Friday, January 07, 2005

Finished two books while on my trip. One was Veiled Sentiments, a cultural anthropologist's account of her feildwork among Bedouins in Western Egypt. A couple of things really stood out here. One was that the society functioned in a stable and fairly happy way with a very high degree of gender segregation without the women seeming to feel like they were being mistreated. Studies like this need to be considered by those who find "misogyny" in biblical texts. Patriarchalism, and perhaps even sexism (in the sense that males would consider themselves in some way morally superior to females), but not really hatred of women.

The other aspect was the role poetry plays in Bedouin society. Abu-Lughod quotes a number of ghinnawas--short two line poems--she heard and recorded in her field work. The interesting part was that that "meaning" of the poem in that society was almost entirely a function of the social context. To put this in another, perhaps more comprehensible way, when she would ask someone what a certain poem meant, they would invariably respond by asking who said it.

The second book was a short paperback entitled Who is For Peace, made up of three fairly short essays on war and peace, occasioned by the 1983 Catholic bishops pastoral letter on the subject. On the whole the book was very disappointing. Francis Schaeffer wrote the first essay where he equates the ability to demonstrate strength with the obligation to somehow use violence to protect the weak. He does not really go to any length to show how this might be effective, draws a caricature of pacifism as the "do nothing" option, and provides no specifically Chirstian analysis of the problem despite calling his position a "Christian Worldview".

The second, and longest, essay was Vladimir Bukovsky's. He retold some of the horror pepetuated by the Soviet Empire and accused the peace movement of acting as an agent for the furtherance of totalitarianism. His statements, while seeming a little dated now, did have plenty of weight to them, since he showed that many of these "peace" movements were funded by the Soviets themselves, taking advantage of the desire to avoid violence on the part of the liberal West. My only response to much of this was that truth telling all around was certainly called for, rather than the intentional blindness many leftists seemed to have in the 20th century, but that that is not by itself a reason to oppose non-violence.

The third essay, and certainly the most rigorous, was James Hitchcock's analysis of the Catholic bishops letter itself. He argued that the whole thing was disingenuous. Part of his evidence was that the letter equated war and abortion (seeming to show that being a good catholic would involve opposing both of these), and yet it was received gleefully in many qurters where abortion was sacrosanct without raising any eyebrows. All in all this was the only portion of the book I found interesting at all. Was hoping to find a bit more intelligent interaction from some sort of just-war perspective, but I guess I'll have to look elsewhere.

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