by Frater πανταχού παρούσα κουκουβάγια
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
Jim Wasserman is a IX° OTO and arguably their most public figure, except perhaps Lon Milo DuQuette. Wasserman has appeared on the Discovery Channel, on George Noory’s Coast to Coast, in New Dawn magazine, and elsewhere representing Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO) and Thelema in general. What follows is commentary on this public figure’s public words.
Recently, the latest NOTOCON proceedings book was announced, collecting the lectures and essays from the previous year’s NOTOCON (the US national conference of OTO). Included is Jim Wasserman’s essay “The Roots of OTO in the Crusades“, which he previously had released online as a written essay.
Aside from giving constant full-throated endorsement of Donald Trump, Jim Wasserman has previously made controversial remarks, defending the right-wing marchers’ free speech at Charlottesville in 2017, photoshopping the faces of fellow OTO members who criticized him onto images of dogs, as well as other remarks about LGBTQ individuals that led him to make a public pseudo-apology. Clearly, this was bad enough that US OTO changed their Vision & Values statements very soon afterward to include explicit denouncements of prejudice and bigotry… But OTO did not think his comments and actions were sufficiently bad to stop promoting him and his work at the national level. They are not only inviting him to speak at NOTOCON but including his lecture in their proceedings book.
The unfortunate fact is that Wasserman’s lecture contains historically inaccurate depictions and littered with common right-wing tropes of Islamophobia (and Christian-centrism). This is not a one-off case: Wasserman has written at least 4 books on the Crusades, and I don’t think it would be entirely out of line to suggest that he seems to have an infatuation with the Knights Templar.
The Knights Templar are, of course, one of many sources of symbolism for both Freemasonry and OTO. There is no denying that. OTO absolutely draws from Templar history, myths, and symbolism. However, Wasserman has a unique focus on the Templars. There is a parallel in white nationalists’ adoption of Templar imagery and language, largely because they are seen as conquerors and “repellers” of Islam. For example, in 2011, a far-right terrorist Anders Behring Breivik shot and killed 69 people. Breivik wrote a 1,518-page manifesto entitled 2083: A European Declaration of Independence which, on the front, bears the unmistakable symbol of the Knights Templar:
A cover with a resemblance to at least one of Wasserman’s books:
We are not equating the two but note that they are both drawing from the same source of far-right militancy equating with the Knights Templar. This connection between Templar imagery and far right-wing militants has been noticed by many people. One article notes:
“Hate groups’ attempts to link modern Islamophobia to the Crusades plays off of ‘a much older, 19th-century style of scholarship which portrayed the Crusades in a very specific way,’ Gabriele says. This older scholarship framed the Crusades as a ‘Christian defensive war against an aggressive, expansionistic Islam.’ Hate groups use this narrative of the Crusades to say, as Gabriele puts it, ‘‘Look what happened then; it’s happening again now.” Only it’s not happening now; and it didn’t happen that way then, either, scholars say…”“How Hate Groups are Hijacking Medieval Symbols While Ignoring the Facts Behind Them”; quote from Matthew Gabriele, a professor of medieval and early modern studies at Virginia Tech; see also, “Islamophobes want to re-create the Crusades. But they don’t understand them at all.“
Their commonality is viewing the world in this way. We should also note that the right-wing works in “dog whistles”, in statements and images that have plausible deniability. One can always then pretend like the racism or xenophobia was “just a joke” or the person pointing it out is just a bit too sensitive.
It is no surprise that Wasserman’s teacher and mentor, J. Daniel Gunther, includes almost a full page of Fox News-style Islamophobia and conflation of radical Islam with all Muslims in Angel & the Abyss (pg. 158-9). Gunther excludes Sufis as peaceful but then includes all Muslims in the strong statement: “I cannot emphasize strongly enough that the so-called ‘politically correct’ statement that ‘Islam is a peaceful religion’ is a damnable lie,” he says of the 1.8 billion practitioners of Islam around the world which account for a quarter of the entire human population. Note he does not qualify it with “radical” or “extremist” or “terrorism” and makes sure to tell you how strongly he feels. There is, of course, no similar treatment of colonial Christianity (or any other religion), or right-wing terrorism. We might note that Right-wing terrorists killed three times more people in US than Islamists in past decade with attacks soaring in 2018. If anything, apologies are made for the Catholic Church and its misdeeds, as we will see in Wasserman’s essay/lecture.
Now we turn to Wasserman’s essay “The Roots of OTO in the Crusades.” Naturally, there are literally no sources cited throughout this “historical” essay. In it we will find extreme oversimplifications and cherry-picking of historical facts to paint Islam as an evil scourge and the Templar and the Church as the saviors of civilization, just like in the quote above. He writes:
“With the fall of Rome in the sixth century, however, the period popularly known as the Dark Ages began in the West. Superstition and religion replaced science and philosophy. Medical knowledge was limited to women, Arabs, and Jews.”The Roots of OTO in the Crusades
Anyone who studies history outside of new-age pseudo-history books will know that the “Dark Ages” is a term that is no longer used by historians because there was objectively no such thing and it carries an inaccurate, pejorative connotation. It is the academic consensus that this is essentially a myth that started as early as the 14th century:
“In terms of the sources of information available, this is most certainly not a Dark Age… Over the last century, the sources of evidence have increased dramatically, and the remit of the historian (broadly defined as a student of the past) has expanded correspondingly.”Fouracre, Paul (ed). (2005). The New Cambridge Medieval History: Volume 1.
The historian Snyder refers to the “so-called Dark Ages,” noting that:
“Historians and archaeologists have never liked the label Dark Ages … there are numerous indicators that these centuries were neither ‘dark’ nor ‘barbarous’ in comparison with other eras.”Snyder, Christopher A. (1998). An Age of Tyrants: Britain and the Britons A.D. 400–600.
Clearly, Wasserman is perpetuating this ahistorical myth in order to put forward an oversimplified narrative. It appears to be a perpetuation of the idea mentioned earlier, the narrative that Christianity represents humanity, civilization, and uprightness whereas outsiders, especially Islam, are viewed as uncivilized and morally corrupt. Wasserman continues:
While its prohibitions against bathing led even the most wealthy to develop skin disease and infestations by vermin, the Church was the primary civilizing influence among the rude tribes of the north.The Roots of OTO in the Crusades
Choice of language is a very interesting indicator into the state of mind of the speaker. The Church was the “primary civilizing influence” among the uncivilized “rude tribes” of the north. It is the classic language of “othering,” the language of dehumanizing the outsiders. The Western Catholic Church is the upright and civilized force, and the others are dark and scary others who have no real culture and bathe too much…
” As if to add insult to the injury of the Barbarian defeat of Rome, the scourge of Islam burst upon the world stage in the seventh century. “The Roots of OTO in the Crusades
Speaking of choice of language, we can clearly see Mr. Wasserman’s views when he speaks of “the scourge of Islam” and treating Islam as synonymous with insult. This seems an unambiguous endorsement of uncritical Islamophobia.
In 1291, the Crusades ended in defeat and the Templars returned to Europe where they were slandered with charges of heresy by political operatives—whose command of the Big Lie and Fake News is unrivalled even in modern times.The Roots of OTO in the Crusades
This is honestly really just a sad collection of right-wing buzzwords strung together to make a political jab at the expense of historical accuracy.
So what are we saying here? Jim Wasserman is clearly enamored with the Knights Templar and their imagery. Unfortunately it appears to be founded on an ahistorical reading of the Templar as being forces of Light against the Islamic forces of Darkness. It perpetuates a xenophobic understanding of Islam and an uncritical view of the history of the Church and the Templar.
It is sad because a different, almost opposite vision of the Templar is possible: a vision where the Knights Templar represent the connection between East and West, between Islam and Christianity. In this vision, the Knights Templar do not represent the “Civilized Man” fighting the “Uncivilized Scourge,” but the union of differing viewpoints, of peace between brethren of different religions, of learning from disparate systems…
This is what OTO’s actual heritage drawing from the Templar really means. In fact, in the introductory degree we are taught that even the sworn enemy may give hospitality and teach chivalry to weary travelers. The influence of Islam throughout the initiatory degrees of OTO is indeed explicit and extensive. Wasserman, of course, completely ignores this in a childish vision of the world as Templars good, Muslims bad. It ignores the “Tolerance” of OTO’s motto “Peace. Tolerance. Truth.” It ignores Mohammed as a Saint of the Gnostic Mass and of Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica. It ignores the union of Islam and Christian mysticism in the Man of Earth degrees of the initiatory system of which he is supposedly a representative. It ignores the “Oriental” in “Order of Oriental Templars,” which implies a union of East and West, not some holy war. All, really, for what? To put forward a modern, political, right-wing, intolerant viewpoint, cloaked in the imagery and language of the occult and “chivalry.” Well, as Liber AL says, “Veil not your vices in virtuous words.” And as Crowley said, “Intolerance is evidence of impotence.” I do not pretend to understand the source of this impotence that has infected the Thelemic community, but I stand against those who seek to infect the rest of us with it.
Love is the law, love under will.
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