Thursday, November 13, 2008

Oh No, Not Again!

I believe that humankind in our present form has been around for something like seven million years and our history - that is, events worth recording for they mattered to subsequent generations, social organisation and agriculture and language - dates back for at hundreds of thousands of years. Therefore, I'm always rather suspicious when I come across any claim that a chain of events 'started with' something or other in recent history. The origins of just about everything go back much further than that. In other words, I'm not greatly enamoured by the following. [Update 1: yes, OK not 7 million years in our present form. 130,000 years for anatomically modern humans. Details, details, hmph.]

It is easy to portray fears about anti-Semitism as overblown. British officialdom has excelled in that activity, starting with the civil servant who, in 1942, condemned the evidence that Nazi Germany was systematically exterminating the Jewish population of Europe with the calm assertion that nothing of the kind was happening. It was all down to the hysteria of 'those wailing Jews'.

Alasdair Palmer mulling over the stark message in Globalising Hatred: The New Anti-Semitism by Denis MacShane. Does Palmer know nothing of British history? 1942 was a high point in cultural broadmindedness. We used to be much worse than that. I don't know if the civil servant is named in MacShane's book; he's not named in the review. And who would a civil servant say this to? Surely the evidence came from military intelligence - discussing state secrets with journalists in wartime, if not a capital crime would certainly have very unpleasant consequences.

Well, you know what's coming.

Anti-Semitism - virulent, violent anti-Semitism - is flourishing, principally because it is embedded in many of the political manifestations of Islam.

Yes! MacShane claims that though we have our home-grown anti-Semitism, there's a new much stronger mix on the streets these days. It's probably addictive, may ruin your sex life and shrivel your gonads, and could be a gateway to further depravity. Or something like that. See, we've always had this, but it's the Muslims' fault anyway. Here's the MacShame fast forward version: Hamas ... 'The Protocols of the Elders of Zion' ... Hezbollah ... Sayyid Qutb, the ideological founder of the Muslim Brotherhood ... Many revered Islamic preachers ... 'the failure of the intellectual and liberal Left ...' Palmer concludes that "the message of MacShane's book" is that "Bigotry, dogma and lies" are not only bad things, but the bad things that Muslims promulgate and which make 'radical Islam' 'incompatible with any decent social order.' Palmer hopes "it is one that we all take to heart."

I certainly believe that anti-Semitism is a bad thing; I think this government was largely on the right track with its treatment of 'hate crimes' as a special subset of violence that merits long sentences and public condemnation. But, really. Palmer says 'The Protocols etc' were 'exposed many years ago as a silly fake (the Tsarist secret police forged the document).' True enough, but he leaves the implication that that wasn't obvious on publication as if there had been a period when credulous Europeans really believed it. [Update 2: I don't think I was clear enough here. I believe that the debunking was pretty much contemporaneous with the publications. Alex in the comments was close: The Times exposed the forgery in 1921 and Henry Ford "sponsored the printing of 500,000 copies, and from 1920 to 1922 published a series of antisemitic articles". The implication in the review is wrong: there wasn't a single history of the Protocols such that they were published and a some later date, but a long time ago, they were exposed and then they faded from sight. They kept being printed and denounced by anyone with more than two brain cells and believed by the rest. I suppose I was wrong about 'credulous Europeans' but if TPOTEPZ were believed in was in spite of analysis, not for want of it.]

'Globalising Hatred' has been reviewed elsewhere. Tribune:

The texts of Qutb’s venomous Jew-hatred, MacShane believes, now form the basis for much Middle Eastern anti-semitism propaganda, especially against Israel. These texts are also used, according to MacShane, across the Arab world and help shape Osama bin Laden’s propaganda for al Qaida.

The extraordinary aspect of this, MacShane reveals, is that Qutb, who during the Second World War worked as a civil servant at the Ministry of Education in Cairo, was rewarded with an American scholarship when Washington was recruiting Muslim friends for its anti-communist drive in the Middle East. This enabled Qutb to study at Colorado State College where he received a diploma – after which he went back to Egypt, put two fingers up to the Americans and denounced “the brutality of Western materialism”. Qutb then lined up with the Muslim Brotherhood and acclaimed Adolf Hitler’s treatment of the Jews.

Again, the facts are true: Qutb did win a scholarship to the US. The order the facts are given in, however, implies that Qutb wrote his screeds and then went to the States on the invitation of the evil anti-Communists. I've no wish to defend McCarthyism, but Qutb was not invited because he sympathised with Hitler: that came later.

I don't know how much of this confusion is MacShane's and how much is risibly poorly informed reviewers. The FT is more measured. I'm sure that MacShane's intentions are good, but the effect of all this piling on out-of-print Qutb seems to be a sort of retrospective justification for Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. We did nasty things to Muslims, but you have to take into account, if we weren't there to stop them, who knows what they'd get up to? Countless lives may have been saved by timely detentions.

Then again, they may not.

MacShane has been in the news recently. Not on those terrible Muslims but on the equally pressing matter of Jamie Oliver. I'm a fully paid up member of the "use the off-button if you don't like it " club. Besides, I really distrust ubiquitous MPs.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe that humankind in our present form has been around for something like seven million years

You might want to revise this belief: anatomically modern humans only appear in the fossil record about 130,000 years ago. Seven million years is approximately the time since the last common ancestor of chimpanzees and humans.

11/13/2008 05:35:00 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

In fact, weren't the facts about the Protocols actually in The Times in 1922 or thereabouts?

11/13/2008 06:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I'm sure that MacShane's intentions are good"
You might want to revise this belief too.

11/13/2008 06:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sure that MacShane's intentions are good

You think?

There's been a slew of books like this by luminaries (ahem) like Phyllis Chesler and Bernard Lewis and its not hard to detect an agenda underlying them.

There is lots of vile anti-semitism in the Muslim world but the reasons underlying it are complicated. I haven't read Macshane's book, but knowing what I do about his general approach to Foreign Policy which I would characterise as idiotic, bone headed militarism, I would imagine that his thesis rarely rises above the reheated Berman evident in these extracts.

My guess would be that the agenda underlying this book is that radial Islamism is dangerous and impossible to reason with so we have had no choice to engage in the WOT and pin our best hopes on the US and Israel as the good guys in the struggle.

Same old. Same old.

11/13/2008 07:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is easy to portray fears about anti-Semitism as overblown. British officialdom has excelled in that activity, starting with the civil servant who, in 1942,

The slightly dodgy nature of this example has been done above - however to interrogate the use of the example, despite Hitler being evil, it is stil possible to inflate the actual extent of antisemitism, specially in Britain in 2008. Jst because a few unnamed people downplayed things in 1942 doesn't mean that claims of widespread antisemitism are never overblown.

Bigotry, dogma and lies" are not only bad things, but the bad things that Muslims promulgate and which make 'radical Islam' 'incompatible with any decent social order

I've no reason to doubt that this is the conclusion of the book. The intention behind this is prety obvious - try to emphasize the links between radical Islam and Nazism, no matter how different they actually are, in order to 'demonstrate' that dialogue with anyone who can be labelled a Muslim extremist won't work because it didn't work with Hitler.

There is certainly a fair amount of repellent AntiSemitism in the Muslim world. However as bubby intimates, these treatises on it always come from one particular school of thought on foreign policy - Gove, Phillips, Littlejohn, Berman, Amis, MacShane - and the disguise of impartiality on matters such as the main reason for Muslim hostility to Jews - Israeli expansion and ill-treatment of Muslims (mostly Palestinian) by the Israeli state - is never particularly convincing.

And seriously - do we need yet another rehash of 'the Qutb story'? We get it - he's a useful microcosm of an apparently broader trend; and because he ostensibly wrote autobiographically we can not bother reading him (depressingly, in the infamous ICA talk with Martin Amis, Andrew Anthony admitted that despite seling himself as an expert on radical Islam he'd never actually read an entire book by Qutb) but instead judge him on a few isolated statements, the people he has apparently influenced, and his life story. enlightenment values for the win...

11/13/2008 08:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And seriously - do we need yet another rehash of 'the Qutb story'?

Surely we don't. It has been done to death. I also think its time to call time on second rate hacks, politicians and writers reairing Berman's thesis regarding the roots and trajectory of radical Islam.

Is there any solid proof that Bin Laden or any of the AQ inner circle were heavily influenced by Qutb or had even read his work?

If people are going to make such grandiose claims about his influence there really should be.

11/13/2008 11:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Decents need Qutb as their explenation for the rise of radical Islam because they've forbidden themselves any form of analysis which takes into account the geopolitical realities in which radical Islam was formed.

What's worrying is how many non-Decent commentators take these fairy tales seriously, even if they disagree with them.

11/14/2008 07:27:00 AM  
Blogger flyingrodent said...

Funny this - I was once ticked off for taking the piss out of one of Denis McShane's screeds on the Dreaded Liberal Dinner Parties Of Hate, because it appeared in a Parliamentary report on anti-semitism. Had he included a photocopy of his arse cheeks on page 54 of that report, I'm unclear whether it would've been acceptable fodder for comedy or not.

A few points come to mind here, in no particular order - I'm always puzzled by the odd, one-eyed treatment of racial prejudice in Decent politics, which seems to be devoted to a) trawling the internet for previously unsuspected anti-semitic tropes in newspapers, speeches and BBC primetime dramas and b) yawning loudly and waving wanker-signs with both hands whenever any other ethnic group engages in similar activities.

So you wind up with people who spend their days trawling the internet, examining articles for deeply concealed racist codewords - this is "Shining a light on hidden racism" or some such. When anyone else does it, of course, it's "Grievance-mongering".

There's no right not to be offended, indeed. Don't you just love that identity politics?

Plus, as Martin says, there's the ever-humorous attempts to pin the ills of the world on Qutb. I watched some joker at HP posit yesterday that the undeniable ill-feeling the Lebanese, for example, feel for the Israelis is caused by innate anti-semitic prejudice. No doubt there's plenty of that, but I would've thought that the vast amount of live munitions that have pinged back and forth over the border in the last thirty years might have been worth mentioning too, no?

Maybe in a footnote or something, for clarity.

11/14/2008 12:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

off topic but last night, newsnight review had the gruseome twosome of Aaronovitch (suddenly very active again) and Gove discussing the new David Hare and (i think) a film about Iraq. I couldn't bring myself to sit through it but I'm sure it's on iplayer...

11/15/2008 09:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's this? David Toube on CiF, raising the flag for freedom of speech. Or, as the case may be, not.

11/15/2008 02:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gosh it's about Inayat Bunglawala. Always something fresh and surprising with Mr T.

11/15/2008 03:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can anyone explain why they have put a picture of Tim Westwood next to Toube's article? Is there a subtle subtext I'm missing here?

11/15/2008 05:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Inayat Bunglawala's game plan for rebranding his Islamist politics, by means of his ENGAGE project. Were it not for freedom of expression, I would not be able to point out the stupidity of calling his thinktank by the very same name used by the anti-racist, pro-two states campaign group Engage."

Hahhahahahaha. That's not stupid at all, it's very very funny (and possibly deliberate?).

11/16/2008 07:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Someone's been editing DT's comments. He left out 'red-baiting' in his description of his 'Engage' [which is as in ' . . . the enemy' rather than ' . . . constructively']

Chris Williams

11/16/2008 11:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PS - heads-up over here
as my mate John expresses his less-than-happy reaction to Nick Cohen's attempt to link evolutionary psychology to the Baby P case.

Chris Williams

11/17/2008 12:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Nick has come out against EP then that's interesting because when he discussed it last he was very much in favour, as part of the whole Butterflies and Wheels bill of goods from which he was apparently deriving his entire knowledge of 'science'.

11/17/2008 03:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That blog post is good and very convincing. Nick has a strange approach to disciplines he doesn't understand - he usually relies on a couple of inflammatory articles which he almost always misreads (witness his citation of Jonathan Bate earlier this year) and any attempt at balance goes out of the window.

Also in the Obs Andrew Anthony had a review of a book on linguistics which he discovered with glee goes against a lot of Chomsky's ideas. All well and good, although AA doesn't really seem to know much about linguistics, but he includes the following:

he is horrified when a young motherless baby, whose life he desperately tries to save, is killed by her father. But he comes to see these events as part of a culture that renders the Pirahã the happiest and most contented people he has ever encountered.

surely this is 'moral relativism' which AA claims to hate so much? And it comes from an evangelical Christian too... aren't those two things - devout religion and moral realtivism - AA's sworn enemies?

Chomsky's belligerent ability to be wrong about almost everything in politics


Everett is the primary interpreter and translator of Pirahã and as there are only a few hundred speakers left, it's unlikely any linguist will ever possess sufficient knowledge to challenge his conclusions

isn't this the exact opposite of enlightenment philosophy, which AA claims to be so keen on? Essentially, nobody can ever challenge this bloke's findings.

11/17/2008 08:45:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

Stranger than the Andrew Anthony review was why the Observer thought him a suitable reviewer for it. The book sounds potentially quite interesting, but the review was useless.

The Cohen article was bizarre. I think EvoPsych is bollocks for so many reasons, sharing economics' grasp of the scientific method. But I really don't understand what Nick's argument was supposed to be. Sociobiology was good, no it was bad, while evopsych is bad because it is sociobiology? What?

11/17/2008 11:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It surprises me that many people take evolutionary theory seriously. Its fine for explaining phenomena that have an obviously biological base or even relatively banal human activities such as the propensity to form small kinship groups or raise children. However try to use it to explain complex higher order human behaviours and things rapidly fall apart. Human social behaviour involves the incredibly complex interaction of our biological heritage with a host of micro and macro environments.

Look at recent history where there is plenty of acts of both astounding altruism and the most shocking barbarity. Humans have an amazing range of potentialities which can only be understood as a complicated nature-nurture interaction.

Trying to reduce them down to what may have been adaptive for furthering the genes of our distant ancestors on the Savannah hundreds of thousands of years ago- of which we know virtually nothing- is not very useful. This doesn't mean that evolution definitely didn't play a role in creating a propensity for certain kinds of behaviours. In fact it may well have done but we don't have the kind of falsifiable evidence to base any conclusions on. Human being clearly have a wide but not limitless range of behaviours which is pretty clear evidence that we have a nature which is not completely plastic. But how that developed and the mechanisms underlying it we really know almost nothing about as yet.

These arguments can end up in pretty dodgy territory as they present an oppotunity to project whatever prejudices you may possess.

For instance the authors of the Bell Curve suggested that Black mothers didn't nurture their children because they had 'evolved in the warm but highly unpredictable environment of Africa'.

11/18/2008 12:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry should be 'there are'

11/18/2008 12:36:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The reason the Cohen article is so odd is that Nasty Nick is having an argument with himself: His obsession with the eevil mooslims and the left pushed him to hang around with all kinds of right wing cranks like Jeremy Stinkbomb, who in turn fed him other right wing tosh about loony lefties abusing the fab science of evolutionary bollocks. However, he obviously ran into Steve Jones who said "don't be so daft", sending him into a spin. Every now and then Nick writes one of these columns partially rejecting one of his new right wing faiths, but these are usually only minor interruptions on his drive to the right

11/18/2008 10:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bubby: Its also bad psychology. We just don't know that much about the brain, how it works, its structure and how it develops. We certainly don't know (at a physical level) how genetics affects the brain and its development to make the kind of speculative assertions that EPs do. And that's before you begin to try and seperate culture, environment, etc.

"For instance the authors of the Bell Curve suggested that Black mothers didn't nurture their children because they had 'evolved in the warm but highly unpredictable environment of Africa'."

Which is bollocks from so many angles, its hard to know where to start (yes they do, they do in Africa, um what about socioeconomic environment and FUCKING SLAVERY YOU DICKS).

11/19/2008 04:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having been a bit behind with my newspaper reading I just got round to reading Nick's article last night. I don't really know much about EP but it was a bizarre article - I was wondering all the way through what point he was ultimately making and still didn't know when I had finished.

11/20/2008 07:42:00 AM  

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