Monday, June 25, 2007
Constructive Criticism vs. Destructive Criticism
I was recently apprised of a rather intense, superficially extensive, and apparently long-standing critique of Robert Spencer’s mission and work (indeed, as will become apparent, of Spencer himself as well).
The person behind this critique goes by the name of “Rev. Jim Sutter” (a name that evokes a rather down-home twang, perhaps somewhat southeast of a Midwestern grain, endowing his campaign with perhaps a hint of true grit, as if to show that the salt of the earth roundabout the American Bible Belt can also stand shoulder to shoulder with our Muslim brothers and sisters against “hate”mongers like Robert Spencer).
It seems apparent that this “Rev. Jim Sutter” stumbled across my blog as a part of his general quest to find dirt about Robert Spencer and Jihad Watch to further amplify his own quantitatively prodigious 60+-page pdf document he has appended to his luridly titled and decorated “Hatewatch Hall of Shame” blog, and—perhaps more importantly—in order to find fellow haters of “hate” to alert about the evils and dangers of Robert Spencer and his mission and work. It seems apparent that this “Rev. Jim Sutter” found my blog which, to his hasty perception, seemed to harbor a kindred animosity toward Spencer and Jihad Watch. And, therefore, he plopped down into a couple of my comments fields a couple of advertisements to his “hate-watching” crusade.
If he thought my blog was consanguinous with his, he was sorely, and laughingstockingly, mistaken. All a visitor to my blog has to do is read my two introductory pieces to know that I am not against Jihad Watch, nor against its two main architects, Robert Spencer and Hugh Fitzgerald. This site is predominantly offered up as constructive criticism of some features of the methodology of Jihad Watch which I feel need various degrees of modification.
Furthermore—and this makes the good “Reverend” particularly eggfaced—I not only am, along with Robert Spencer, et al., a “hater” (at least as that is apparently Orwellianly defined by “Rev. Jim Sutter”), I am probably even more of a “hater” (at least as that is apparently Orwellianly defined by “Rev. Jim Sutter”) than Robert Spencer is! Had “Rev. Jim Sutter” taken 15 minutes out of his busy schedule hunting down Internet “haters” to actually read any one or two of my essays about Islam here or on my sister site, The Hesperado (easily located through this blog), he would have seen that, and perhaps would have thought twice about thinking he could find any recruits for his apparent hatred of “haters” who in fact hate the real haters. (Just recently, June 27, a few days after “Rev. Jim Sutter” initially found my site, he left a comment on my blog thanking me for a comment I had left on his blog about Walid Shoebat and implying that I was offering that comment up as constructive criticism as something of an ally in his (“Rev. Jim Sutter”s) cause!)
At any rate, because this “Rev. Jim Sutter” posted a couple of comments on my blog, I, as a curious, free-thinking Westerner, thought I’d take a look at his blog, in the interest of pursuing anyone who has a different opinion about things I am interested in.
Well, so far, I have found two major problems with the style and interpretations which this “Rev. Jim Sutter” purveys:
1) This “Rev. Jim Sutter” has been selective about answering my questions which I have posed to him. I have noticed that, belatedly, he has answered one of my questions which I posed on his blog about Walid Shoebat. His answer to date is unsatisfactory; as mentioned above, just today he thanked me for my comments and indicated that he would incorporate my criticisms of his formulation about Walid Shoebat: i.e., “Rev. Jim Sutter” makes claims of fact about Shoebat where there is no evidence to do anything more than to couch things in the subjunctive mood.
His comment on my blog most recently says as much: now “Rev. Jim Sutter” uses the word “would” when referring to Shoebat’s ostensibly odd apparent immunity from flight restrictions: “I have... explained the combined watchlist he [Shoebat] would be on...” [emphasis added]. At the end of the day, “Rev. Jim Sutter” does not know the inner workings of Homeland Security or the F.B.I. and does not know whether or not Walid Shoebat has been vetted by American intelligence, thus clearing him for airline flights. And “Rev. Jim Sutter” does not know whether or not Shoebat has to submit to delays and questioning each time he flies—or if “Rev. Jim Sutter” does know, he should say so and provide evidence of that. It is eminently apparent that all “Rev. Jim Sutter” can do—in his apparent dearth of actual facts about Shoebat—is say, “Gee, isn’t strange that this guy claims to be an ex-terrorist yet he flies all over the place giving speeches...” Such a remark should be a modest paragraph—framed entirely in the subjunctive mood—within an article about other things: it should not be touted as damning fact and plastered front and center up on a blog devoted to Shoebat’s alleged phoniness in the context of a lurid page of alarming reds and yellows entitled Hatewatch Hall of Shame (one expects to see exclamation marks decorating that title, like those World War II posters about the Yellow Peril of invading Japs).
Similarly, “Rev. Jim Sutter” adduces, and links, an article by a Will Youmans about Walid Shoebat in the online journal Counterpunch, in which Youmans engages in similar deceptive tactics, beginning his article by couching in terms of a factual claim his accusation of Shoebat being a non-terrorist because he ostensibly flies around willy-nilly—then only much later in his article, buried in a parenthetical comment does he slip in the subjunctive mood that betrays the fact that he has no facts to back up his main claim: what began, for Youmans, as a factual apodictic “immunity” which Shoebat purportedly enjoys when he flies around, becomes, later on in his article buried in the text, and I quote: “an apparent immunity.” Not only does he use the weaselling word “apparent”, he does not even have the balls to put it front and center, where any responsible journalist would put it. Shoddy stuff. Birds of a feather with “Rev. Jim Sutter”.
My other question which I posted some two days ago on his blog (and then repeated on my blog which he apparently has been reading, at least in part) was whether he has any smoking gun proof to back up his claim which he made on his pdf file about Robert Spencer which he links on his “Hatewatch” site, to wit:
“...it is important to note that Spencer... cannot speak or read Arabic...”
My question to this “Rev. Jim Sutter” was: “Do you have any smoking gun proof to back up this claim? And if so, could you show me this proof?”
This “Rev. Jim Sutter” never answered me on his blog, and he never allowed my question to be posted as a comment on his blog, even 3 days after I first posted it—even though I have allowed two of his comments to be posted on my blog and have allowed them to remain all this time. I repeated this question on my blog, after he posted a comment on my blog wondering where there were questions for him. Yet, he has failed to answer my question. And today, as mentioned above, he posted new comments on my blog in the very same comments field where I had repeated the above question to him at least 48 hours ago. Still nothing but silence from this “Rev. Jim Sutter” about my question. This isn’t merely about Spencer’s knowledge or lack of it concerning Arabic: the work by “Rev. Jim Sutter” represents a numbing mountain of similar claims, and one wonders whether any one of them, or most or all of them, could stand unremarkable scrutiny. “Rev. Jim Sutter” often complains about the propagandistic and demagogic methodology of bigots and racists (luridly implying a comparison between Goebbels and Spencer by having a photo of the former sensationally plastered on his blog about the latter), yet he himself, in building up a mountain of ostensible claims most of which seem to be based not on fact but on subjectively likely inference, is apparently doing what he decries—and then he has the gall to accuse others of hypocrisy. It is both amusing and chilling to see someone decrying demonization, then turn around and demonize, as “Rev. Jim Sutter” seems to do with Spencer: indeed, his treatment of Spencer amounts more to a diabolicization than a mere demonization. One comes away from a reading of “Rev. Jim Sutter”s Robert Spencer with the manifestly absurd idea that the latter is a diabolical, evil traitor trying to foment an apocalyptic war between the West and Islam by willfully falsifying Islam as an evil danger in order to have Islam win so that his own brand of Christianity, Melkite orthodoxy, can live under Islamic rule as the best rule for Christians! This leads one to wonder, which one is Spencer doing? “Rev. Jim Sutter”s Spencer seems to be self-contradictory: on the one hand, he is supposed to hate Islam and all Muslims and wants to kill all Muslims (or as many as possible of them); on the other hand, “Rev. Jim Sutter”s Spencer is supposed to be trying to foment a global confrontation between the West and Islam with the precise purpose in mind of having Islam win in the end! Is “Rev. Jim Sutter” saying that Spencer is not only diabolical, but also essentially schizophrenic, and is so nuts he wants to simultaneously kill Muslims and help Muslims? At any rate, this ludicrously lurid diabolicization is distinctly unseemly (besides being apparently concocted out of a tissue of inferences masquerading as factual claims) and, when juxtaposed with the typos and misspellings and hastily cobbled-together sources (where he piles up links to Muslims condemning terrorism which he takes naively at face value and seems to damn as “haters” anyone who would submit them to skeptical scrutiny) that characterize “Rev. Jim Sutter”s pdf document about Robert Spencer, seems to expose his mission as, at bottom, shoddy, propagandistic and demagogic.
So this represents the first curious thing about this “Rev. Jim Sutter”: he apparently has a spotty concern for PR. He does not care to try to answer all the questions new readers of his blogs might have, nor does he take the time to learn who it is he is conversing with. One would think that a person such as him, who has apparently spent hundreds of hours online in his obsession with Robert Spencer and dozens of other evil “haters” out there (one of his articles on his blog demonstrates an astounding amount of research on his part (some might call it cyber-stalking) on some apparently neurotic but otherwise harmless woman online) as well as out in the real world (including apparently visiting a UPS post-office box store in Massachussetts to question a UPS clerk in order to check up on Hugh Fitzgerald’s putative P.O. box!—prompting the reader to wonder, was Massachussetts conveniently close to “Rev. Jim Sutter”s location, or did he have to travel 3,000 miles from California to check up, like a dogged gumshoe, on old Hugh?), that this “Rev. Jim Sutter” would be concerned to try to schmooze his potential audience a little more effectively.
2) Now to get to a few morsels of the meat of our objections with this “Rev. Jim Sutter”. The following represents only a minuscule portion of the mountain of obfuscating apparent half-truths which he has heaped together on his blog and in his pdf document on Robert Spencer.
a) as an example of the good side of Islam, this “Rev. Jim Sutter” posts in his pdf file dedicated to exposing the apparent lies of Robert Spencer some sites meant to show how good Islam is, despite the bigoted misundertanding purveyed by “haters” like Spencer:
One of the links he provides is from an apparently solitary Muslim who offers her or his own interpertation of Qur’an 4:34 (the famous wife-beating verse).
This “Rev. Jim Sutter” offers this one link as though it settles once and for all the difficult problem of the wife-beating verse in the Qur’an, when there are many other sources to draw from that will show that this is a horrible problem in Islamic culture which cannot be waved away, as “Rev. Jim Sutter” seems to think it can, by simply adducing one sugarcoated website crafted by one clever Muslim apologist (who has the shameless temerity to try to argue that the crucial word for “beat” in Qur’an 4:34—waidriboohunna, derived from daraba—does not in the context of that verse mean physical beating) and, by implication, branding as a “hater” anyone who criticizes this feature of Islam. I can bring forth my own sources to counter this transparent taqiyya, if I thought at this point my little finger was obliged to expend that effort. If perhaps someone of worth and credibility—unlike this “Rev. Jim Sutter”—asks me, I will supply those sources. Surely someone as intelligent and resourceful as “Rev. Jim Sutter” could find more sources than the solitary one he adduces to show how great Islam is in terms of its ugy wife-beating phrase straight out of the Qur’an. Right? One wonders if his mind is on auto-pilot, and were he to encounter opposing evidence—such as this collection of Muslim scholars admitting that Qur’an 4:34 concerns physical beating of wives—would he reflexively dismiss it as “hateful bigotry”? I.e., the mind of “Rev. Jim Sutter” seems made up on this axiom: Islam itself is good and the vast majority of Muslims must be good and harmless, and anyone who adduces evidence indicating the contrary must be a “hater” to be vilified and opposed, and any and all evidence so adduced by such Orwellianly labelled “haters” must be tainted, corrupt, not credible. This is called prejudice, folks.
b) Another example of the shoddy methodology of “Rev. Jim Sutter” is manifest in this claim he makes about Hugh Fitzgerald:
“Fitzgerald... is gung ho to gather up every American citizen who is a Muslim and lock them up or ship them off to some other country...” [emphasis added]
What clinches the shoddiness is the proof that “Rev. Jim Sutter” brings to bear to support his claim, when he quotes Hugh Fitzgerald himself as writing:
“... to find creative ways to deport all Muslim non-citizens.” [emphasis added]
Right there—within centimeters of his claim about Fitzgerald, “Rev. Jim Sutter” adduces evidence that flatly, baldly and lucidly contradicts his own claim about Fitzgerald!
There is much more in the work of “Rev. Jim Sutter” worthy of complaints—as I said above, a veritable mountain of stuff that would be too tedious and annoying to sort through. In the end, his mountain does not amount to a hill of beans, but demonstrating that would wring me out with fessitude, and frankly, I have better things to do with my time.