Sunday, July 09, 2006

Slight return to form

Well, I think rather a good week for Nick (or perhaps I am just in a sunny mood after returning from holiday). I don't agree with it and he is still worrying away at old themes, but the Wilberforce item is a very clever spot, and thank God somebody has said what needed to be said about the Telegraph - it is going down the toilet at an alarming rate, or at least its business section is. Even the main bit is a well-written and forceful statement of Decentism, so much so that I am prepared to forgive the blatant plug for the Staggers.

A few points of issue, however:

1. It is not correct to refer to "its clerics" when talking about the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood is a political organisation, not an Islamic sect and it does not have clerics. A lot of clerics, like al-Qaradawi, are MB members or symnpathisers, but that's not the same thing. This is more or less a stylebook issue, but it is important.

2. Nick overemphasises the importance of Qaradawi; presumably this is part of the greatest intellectual struggle of our time, against Ken Livingstone (the reference to female circumcision, I think, is to Qaradawi via Harry's Place). Qaradawi is a celebrity imam, but he isn't really the MB's "favourite theologian"; he's a loudmouth with a website. And of course, he is a cleric, not a cadre; he has no real role in the actual activities of the Muslim Brotherhood or any of its subsidiaries. The two issues of the FCO's relationship with the MB, and the mainstreaming of Qaradawi (on both of which issues I disagree with Nick, btw) have been unhelpfully conflated here.

3. There is a really serious central confusion here which is quite important to understanding a lot of Decentism, in paragraph 9. It is our old friend, the "caliphate", a useful but fatally ambiguous term which does sterling work filling in the gaps in world-domination conspiracy theories.

The way that Nick (and Melanie Phillips and a lot of the rest of the Islamophobic[1] community; the error is in Berman's Terror and Liberalism and I suspect that this is the original source) use and understand the term, it refers to the ambition of some Islamist sects to see the kingdom of Allah created on earth, with Islamic law ruling from Melbourne to Machynlleth. In other words, Muslim world domination, as the end goal of Islamic terrorism.

However, this is not what the Muslim Brotherhood means by the same term. The specific point of doctrinal difference between the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda - the point on which the FCO is right and Nick is wrong - is that the Muslim Brotherhood have never believed that it is permitted to use violence to promote Islam in non-Islamic countries. Their concept of the Caliphate refers to the governance of the Islamic world. Noncoincidentally, the fact that the entire aim of the MB is to revolutionise the government of the Islamic world has a lot to do with why it is in general banned there. In terms of achieving the goal of global Islam, the Brotherhood's strategy since the days of Qutb has been basically to hope that we will eventually be won over by the sheer logic and truth of the Koran. Good luck guys, obviously, but the specific point here is that the Decentist use of the term "Caliphate" is a real problem; it is an error which obscures an incredibly important distinction. Just to emphasise this point, Qaradawi's support for the Iraqi insurgents and for some Palestinian terrorism (his actual view is not, IIRC, accurately summarised as "murder any Jew in Israel") are specific political views of Qaradawi's and are not related to his Islamism.

4. We gave a knighthood to Ceausescu if you recall, during a period when we were going through a global cold war and greatest intellectual struggle of our time rather more serious than the present one. The FCO has always dealt with nasty foreigners in the hope of minimising the damage done to us at home; it's basically what it's there for. Sometimes they get it right and sometimes they get it wrong. It is in general good for the body politic to have awkward-squad journalists like Nick making them feel uncomfortable when they do slimy things - far better an honest polemic like this than the sort of snivelling our-masters-know-best drivel that John Lloyd and Aaro write on domestic issues. But please spare us the "they have betrayed the very values of democracy" bollocks, Nick. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office exists to betray the values of democracy five times before breakfast. The question is always, what are we getting in return?

9 Comments:

Anonymous Backword Dave said...

I'm a little surprised you thought it was a good week -- I thought it was a piss-poor rant.

Whether ideas ever get defeated is the sort of debate which comes round every so often on Crooked Timber and like sites. When ideas are discussed in those sorts of forums, the usual examples are scientific ones which are open to peer review and experiment. Even then, quite a few scientists still believe that ideas are defeated when the old guard dies off. Further, I don't believe (and I've never seen any evidence to change my mind) that extremists -- or anyone convined of anything really -- examine arguments or facts closely.

There isn't even a battle of ideas between left and right in the US at present. You couldn't convince Ann Coulter of anything for instance.

As with much else, living well is the best answer and the best revenge. What, for instance, were the greatest intellectual struggles of previous times? And who won? (OK, defeat of Nazism, but that had a lot to with strategic bombing, and not a great deal to with journalism.)

Angus McKee, of the FO's Middle East and North Africa desk, thinks this gruesome record should be rewarded with large amounts of British taxpayers' money.'Given that Islamist groups are often less corrupt than the generality of the societies in which they operate,' he wrote, 'consideration might be given to channelling aid resources through them, so long as sufficient transparency is achievable.'

What does Nick mean here? I think Angus McKee is talking about aid to Somalia; he's fairly clear he's not giving money to the MB directly (I assume that he's realistic about their siphoning off at least some 'handling' dividend) -- they're there to channel aid. Now, giving aid is something Nick seemed keen on last week when he wrote on Oxfam. But even Oxfam can't get everywhere. Britain is committed to aid programmes; this government even more so that others, and Somalia is a godawful mess. Between watching principled and helpless and the FO getting its hands dirty and perhaps saving a few kids lives, I greatly prefer the latter.

I'll give Nick credit if he can show that the FO is using the MB rather than Oxfam or Medicins sans Frontieres when the latter are able to do something, but in these cases I really doubt they can.

Bread first, then ethics. Brecht was right.

7/10/2006 10:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Backword Dave said...

My 35 year old daughter looked at my Rope. Tree. Journalist. tee shirt that I was proudly wearing on Father’s Day and brilliantly stated, “Gee, Dad, shouldn’t you listen to the other point of view once in a while?” Heavy sigh. How do you debate that level of ignorance? At the same time, my 14 year old grandson asks me why our military isn’t crushing these orcs like the insects that they are. He and his friends give me some hope.

From Misha's comments (via Obsidian Wings). Assuming there is a great intellectual struggle, could you convince this man of anything? (No, I don't think he makes any sense.)

7/10/2006 11:18:00 AM  
Anonymous bruschettaboy said...

Looking at the article in the cold light of day I see what you mean Dave; "piss poor rant" is certainly also a valid description. But I will defend it as being well written.

I think you're right on Somalia, although he might have been talking more generally; Islamist organisations (like Communist ones) are in general composed of committed, political types rather than self-dealers. It is a somewhat embarrassing fact that the State of Israel did exactly this with respect to Hamas within living memory.

7/10/2006 01:26:00 PM  
Anonymous stevenH said...

Interesting post BB

Recently I had a disagreement with David T after I pointed out that the MB and most Islamicists are not actually very interested in what happens in non-Muslim countries. Their prime area of concern is reforming Muslim lands. Of course I was quickly denounced by the majority at HP who see
the MB as spearheading a drive to put the entire globe under Sharia Law.

7/10/2006 06:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Simon said...

If Geras is still on-topic, this could do with a good watch, I'd say.

7/11/2006 10:38:00 AM  
Blogger Captain Cabernet said...

Surely not Simon. I though Geras's piece was a fine allegory. "Derek" is obviously Israel and "Elaine" is the Palestinians. I'm surprised you didn't see that.

7/11/2006 11:08:00 AM  
Anonymous rioja kid said...

I did like the metaphorical implication that losing your car keys and making speculative warfare are grievances of the same order.

7/11/2006 02:51:00 PM  
Anonymous stevenH said...

What is Geras trying to say here? The metaphor appears to be suggesting that other Muslims not informing on the 7/7 bombers are like people who turn a blind eye to wife beating. Is this really what he is trying to suggest?

7/11/2006 05:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Backword Dave said...

Is Geras trying to say something? I thought he just felt guilty, but hoped someone else would tell the police.

I am quite impressed that the woman in the story appears to have no mind of her own, and will just go along with the other protagonists, however they treat her. Possibly she represents the role of the working class from the Professor's more radical days.

7/12/2006 05:36:00 PM  

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