Thursday, November 29, 2007

Garton Ash Responds

Update 2/12/2007. Darius Jedburgh asked, quite reasonably, in the comments for supporting evidence for my rhetorical question at the end of this piece. Honestly, I find myself unable to understand Nick's position with sufficient clarity to say what he believes - or even paraphrase what he says. He does seem to treat Ms Hirsi Ali as a 'heroine' to use Timothy Garton Ash's term: Ms Hirsi Ali is clear that she believes that Islam [needs to be] defeated. I can't see how Nick's formula "those who would subjugate women, kill Jews and homosexuals, place the dictates of a seventh-century holy book above the parliaments of free peoples" is not a reference to Islam per se rather than radical Islam.

Timothy Garton Ash doesn't name Nick Cohen in his latest CiF post, but I he should be read as refuting everything Nick says about him. NC:

And if, like Garton Ash, they turned away from democrats and insisted on treating European Muslims as children who can only be spoken to in the baby language of gobbledegook, what right did they have to be surprised if European Muslims reacted with childish petulance rather than the broad-mindedness of full adult citizens?


TGA:

When a Muslim letter-writer in yesterday's Guardian tells us, with the aid of Qur'anic references, that Islam, properly understood, supports "the vital principle of freedom of speech", what possible interest have we non-Muslim liberals in arguing against him?

"[B]aby language of gobbledegook" anyone? (I can't find the letter in question; the Guardian site seems committed to hiding readers' opinion after one day.) Update 2/12/2007 Fallhammer in the comments found it.

While I in no way condone the repellent fascism and bigotry of Nick Griffin and David Irving, they are entitled to voice their obnoxious bile according to Islam's transcendent text. The Qur'an makes it incontrovertible that all people have the right to choose their own path and perspectives in life (2:256; 10:99; 18:29; 109:6;etc). It is therefore a fallacy that Islam denies the vital principle of freedom of speech. Our progressive Oxford organisation has always endorsed the concept of undiluted free speech. Either there is free speech for everyone or there is free speech for no one. Today abhorrent rightwing racists are targeted. Who will be proscribed tomorrow?


Dr Taj Hargey. Now, like Timothy Garton Ash, I think that arguing a proposition because some book says it is so is gobbledegook: but Dr Hargey's position is an admirable one. I don't care why he holds it, but I would like to see more support for that kind of liberalism. Dr Hargey appears not only not to be a 'rightist' - he is also clearly a good guy.

NC:

Garton Ash wrote in the New York Review of Books that journalists were more interested in her beauty than her ideas. 'If she had been short, squat, and squinting, her story and views might not be so closely attended to.' She was an 'Enlightenment fundamentalist', he continued, as bigoted in her way as the Muslim Brotherhood she opposed. On this reading, there is no moral difference between those who would subjugate women, kill Jews and homosexuals, place the dictates of a seventh-century holy book above the parliaments of free peoples... and those who wouldn't. Liberal intellectuals have no obligation to make a choice between religious fundamentalists and 'Enlightenment fundamentalists', and indeed could devote their energies to condemning the latter rather than the former.


BTW, I see nothing in there preceding "On this reading" which inclines me to believe that Garton Ash believes any of the things ascribed to him.
TGA:


That distinction would, of course, no longer hold if being a devout Muslim were in fact incompatible with being a full citizen of a free society. I feel this is what quite a few participants in the current debate, both atheist and Christian, really believe, while seldom spelling it out so clearly. Yet the thought keeps peeping through, for example in the formula "Islam is incompatible with democracy".


"Islam is incompatible with democracy" is exactly what Nick's saying isn't it?

10 Comments:

Anonymous Darius Jedburgh said...

Well, is he? You should probably quote where he says this, given your criticism of his attributions to Garners Cash.

11/29/2007 09:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure that's what he's really saying - Muslims don't really seem to be the target of his ire, nor have they ever been really, despite his claims that he and the Decents are the 'only voices' 'from the left' who actually condemned the twin towers attacks. What he's really doing is trying, just like people did with Terry Eagleton over Amis, to paint the ‘academic world’ (represented in this instance by TGA) as misguided and deluded. and maybe it is, although it seems awfully difficult to describe the views of the entire UK (and US) academy in a sentence.

Sadly the way in which Nick has gone about 'engaging with' TGA is by comprehensively misreading and then misrepresenting his views, in a truly boneheaded fashion, so that only an imbecile could possibly think that TGA's statements about Hirsi Ali can actually be interpreted as Nick seems to think have to be.

Note that it is Nick who uses the word 'bigoted' - clearly the word actually implied in the TGA article is 'biased', since he was talking not about the consequences of her 'enlightenment beliefs' (where the flipside to this is that the consequences of the Brotherhood's beliefs are several examples of bigotry), but her very much blinkered, idealised vision of her beliefs as universally appropriate and ‘superior’.

It’s not a point which is easy to dispute – she is just as much a fundamentalist, in terms of refusing to admit that any of her ideas could be wrong, as some islamists - as her own work shows, she bases her ideas on Islam not on rational analysis but on personal experience, rather more Romantic, in fact, than Enlightenment.

Nick only manages to dispute that central problem by eliding TGA’s actual point and instead saying ‘look, Hirsi Ali isn’t homophobic and some other people who dislike her are, therefore if you criticise her YOU ARE A HOMOPHOBE’.

I remember when I read TGA’s essay I thought he let her off pretty lightly, since the consequences of her ‘enlightenment fundamentalism’ have been an unthinking assimilation into the hands of some of the most dubious characters in the world. Nick seems unable, though even to accept moderate criticism of Hirsi Ali’s views – you’re either with him and her or you’re with the people they have arbitrarily decided are ‘their opponents’. that's fine, i guess, if you're a rampantly one-sided columnist. But Nick looks a lot less clever, and a lot lesspolitically-aware, than his 'opponents' like TGA, by painting this black and white vision of the world.

11/30/2007 09:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Simon said...

The practical consequence of AHA's views in Holland was to provide political cover for the right-wing government's introduction of stricter immigration laws, which make it much more difficult for women from Muslim countries to make the same journey she did.

More recently she seems to have been advocating some kind of open war with the Muslim world. But her supporters on the left never really talk about this, they just talk about the death threats and her personal background, as if they ought to make her immune from criticism. Nick, for instance, criticised TGA not because he thought he was wrong and AHA was right, but because he was 'supercilious' about it. Big deal.

11/30/2007 01:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Fallhammer said...

"I can't find the letter in question; the Guardian site seems committed to hiding readers' opinion after one day."

This address should work:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/letters/story/0,,2218006,00.html
Dr Taj Hargey talking about something involving some people that happened somewhere called "Oxford".

11/30/2007 03:02:00 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

Decent flameout watch: Amis in today's Grauniad, batshit incoherent tirade against R Bennett. And I mean barking mad. He's drained the koolaid tub.

12/01/2007 05:58:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

As a multiculturist ideologue, Bennett cannot engage with the fact that a) the indigenous populations of Spain and Italy are due to halve every 35 years, and b) this entails certain consequences. He reaches, like a flustered commissar, for the polemical violence of "white supremacism"; he reaches for the race card - that silver hand-grenade of the virtuous.

Remarkable.

12/02/2007 10:21:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Incidentally, in what sense is the indigenous population of Spain likely to halve in 35 years? They look in reasonable health to me.

12/02/2007 10:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what's best about that Amis piece is how he manages, just like Hitch and anyone else who's tried to defend him, to avoid actually answering any of the questions levelled at him other than 'racism' - which is debatable in some of his statements on islam but not on the one about singling out middle-eastern-looking people for hostile treatment, something he's elsewhere said is bad - so that makes what he said in the times interview ok? no it doesn't. and he's still not apologised for it other than to say 'i talk like an idiot', rather underselling both the fine body of Amis interviews, elucidatory and essential to anyone studying his work (such as that with John Haffenden after 'Money' was published), and also his new lucrative line in, er, speaking engagements where he discusses yes that's right Islam. Go to the ICA website for proof on mp3 that you are wasting your money going ot hear him speak on the subject - unless that is you are impressed by someone smoking a cigarette (sorry to lower the tone but I'm reminded of donny tourette on never midn the buzzcocks whenever amis boasts about how he likes scotch and smoking...)

oh and:

If every inhabitant of a liberal democracy believes in liberal democracy, then it doesn't matter what creed or colour they are. If, on the other hand, some of them believe in Sharia and the Caliphate (and believe, too, that slaughtering the attendees of ladies' night at the Tiger Tiger discotheque is a good way of bringing that about), the numbers start to matter.

When I interviewed Tony Blair earlier this year I asked him if continental demographics had yet become "a European conversation". He said: "It's a subterranean conversation." And we know what that means. The ethos of relativism finds the demographic question so saturated in revulsions that it is rendered undiscussable. As a multiculturist ideologue, Bennett cannot engage with the fact that a) the indigenous populations of Spain and Italy are due to halve every 35 years, and b) this entails certain consequences. He reaches, like a flustered commissar, for the polemical violence of "white supremacism"; he reaches for the race card - that silver hand-grenade of the virtuous.


for a start, Amis's writing here is wretched - that sentence about 'the ethos of relativism' is up there with judith butler in terms of inaccessibility, and this from a man who said (in an interview, of course) that 'I would certainly sacrifice any psychological or realistic truth for a phrase, for a paragraph that has a spin on it'. But to continue - Amis is sticking to his most repellent positiuon here - that 'were going to be outnumbered' by islamists in the very near future. In fact those two paragraphs can be translated as: 'it's not racist to talk about immmigration'. Well no it's not. but it's islamophobic to tar all muslims - even a significant portion of muslims, in that sleight of hand 'some of them' - with the belief that the attempted tiger tiger bombings were justified. Hiso pinions haven't changed at all on the 'outnumbered by Islamists' issue. he has truly lost it.

12/02/2007 10:46:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

On the update: the claim "Either there is free speech for everyone or there is free speech for no one" is a reductio ad absurdam and isn't true, which is not to say there is not truth in it.

On Bennett, it should be added that as an Ulster Catholic he's in a good position to know why he is not making the category error that Amis claims, as if religion (a Catholic atheist writes) were simply a matter of belief and not at all of background. He's also in a position to know that democracies don't always play by democratic rules.

(But he still doesn't know what zugzwang is.)

12/02/2007 11:05:00 AM  
Blogger Alex said...

EJH: The fact he mentions Spain in this connection is interesting, because it shows he swallowed Mark Steyn's cooked statistics uncritically. As it were, we can examine the stools to understand the diet.

Italy *does* have a serious demographic problem; but Spain doesn't, although it was expected to until quite recently. Instead Spain has been having something of a population boom; now, you might argue that it's all down to immigration, but you'd be only half-right - it's not.

And more to the point, the immigrants are by an overwhelming majority from Latin America, which puts a big hole in the "Waargh! Muslims!" thesis.

Further, Steyn wildly overstated the figures; Randy McDonald's definitive spanking of this stuff is obligatory reading, and is here.

We can therefore conclude from traces found in his bullshit that Amis' intellectual diet has recently included large quantities of neo-con koolaid.

12/02/2007 12:41:00 PM  

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