Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Satanism, West and East

Dangerous Minds has recently been reporting on US hysteria over Satanism (I guess it's a Halloween season theme)? One of them is on a 1970 film, in the pseudo-documentary/ethnographic Mondo Cane vein, called Witchcraft '70. The other is about an evangelical preacher, Dr. Jerry Johnston, and a video he is in that dates from the late 1980s.

In both cases it is all moral panic: Satanism and animal sacrifice, human sacrifice, ritualistic sex, drug use and abuse, desecration of Christian symbols, and so on. In Witchcraft '70, it's hippies who are the focus, and we see nude hippy Satanists doing hallucinogenic drugs and a ritual that involves the violation of nubile young women. In the Johnston vid it is heavy metal music that is associated with the evils of Satanism. In both instances, Satanism is presented as a danger that threatens young people, and urges more sober adults to be on the look-out for the warning signs.

I presented a paper at the American Anthropological Association meetings in 2000 on the 1997 crackdown on Satanic heavy-metal fans in Egypt. I've never published the paper, but you can read an account of it here.

Below is a photo of one of several popular exposés of Satanism that I found in Cairo in summer 2000. This one is entitled: Satan Worship: Rituals of Sex and Blood.

As I am considering reworking the paper for eventual publication, I find it interesting to what degree the 1997 panic over heavy metal Satanism in Egypt (and another, much less hysterical one in 2012), Morocco in 2003, Lebanon in 1996-98 and 2002, and 2012, among others, have their ideological origins in the various panics over Satanism (probably dating from the late sixties) in the US. The discourse, East and West, is remarkably similar, as are the themes and motifs.

The big difference, of course, is that in the case of the US, the danger is internal, whereas in the Arab World, the danger is presented as external: Satanism is an alien, Western, sometimes Zionist, threat.

(Some of these issues are also discussed, of course, in Mark Levine's Heavy Metal Islam.)

More, inshallah, later.

P.S. added 11/11/13: I just came across this source on Egypt's heavy metal, which I've not yet read (but I just ordered the book on Interlibrary Loan): Benjamin J. Harbert, "Noise and its Formless Shadows: Egypt's Extreme Metal as Avant-Garde Nafas Dawsha," in Thomas Burkhalter et al, eds.,  The Arab Avant-Garde: Music, Politics, Modernity, Wesleyan University Press. (The book comes out this Wednesday!)

1 comment:

Hammer said...

Dear, Ted

In your discourse about the relationship between so-called 'Satanism' and the Arab world—or youth, in particular—it is pretty much a stretch of an effort to try pin this anticultural phenomenon that is based in antireligious dogmata. To wit, most Arabian Satanists are but a small-numbered groups of college kids (mainly girls, by the way, and increasingly high-school students right now); who come from wealthy families that are best to be described as 'disintegrative', with a knack for metal music.

There are no certain cultural emblematic signs to Satanism in the Arab world. Most ardent countries are those of the so-called 'western' Arabian states that are heavily influenced by France and Italy, like Tunisia, Algiers, and Morocco. As far as I can trace the early beginnings of this whole quasi-religious movement in the Arab world, it appeared first in Kuwait and Bahrain in the late 60's and early 70's; especially in underground 'safe houses' where young, US-UK-educated college Kuwaitis and Bahrainis came back from these countries 'westoxified' on a heady mixture of drugs, sex, and yes... this floundering mantra of early heavy metal music played by bands like Black Sabbath, and Iron Maiden. Other similar countries that saw a belated rise of such activities were Iran and Pakistan (the first have a notorious following of Satanism that stretches all the way to Pattaya, Thailand).

I met with many Arab Satanists during my college days and some were my close acquaintances, of whose only deliberation was how they wanted to side with Satan being a respectful fallen angel. In Jordan, for example, and some parts of Palestine (Ramallah, Jerusalem), the music is what matters and some bands have flourished during the mid-80's when most Jordanian and Palestinian families came back to the country after becoming well-to-do enough to raise their children with a certain amount of 'freedom'. This westernisation of normal, Muslim (and to a certain extent Christian) kids became a fashion statement that people in the region would adhere to (i.e. thick mascara, batcave ankle-boots, black wrist bands and chokers, angst bunny poses and such gothic/metal insignia). Few are those (if any), who take up Satanism as, say those in Scandinavian countries do to a religious level. Almost nobody knows about its origins that can be traced to the mid-1800's, or how modern rock-and-roll bands like the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin were actually strict followers of Crowleyism.

Finally, the police acts only when the persons in questions are not sons of important persona or are related in anyway to those in the ruling seat (like the case with Morocco). In 2012, a huge hubbub erupted as members of the parliament started discussing Satanists in their hearings in Jordan, with 'horror' stories of mutilations and blood offerings and paganistic sacrifices blown out of all proportions after a simple Halloween party in one of the capital's richest parts (Abdoun: See this video ).