Thursday, April 24, 2008
Robert Spencer reacts
The other day on Jihad Watch, Spencer responded to a rather truncated critique which Lawrence Auster had put up on his site.
What Auster decided to publish represents only a small portion of my rather exhaustive analysis, and failed to represent the salient points. This in turn enabled Spencer with his impeccable yet irresponsible sophistry to exploit this delimitation of the analysis.
Anyway, I shall now dissect Spencer’s response. As the entire thing is relatively brief, I will here reproduce it all (with only a couple of typographical alterations at the beginning for visual clarity). Spencer’s words are all in italics, mine are un-italicized.
It has been brought to my attention (thanks, James) that several people are claiming a contradiction between these two statements I have made recently. . .
Many strange things have happened in history and I would never say that Islamic reform is absolutely impossible, but Westerners are extraordinarily foolish when they harbor any hopes of it actually happening on a large scale. We need instead to focus on efforts to defend ourselves both militarily and culturally from the jihadist challenge, and to continue to call the bluffs of pseudo-reformers who intend ultimately only to deceive Western non-Muslims--many of whom are quite anxious to be deceived.
Here again an increase of interest in and commitment to Islam apparently coincides with involvement with jihadist activity. The implications are many, and American and British Muslim groups that profess moderation ought to be the first to be examining them. But of course, instead they are still engaged in denying that any such correlation exists, despite a superabundance of evidence to the contrary.
The claim is being made that by saying that "American and British Muslim groups that profess moderation ought to be the first to be examining" the fact that "an increase of interest in and commitment to Islam apparently coincides with involvement with jihadist activity" I am contradicting my statement that "Westerners are extraordinarily foolish when they harbor any hopes of [Islamic reform] actually happening on a large scale." In other words, if I really believed that Islamic reform were virtually impossible, I wouldn't be asking American Muslim groups to face the facts about the connection between devoutness and attachment to jihadism.
For one thing, this is a curious way of paraphrasing the objection raised by the nameless people (me and Auster, among others) Spencer is answering. Neither I nor Auster nor anyone I have read has framed this issue as merely involving the “connection between devoutness and attachment to jihadism”. And more pertinently, while I have read, umpteen times, over God knows how many months, Spencer asking Muslims to do what they should do to mollify us, I don’t recall him ever asking them to “face the facts about the connection between devoutness and attachment to jihadism”. Usually, his challenge of expectation involves asking Muslims to
a) acknowledge the bad elements of Islam
b) acknowledge that these bad elements are in fact being put into practice by too many of their fellow Muslims around the world
c) condemn those fellow Muslims among them who are putting those bad elements into practice
d) offer Islamic counter-arguments of the putatively good elements of Islam against those fellow Muslims, using Islamic texts and traditions
e) to begin instituting a broader sociocultural education process throughout mosques, Islamic schools, and organizations in order to more effectively counter the widespread and growing problem of (b) above.
Now, Spencer has never adumbrated his expectation of Muslims in quite so succinct and clear a fashion—one has had to piece it together and massage it into clarity from innumerable little parenthetically editorial remarks with which he salts and peppers his daily Jihad Watch and Dhimmi Watch articles; but this is in essence what his expectation consists of.
To pick one example out of a turban, by which to illustrate (e) above, consider what he wrote recently:
Update on the Toronto Jihad Plot. Oh, and by the way, gotten around has the Muslim community in Canada to instituting transparent, inspectable programs in every school and mosque teaching against the jihad ideology and Islamic supremacism? No? So then how can we be sure there won’t be other such plots?
I had quoted this in Part 2 of my 4-part series, Robert Spencer: Soft on Islam?
As I observed there:
The screamingly obvious first problem with Spencer’s wording here that jumps out at the reader is: Even if the Muslim community in Canada “gets around to” doing those things Spencer outlines, this will still not make us “sure” there won’t be other such plots. So why does Spencer imply that it would make us “sure”?
Of course, one does not have to be terribly astute to detect the sarcasm in Spencer’s tone in the quote above. However, the sarcasm does not let him off the hook of calling for such actions on the part of Muslims when he otherwise seems to agree that it is exceedingly unlikely that such actions will ever be forthcoming.
When, for example, he responded to an interviewer’s question about whether he, like his heroine Oriana Fallaci, considers Islam to be a problem, Spencer replied:
Elements of Islam are the problem. Muslims who reject them sincerely and work against those elements are not the problem.
First, instead of saying, “I agree with Ms. Fallaci. Islam is a problem”—he had to weasel out of it with the dispiritingly sophistical “elements of Islam are the problem”. Secondly, note the utter absence of sarcasm in his expectation and exoneration of Muslims who would sincerely work against those “elements” of their Islam. If he sincerely believes his own words, and if his own words are not trivial and meaningless, then they must form the basis of a position that would concretely affect our disposition and policies with regard to the problem of Islam. How would this disposition be concretized? And how would the concretization jeopardize the grim and ruthless choices we have to take to ensure our optimum self-defense in the increasingly perilous situation we are in, with a nebulous diaspora all over the globe and deep within our own West of innumerable, indeterminate Muslims fanatically determined to mass-murder as many of us as possible?
Of course, the whole point of Spencer’s reaction we are dissecting today is that he is claiming no real contradiction here. We shall address this more directly as our dissection continues to parse his words. For now, we call the reader’s attention to the following points:
Spencer is permitting himself weaselly wiggle room by such phrases as “very unlikely” when the point of decision—where the rubber meets the road in terms of analysis leading directly to policy—has to choose between
1) a high unlikeliness of Muslim reform that nevertheless continues to contain a viable possibility of reform (Does Spencer believe in this viable possibility, and does he support actions or non-actions on our part in reference to this viable possibility, or not? Because of his weaselly wiggling, we may never know);
2) the grim resolve to consider Muslim reform in fact an effective impossibility (which is not the same theoretically, for the weaselly analyst, as an absolute impossibility—but is the same, practically speaking).
Because of Spencer’s slippery posture with regard to #1, his weaselly wiggle room effectively provides him the plausible deniability by which in scrupulously quibbling terms, he is correct: there is no contradiction. (Or, more accurately, he manages just barely to squeak out of the contradiction by which his own words and his actions—namely, of reporting daily on the ever-growing horrible mountain of Islamic evil filth—threaten to box him in.) But the lack of contradiction does not emanate from any forthright stand of clarity and strength; the lack of contradiction is simply something salvaged sophistically in order to safeguard his gingerly timidity with regard to the stand he should take: #2.
Or, if he wishes to take a forthright stand of clarity and strength on #1, his prodigious labor in amassing the ever-mounting mountain of damning data against Islam is a most queer way to go about doing it—for, to any reasonable and intelligent person, that horrible mountain amounts to #2: a condemnation of Islam and of all Muslims whether they passively enable, or whether they actively support, Islam.
Secondly, notice how Spencer’s reaction delimits this to “American Muslim groups”. On the contrary, his challenge of expectation has involved Muslims all over the world—either specifically by region, or at least as often in general terms that could mean Muslims anywhere. And often he has not specified “groups”, but simply left it open to Muslims in general without specification. But of course we would not expect Spencer to remember and responsibly consider the wider context of his own words, when he has the opportunity to exploit the delimited focus provided by the shortsightedness of his challenger (in this case, Lawrence Auster, who failed to post the much more comprehensive articulation of Spencer’s paradox in the links to my essays which I gave him).
Of course, if people want to find difficulties, inconsistencies, contradictions, they will find them no matter what, but there is not actually anything of the kind here.
There is in fact something “of the kind” here: namely, a near-contradiction saved from being an outright contradiction by his refusal to take a firm stand to one or the other side of the only two choices that matter, which we repeat:
1) a high unlikeliness of Muslim reform that nevertheless continues to contain a viable possibility of reform—which would be trivial and meaningless were it not potentially tied to some features of concrete policy on our part;
2) the grim resolve to consider Muslim reform in fact an effective impossibility.
I spoke in the first statement above about calling the bluffs of pseudo-reformers, and in the second I was doing just that, by pointing out that the self-proclaimed moderate Muslim groups were doing nothing to deal with the connection between the seriousness of one's Islamic commitment and involvement in jihad activity.
Here, Spencer is craftily delimiting the issue to tendentiously pre-defined “pseudo-reformers”. We have already shown, in his answer to the interviewer on Oriana Fallaci, how his expectation of Muslims is general and not delimited to the tendentiously defined “pseudo-reformers” (what idiot would expect reform from an already prejudiciously labelled “pseudo-reformer”!?). His general expectation of reform from Muslims is also buttressed, as we have argued elsewhere (and below), by his sincere belief in the pragmatically viable existence of “millions and millions” of benign Muslims. Again, we are not disputing the sheer existence of those “millions and millions”—what we are disputing is their pragmatically viable existence—i.e., how their mere existence has practical use and effect. One non-negotiable necessity to establish that pragmatically viable existence would be our ability to sufficiently distinguish the harmless Muslims from the dangerous ones. Since we cannot do that—unless Spencer has a magic decoder ring to enable us to do so—then reason requires us to abandon the usefulness of those “millions and millions” of benign Muslims.
Thus, there is an equation larger than the delimited one Spencer exploited in his all too easy cheap shots against the Auster piece. That larger equation, we repeat, is revealed when Spencer is on record as taking the following stands:
a) he has balked at the term “anti-Muslim” and has implied in no uncertain terms that it is not a term he would like to be associated with
b) he has stated categorically that he eschews the term “anti-Islam”
and, last but not least,
c) he has rejected the notion that all Muslims are dangerously bad (i.e., “advancing the jihadist cause”) by making the following grand pronouncement:
That is an impossible generalization. There are millions upon millions of people who are culturally Muslim but are not interested in advancing the jihad agenda or even necessarily aware of it. This is true just as it is also true that there are millions of people who call themselves Christians but who pay little or no attention to the effort of conforming their lives to Christian teachings. In every belief-system there is a spectrum of belief, knowledge, and fervor, and Islam is no different. To extrapolate from Islamic teachings to the proposition that all Muslims believe in and are advancing the jihadist cause is just as absurd as assuming that because Jesus said to love your enemies, that every last Christian is humble, self-effacing, non-combative, and forgiving. That's why Wilders' distinction between Muslims and Islam is not illogical, not false, and in fact is quite useful and important.
(An interesting and revealing aside: the actual wording of the “impossible generalization” which Spencer rejected in the quote above was written by a Jihad Watch reader in a comments field of a Jihad Watch article—“A Muslim is loyal only to Islam.” At that revealing moment, Spencer tacitly assumed that being “loyal only to Islam” must be a bad thing (else why so forcefully repudiate the “impossible generalization” in terms that indicate that millions of Muslims are not “advancing the jihadist cause”?)—even though, as we show above (and more copiously in our previous essay Robert Spencer: Pussycat or lion? Having his cake and eating it too?), that Spencer is on record refusing to condemn Islam.)
So where are we thus far? We have Spencer innumerable times couching his challenge of expectation of reform to Muslims in general, as well as to vaguely denoted “Muslim groups”, in addition to specific “pseudo-reformers”—and not only to the latter as he implied in his recent reaction. We also have Spencer on record claiming that there are millions of harmless Muslims out there—a claim that is worthless if we cannot sufficiently identify those Muslims so as to expect reform, not to mention current rejection of, and resistance to, the bad Muslims in their midst. A claim, that is to say, that is worthless if those millions do not present a pool of viable reform. But Spencer must not consider it worthless, else why did he proclaim it?
Here we see the same type of weaselly language, whereby Spencer can simultaneously claim two contradictory things, and can accurately say he is not embracing a contradiction—but only because of the weaselly sophistry he has woven that permits him to squeak by that contradiction and to remain suspended above the hard choice that contradiction presents. A better, more honorable and more potent way of avoiding this important contradiction is to take a bold and clear stand on one side or the other.
We shall conclude today’s essay with a final quote from Spencer’s reaction:
And that is supposed to be evidence that I actually do believe, contrary to what I've said all along as well as in the first statement above, that Islamic reform is likely and that Western non-Muslims should count on it happening . . .
Again, here Spencer is relying on the weaselly term “likely”—whose opposite is not of course “impossible”, but simply “very, very, very unlikely”.
What we want to see—and what Spencer’s own “day job” of amassing the horrible mountain of Islamic garbage demands of any reasonably intelligent person capable of connecting dots—is Spencer boldly and responsibly taking the stand that Islamic reform by Muslims is, in fact, impossible. It is not impossible in the absolute sense, of course (a logical proposition that Spencer would likely exploit in order to expose a supposed flaw in our argument). However, it is impossible in terms of the exigencies and demands of our reasonable expectations and of the needs of our self-defense which unreasonable expectations can jeopardize. Because it is impossible in this important sense, then, it is therefore utterly irrelevant to our analyses that base our actions of proactive self-defense in the present and in the decades to come.