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The Scandal of Arming America
Well sir I am disgusted with absolutist Christians ['The Scandal of Arming, America," January/February]. Now how does that statement sit with you? Don't like it then you ought to think before you open your mouth next time. Semper Fidelis, Semper Vigilante, Semper Paratus! Always Faithful, Always Vigilant, Always Ready!
Nea/ Seaman www.GunControlVict6ries.com
Your Mea Culpa goes nowhere near far
enough .There are few "gun rights absolutists" among the activists I know. Most of us are people who value freedom and are deeply suspicious of gun regulations that have little or no value to reduce violence and may actually increase violence. We gun owners expect a modicum of intelligence combined with the ineffective record of firearm regulation should convince gun control proponents their cause is worthless. Because these control advocates persist in error, we suspect their motives. It is much the same with history writers and reviewers.
We also expect a modicum of intelligence (and diligence) in those who pretend to knowledge of history—especially reviewers. Intellectuals have been despised in other societies because they had demonstrated that they were lazy or had ideological axes to grind. You have -condemned pro-gun advocates for the very intellectual dishonesties that you and others have displayed by approving Bellesiles's book. In this new review you continue to cast sly aspersions on the group that proved to be right. Why should we not be angry at the obvious sloth and dishonesty displayed in fawning reviews of Bellesiles's book? Yet, you chose to focus on the anger and use it for an excuse to persist in error.
In your current review you didn't even mention the one case (the San Francisco probate records) that most condemned Bellesiles because the records he claimed to analyze don't exist—they were destroyed in the great earthquake in 1906. Bellesiles invented the data. You lament Bellesiles's ruining of his career. Lament instead the death of credibility for you intellectuals. It will be a long time before your opinions will count for much.
From a disgusted liberal (Kennedy) Democrat and Right to Keep and Bear Arms activist.
Philip F. Lee, Silver Spring,, Md.
I recently read your thoughtful retrospective re your earlier review of Bellesiles's Arming, America. My primary purpose in writing is to commend you for possessing—and demonstrating—the integrity that is required to write such a piece. In a broader sense, perhaps it is a sad commentary on our present society that such integrity would be considered
unusual, but that's another issue in itself.
I would like to comment on one point that you made, however; that, regarding Bellisiles, "it seems likely that ultimately his career will be ruined. That is the saddest aspect of this whole episode." I beg to differ.
It is sad, perhaps, to see a career in shambles, but in this case, it is not entirely undeserved. As you pointed out in the piece, there is an inherent trust on the part of the academic community toward the work of one's fellows. What is, therefore, to me the saddest part of this whole episode is that Mr. Bellesiles, in what could only have been by design, clearly violated that trust with the intent of promoting a personal/political agenda.
Jim Noble, Boulder Creels, Calif
Ignoring Eastern Christians?
I looked forward to Gabriel Reynolds s description of Christian views of Muhammad ["Muhammad Through Christian Eyes," January/February], hoping that at least a BOOKS & CULTURE contributor wouldn't make the elementary mistake of conflating "Christian" with "Western European." What a disappointment! While regaling us with block quotes from outspoken non-Christians like Gibbon and Voltaire, he completely ignored the long history of Eastern Christian writing about Muhammad, including the historians Sebeos and Ghewond among the Armenians, Bar Hebraeus among the Oriental Orthodox Syrians, and John Damascene among the Eastern Orthodox, despite the fact that the earlier Greek and Armenian sources supply important primary or almost primary data on Muhammad, a fact utilized in Patricia Crone's controversial Hagarism. It is a final token of his inattention to Eastern Christians that he still uses the obsolete and pejorative "Nestorian" for members of the Assyrian Church of the East, despite the unending protests from the church against this misleading title (www.cired.org).
Maybe next time a writer on Islam will have a broad enough mind to include the other Middle Easterners.
Christopher P. Atwood Indiana University, Bloomington, Ind.
Gabriel Reynolds replies:
I thank and commend Mr. Atwood for his comments on the piece. Indeed, the witness of Eastern Christians on Islam (including the life of Muhammad) is
undoubtedly of greater historical worth than that of Western Christians. The article, however, is limited to the history of Western Christian writings on Muhammad—and not as histories, but as mirrors through which we can see more about the West than about Muhammad. Mr. Atwood should also note that I use the term "Nestorian" only in the context of Tor Andrae's use in his scholarship of 1930. As the reader would notice in my other writings (my most recent article is entitled "A Medieval Islamic Polemic Against Certain Practices and Doctrines of the East Syrian Church: Introduction, Excerpts, and Commentary"), I am quite interested in the history of the Eastern Church's relation to the Islamic world and sympathetic to concerns over the prejudiced nature of terms such as "Nestorian," "monophysite," "Jacobite," and so on that have been used in the West to categorize Eastern "heresies."
One final note: on use of early Eastern Christian sources for the study of Islam, one should begin with R. Hoyland's Seeing Islam as Others Saw It, a book that is both more trustworthy as a work of history and more useful as a reference work than P. Crone's and M. Cook's Hagarism.