. After having treated their prisoners well for a long time, giving them all the provisions that they could one, he who is the chief calls a great assembly of his acquaintances. He ties a rope to one of the arms of the prisoner and on the other end, several feet away, out of harm's way, and gives to his best friend the arm to hold; and the two of them, in the presence of the assembled group, slash him to death with their swords. That done, they roast him and eat him together, sending portions to their absent friends. They do this, not as is supposed, for nourishment as did the ancient Scythians; it represents instead an extreme form of vengeance. The proof of this is that when they saw that the Portuguese, who had allied themselves with their adversaries, when they executed their captives differently, burying them up to the waist and firing numerous arrows into the remainder of the body, hanging them afterward, they viewed these people from another world, who had spread the knowledge of many vices among their neighbors, and who were much more masterly than they in every sort of evil, must have chosen this sort of revenge for a reason. Thinking that it must be more bitter than their own, they abandoned their ancient way to imitate this one.

I am not so concerned that we should remark on the barbaric horror of such a deed, but that, while we quite rightly judge their faults, we are blind to our own. I think it is more barbaric to eat a man alive than to eat him dead, to tear apart through torture and pain a living body which can still feel, or to burn it alive by bits, to let it be gnawed and chewed by dogs or pigs (as we have no only read, but seen, in recent times, not against old enemies but among neighbors and fellow-citizens, and--what is worse--under the pretext of piety and religion. (6) Better to roast and eat him after he is dead.

Translated by Paul Brians

The following essay provides more detail and insight into the dhimmi intellectual mind:


White men have been thinking about Indians since Columbus sailed into the Caribbean in the late fifteenth century, but seldom in that long period have they paid much attention to the real Indian. They have, instead, been interested largely in themselves and as a consequence most conceptions of the native people have been extensions of the European and American imaginations.

Columbus saw the Indians as savages, an idea derived from ancient thinking that has persisted into the current century. From that early perception later generations have drawn a host of equally wrong-headed notions of what constituted the native world. The Indian, for example, has been seen as an agent of untethered violence, a hapless victim, a member of a vanishing race, a moral exemplar, a repository of ecological wisdom, a source of constitutional lore, and the harbinger of a New Age. Needless to say, none of these descriptions quite fits the real Indian and most of them are far wide of the mark.

Thus no vision of the Indian has endured longer or been the source of as much scholarly or popular mischief as the savage, in both its noble and ignoble form. After the appearance of the new world on the European horizon, Montaigne in the late sixteenth century offered the most apt definition of the noble side of this creature. He painted a picture of pristine innocence set against the common features of European civilization. In fact the picture was blank. He described a native world devoid of letters, numbers, politics, property, commerce, farming, and political order, in which humanity contrived to be at the same time both idle and prosperous. In the middle of the next century Hobbes reversed the image, describing its ignoble form. Using most of Montaigne’s categories (he added the absence of society which Montaigne had only implied), Hobbes portrayed a scene of unrelieved human misery and viciousness presided over by the grinding fear of violent death. Neither conception added anything to anthropological clarity. Human beings are not blank slates and the societies they construct are not empty vessels doomed never to be filled. American Indians inhabited a world strikingly different from the life transplanted in the New World from Europe, but it was not a world without parts. It was a genuine way of life and not simply an antic appendage of the European experience.

Although the idea of the savage in both its forms has pervaded European and American thinking about the Indian, a rough division in usage can be made between the two sides. The noble savage has usually been the possession of the intellectuals, often enough those who have experienced little contact with the native people. The obvious exceptions support the generalization. The ignoble savage idea proved more congenial to those people who lived on the border between the two societies and hence experienced closer contact. Rivalry for land and war no doubt fueled this attitude. Thomas Jefferson’s career makes the point. Although he never lived near Indian country or even visited it, when most of the warriors joined the British in the Revolutionary War, he made his views of Indian savagery clear in the Declaration of Independence and later recommended their extermination. But after the Revolution, in the quiet of his study, he often fell into the ways of the intellectual and compared his own society unfavorably to the life lived by the noble Indians. By the close of the nineteenth century when the Indian wars had died down and the warrior was no longer a danger, the ignoble savage gradually went out of style. But the noble savage, with his claim to innocence and virtue, persisted and has fed the twentiety-century appetite for victims.

One could hardly dispute the native people’s claim to victimhood. After the arrival of European settlers the native population declined precipitously, their land base dwindled, and eventually their cultural integrity collapsed. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the remaining independent tribes were confined to reservations and became wards of the government. No doubt part of this process could be laid at the feet of Europeans. They intended to displace the Indians on the greater part of their lands, and from the earliest years they sought the transformation of native culture. It was not until the 1930s that the federal government abandoned assimilation as the basis of its Indian policy and decided to preserve the Indians in their native ways. But by any measure the most serious factor in native decline, the catastrophic drop in population from about seven million (the high estimate) north of Mexico at the time of discovery to approximately a half million in 1900 could not be attributed to the purposive actions of white men. Instead it was the unwitting transfer to America of maladies, mainly smallpox and various respiratory diseases, that Indians had never before experienced, that dealt the most serious blow to native population. Warfare, though frequent enough between the two societies, trailed as a distant second. Many whites were no doubt pleased at the drop in native numbers and some even suggested that the process be encouraged, but the spread of disease could not generally be attributed to deliberate actions.

Although victims of a sort and for long periods of time apparently on the road to extinction, the Indians never quite vanished. They fought with Europeans and among themselves at regular intervals, but except in certain limited circumstances the death toll was never high. In fact it was usually higher among the whites. Of course white numbers could better afford the loss. Over the long term alcohol, which Indians in North America had never possessed, spread devastation. It became indispensable in the Indian trade and all measures by both the British and American governments to curb its sale proved futile. From the beginning the Indians found European products attractive, but they tended to adopt them to their own uses. In time, however, this transfer of cultural artifacts worked subtle changes in native life. Indians became more and more dependent on trade with the whites to supply the goods they required to make their way in this new environment. To take one example, the Indians soon discovered the efficiency of muskets in hunting and war. But they had no tradition of metallurgy and thus depended on white gunsmiths for repair of these fragile instruments. Nor could they make powder themselves, which gave the Europeans a critical measure of control over Indian activity.

Neither the British empire nor the American government sought the extermination of the native people. On the contrary from the beginning assimilation had been the intention. Though not without its successes, assimilation never seemed to fully triumph over Indian resistance and the deleterious consequences of European presence in America. Decline in population, a shrinking land base, chronic alcoholism, and growing dependence all undercut much of the hope for the incorporation of Indians into the white man’s world. By the first half of the nineteenth century, collapse and malaise seemed far more characteristic of the tribes east of the Mississippi than assimilation. Within the next half century the process largely repeated itself west of the river, though intermarriage, government schools, missionary efforts, and migration into the cities once again afforded a measure of success. In the twentieth century policy moved from assimilation to preservation, turning great numbers of Indians into welfare clients.

It is important to observe that societies do not disintegrate simply because they are assaulted by powerful external forces. They collapse to some extent because of internal weakness. Indians faced an aggressive European culture with stone-age technology, weak political organization, extraordinary susceptibility to disease, low resistance to alcoholism, and finally an animism that left them a limited capacity to accommodate adversity. They depended on shamans to mediate between the spirit world and the immediate human situation. With the coming of Europeans, shamans found it increasingly difficult to stave off the risk of pollution. For many Indians the very order of reality lost its stable core.

In the late twentieth century this doleful story caused much anguish among intellectuals and reformers, who unhappy with their own world were prompted to stress the responsibility of Europeans and to exaggerate the virtue of the native people who had endured so much suffering, thus raising the level of the white man’s guilt. As Johann Huizenga described the process: “A culture wishing to be free of itself experiences a perpetual longing for the uncivilized.” As a consequence many historians, Wilcomb Washburn and James Axtell come to mind, sought evidence of noble savagery in the native way of life. They didn’t find quite the social void that Montaigne had led them to expect, but they did discover a number of traits that matched liberal moral and social ideals. Indians, they contended, were free, equal, democratic, pacifist, feminist, sexually uninhibited, ecologically blessed and, curiously, happily communal and in touch with the primal energies that rule the universe.

As anthropology the project is largely worthless. Only the last point has much merit. The native people were indeed communal and believed themselves to be in league with the spirit forces that governed the universe. Most Indians were organized socially into clans and small villages, united by kinship. But that is about all that can be said for these recent interpretations. Take the other supposed native traits in turn.

Indians might have been free before the European encounter in the sense that they were generally not dominated by a foreign power. But it must be noted that in the seventeenth century the Iroquois in the northeast held sway over the remnants of a dozen or so conquered tribal groups, as did Powhatan in Virginia and the Natchez on the lower Mississippi. Otherwise Indians were not free in the way that European settlers in America were to try to become after the eighteenth century. They remained bound by communal and kinship obligations, very different from the contractual arrangements that increasingly characterized the lives of their white neighbors. Equality, of course, involved a similar set of definitions. It implied individualism, the separation of the person from organic and historical ties, a personal autonomy quite foreign to Indian conceptions. Although native societies were not steeply hierarchical as were European before the late eighteenth century, they were organized vertically. Authority often rested loosely in family groups and could be hereditary. Although land was communal, personal property was not. Even the potlach, which ended in the distribution of property, required a preliminary accumulation and, of course, established the prestige of the person responsible. Thus talk of freedom and equality among the Indians as though they were qualities of a life unencumbered by social boundaries makes no anthropological sense.

In the sense that democracy required individualism, the Indian tribes were hardly democratic. The issue here usually centers on the Iroquois League. This arrangement had been created in the late fifteenth century by the five Iroquoian tribes that lived in what was to become New York in order to end the strife that had been constant in the region. In the future instead of fighting among themselves, the Iroquois would be free to subjugate their neighbors. It was an alliance among independent groups and exercised no governing authority. Nor was it democratic. The Grand Council of the league contained unequal representation from each of the tribes, some of the members were hereditary and some appointed.

Could such an institution have served as the archtype of the Constitution? A number of historians think so. In the late eighties Congress thanked Iroquois for their contribution to the nation’s founding and in 1996 the William and Mary Quarterly devoted fifty of its pages to the subject. Not only did the argument in favor of the thesis prove to be extraordinarily thin, but the founders it turns out knew little about the structure of the League. The League itself bore no resemblance to the Constitution. If the founders had chosen to duplicate it, the American republic would certainly have been a very different kind of political order. The significance of this curious episode lies in the continued effort of many intellectuals to find what obtained among the Indians superior to their own ways.

There can be little doubt that Indian warfare, mainly because of the improvement in technology, became more destructive after the European arrival. But, at the same time, it is clear that native life before that date was fraught with violence. Young men gained their manhood by proving themselves in hunting and war. The Indians lived by the law of blood. Every injury required redress. Compensation might sometimes be made in goods, but more often it involved murder and mayhem. As a result native life was far from peaceful. In the wars of empire that engulfed the eastern half of the continent in the eighteenth century, neither the French nor the British had trouble finding Indian allies. In fact, the long history of conflict in North America seldom involved simply Indians against whites.

As for feminism, native culture did conform to one branch of the modern feminist movement. Women occupied a separate sphere. Village and domestic life belonged to them. But native societies were not matriarchal. They were, however, generally matrilineal east of the Mississippi, which gave to women, invariably older women, considerable influence in clan affairs. Sometimes this role spilled over into the political arena as, for example, in selecting the membership on the Grand Council of the Iroquois League. Clan mothers exercised a veto on membership. But they did not serve on the council, and they did not wield formal political power, even in the villages.

If Indians were sexually unrestrained, they would certainly be an exception among primitive people. Lack of inhibition seems more characteristic of civilization, or decadence, than of native cultures. It is true that early explorers found an ample supply of what they called trade women, but this practice was probably more indicative of the requirements of hospitality and the status of women than any tendency toward excessive sexual freedom. In truth Indians lived by strict rules concerning sex. They were monogamous and punished adultery by women severely, sometimes with mutilation. The menses held sacred meaning, and women at that time of month posed a serious threat to the future success of hunters and warriors. Although warriors from the eastern tribes regularly took female captives in their raids on both whites and Indians, they did not engage in rape, not because they had any particular respect for women but because of the taboo that attached to sexual activity during periods of conflict. Clearly Indians did not live by the sexual rules that bound Europeans, but neither did they enjoy the mythic promiscuity attributed to the noble savage.

Do the Indians deserve their reputation for ecological wisdom? Certainly they made a less significant mark on their environment than the Europeans who came after them. For one thing, their numbers were far fewer. Some seven million stone-age people living in the vast stretches of the continent north of Mexico were not likely to greatly change the character of the land. Yet it remains true that any human population, no matter its size, will leave traces of itself. The Indians, for example, made generous use of fire, sometimes with salutary consequences but frequently in order to slaughter great numbers of animals or to defeat an enemy. And east of the Mississippi, in the Southwest, and in California they farmed the land. Early settlers in New England describe extensive acreage under cultivation. Native villages could hold numbers above a thousand with the attendant consequences for the surrounding landscape. The continent was far from an untouched Eden when the Europeans made their landings.

The argument for the ecological Indian hinges in great measure on the native belief in the sacral meaning of both animate and inanimate nature. This belief did require native people to hunt and to farm with care for the ceremonial niceties of their animism. But it did not keep them from cultivating expansively and moving on to new lands when they had worn out the old. Nor did it keep some tribes from using a Buffalo jump in hunting, or fire for mass kills, or stream poisoning to increase the take in fish. The ceremonial Indian was not necessarily the provident Indian.

In truth late twentieth-century interpretations that treat the Indians as an ideal may be a long way from Montaigne and Hobbes. The noble savage is but a pale reflection of the existential void so evident in the early years of discovery and settlement. For the current generation that venerable figure has become merely a convenient pawn against which to measure their own world. And in the process they do a great deal of violence to the real Indian. He is reduced to a parody of their own unfulfilled longings, a perverse kind of ideological imperialism that detaches the native people from their own culture and absorbs them into the white man’s struggle to be free of his own discontent.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dhimmitude: the Islamic system of governing populations conquered by jihad wars, encompassing all of the demographic, ethnic, and religious aspects of the political system. The word "dhimmitude" as a historical concept, was coined by Bat Ye'or in 1983 to describe the legal and social conditions of Jews and Christians subjected to Islamic rule. The word "dhimmitude" comes from dhimmi, an Arabic word meaning "protected". Dhimmi was the name applied by the Arab-Muslim conquerors to indigenous non-Muslim populations who surrendered by a treaty (dhimma) to Muslim domination. Islamic conquests expanded over vast territories in Africa, Europe and Asia, for over a millennium (638-1683). The Muslim empire incorporated numerous varied peoples which had their own religion, culture, language and civilization. For centuries, these indigenous, pre-Islamic peoples constituted the great majority of the population of the Islamic lands. Although these populations differed, they were ruled by the same type of laws, based on the shari'a.

This similarity, which includes also regional variations, has created a uniform civilization developed throughout the centuries by all non-Muslim indigenous people, who were vanquished by a jihad-war and governed by shari'a law. It is this civilization which is called dhimmitude. It is characterized by the different strategies developed by each dhimmi group to survive as non-Muslim entity in their Islamized countries. Dhimmitude is not exclusively concerned with Muslim history and civilization. Rather it investigates the history of those non-Muslim peoples conquered and colonized by jihad.

Dhimmitude encompasses the relationship of Muslims and non-Muslims at the theological, social, political and economical levels. It also incorporates the relationship between the numerous ethno-religious dhimmi groups and the type of mentality that they have developed out of their particular historical condition which lasted for centuries, even in some Muslim countries, till today.

Dhimmitude is an entire integrated system, based on Islamic theology. It cannot be judged from the circumstantial position of any one community, at a given time and in a given place. Dhimmitude must be appraised according to its laws and customs, irrespectively of circumstances and political contingencies.