Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Spencer’s impoverished historiography of PC

In an article on Jihad Watch that appeared on June 29, 2007 (also repeated at frontpage, on July 4), Robert Spencer made a parenthetical stab at probing the origins of PC:

But there is another aspect to that hatemongering. And that is that the vision of Islam and jihad that the "hatemongers" present today is identical to the one that was universally accepted by academics, including Muslim ones, up until the age of political correctness and Said's Left-McCarthyite Orientalism swept propagandists like Carl Ernst, Omid Safi, Rashid Khalidi and others into our universities.

The key phrase to focus on is that Spencer is saying the politically incorrect analyses of Islam were, at one time, “. . .universally accepted by academics, including Muslim ones. . .”

This phrase shows that Spencer has an apparently impoverished understanding of the growth of PC in the modern West.

In three essays on my other blog (The Hesperado), I have analyzed Western scholars of “Orientalism” from various dates in the past that Spencer would probably say lie before the age of PC: 1849, 1917, and 1963. (While Spencer may perhaps think that a PC scholar in 1963 is not unthinkable, it seems he would think so of scholars writing in 1917 and 1849—particularly since the scholar he adduces to prove his point about an era of universal incorrectness prior to the age of PC is one Majid Khadduri, writing in 1955.)

[Update: Since this was written, I have added a fourth study of academic PC MC, going back to the year 1942. Recently (in the month of February of 2008), I adduced all four studies in a comment on Dhimmi Watch to which Spencer took characteristically prickly and irrational umbrage. Incidentally, I have also noticed an unsettling amount of PC MC in the writings of Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) of all people; though I have not yet read enough of him to make a judgment.]

On those three essays on my other blog, The Hesperado, I have explored the question of when PC began. Of course, it is probably impossible to pinpoint a date for its inception. PC likely grew organically and in a somewhat messy and complex fashion, with layer upon layer over decades, generations, even perhaps centuries of process.

Each of my essays on this question analyzed one scholarly article apiece, from the dusty annals of the academic discipline that used to be called “Orientalism”—at least, before PC increased in power sufficiently to permit Edward Said and others to pronounce that term academically verboten as a relic of the “bigoted” history of Western imperialism (which, of course, was mostly an evil and “shameful chapter” in Western history, at least according to PC).

Spencer (and Hugh, who has written often of the current Academic climate of Middle Eastern Studies throughout America and Western Europe that whitewashes Islam as a quasi-fascisitic “MESA Nostra”) ostensibly thinks that this current climate, this age, of political correctness in Western Academe, is both new with no important antecedents, and a product of some nefarious cabal (Leftist as well as others who have succumbed to their greed). I suspect that Spencer’s apparent myopia to the antecedents of PC in the modern West stems from his reductionist view of what causes PC: basically, Hugh’s Esdrujula Elves that locate all the blame in the character flaws (and/or the venial and mortal sins) of influential “elites” in our time, in league with a minority of nefarious Muslims in high places. Such a restricted explanation invites conspiracy theories all too easily, if it is not already structurally such a theory, or at least the building blocks of one.

At any rate, the fact that I could find three scholars of yesteryear, in the age prior to PC, who show remarkably PC attitudes about Islam, shows that PC has not been a construction by some cabal of dastardly elites: it has been a sociological and systemic process, involving a sea change in Western consciousness. Also, I did not spend hundreds of hours poring through dusty old texts to find those three scholars: they were relatively easy to find, after merely browsing for two or three hours among three scholarly journals in the general field of Orientalism. Who knows how many others I could find from the decades of the past that are supposed to be, as Spencer assures us, “universally” free of PC thought?

Surely—as Spencer repeats so eloquently in his challenge to Muslims to reform their Islam—one has to have a proper appreciation for the nature and scope of a problem before one can go about doing anything substantive about solving that problem. Well, guess what, Spencer and Hugh: you guys seems to be failing abysmally in that regard when it comes to the nature and scope of PC. And PC, as you know, is the main reason why your mission (and the coordinated efforts of all your brave colleagues around the world) is prevalently marginalized, if not vilified, throughout the West, on all levels: from Left to Right and most everywhere in between, from Elites to Common Folks and most everywhere in between.

I recall an arroganly snippy comment that descended from Spencer on high down to lowly little old me many moons ago in the comments field of some thread or other, when I was not banned from Jihad Watch, where he mocked my attempts to widen his perspective about the historical depth and complexity of the phenomenon of PC. That only seems to underscore his comments about which I have written today.

Now, just because I found a scholar who was PC back in 1917 does not mean I will now say that PC goes back as far as 1917. It’s a matter of a long, slow, messy process: there has been, apparently, no clear dividing line (at least not so far) separating the prior era, when PC was not dominant and mainstream, from our current era, when PC is in fact dominant and mainstream. That’s why I coined the term proto-PC to denote the 1917 scholar who wrote many statements that sound eerily like the faculty of the MESA Nostra departments of our day. And, to repeat myself for the umpteenth time: the control that MESA Nostra enjoys in Academe would have little or no traction, were there not a massively and nutritiously conducive atmosphere, throughout Western societies, all around these whitewashers of Islam.

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