Wednesday, June 06, 2007

When Did PC MC Begin? Second Case Study

A few weeks ago on this blog, I presented an
analysis of a dusty Orientalist from 1917: one Professor T.W. Arnold who, in an article that year (published in the Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London), exhibited many of the symptoms of the politically correct pathology which I—and I think many who speculate about this—assume must have only really taken shape in the last 50-odd years.

So far (as I argued in that previous analysis), I chalk up the case of Arnold as indicative of his being more of a precursor or pioneer, if you will, of a phenomenon which had not yet taken hold generally in Western societies. I tend, therefore, to conclude that PC MC was not yet a prevalent social phenomenon in 1917, though the ingredients that would form it later were coalescing. (To the extent that such PC MC pioneers were relatively numerous (if still in the minority—and one can reasonably, albeit tentatively, assume that the numbers of PC MC people in general, not just scholars, kept increasing as the decades progressed), this belies, or at least undercuts, one major premise of Hugh Fitzgerald’s Academic bête noire, the “MESA Nostra” that has become dominant in Middle Eastern Studies departments of colleges and universities throughout the West (to wit, the premise that Academe has been taken over by Muslim apologists): for, as I have argued time and time again, such examples of infiltration and sabotage by Muslim apologists (or, in Edward Said’s case, “Islamochristian” apologists) would have enjoyed little or no traction, were there not already a nutritious predisposition toward PC MC already in Academic culture.)

I have recently come across another Western scholar—equally unknown at large—in the general field of the history of Islam (with a subspecialty in modern African history), this time half a century later, from 1963: a Prof. Thomas Hodgkin, Director of the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana.

In a short book review titled “Islam, History, and Politics” published in 1963 in The Journal of Modern African Studies (I, I, pp. 91-97), Prof. Hodgkin reviews a book by Dr. J.S. Trimingham titled History of Islam in West Africa (London, Oxford University Press, 1962).

Most of Prof. Hodgkin’s review concerns historiographical minutiae of more interest to scholars assiduously building their subspecialty ant colonies. Of more interest for our purposes is his mention of certain significant political movements that began having sweeping effects throughout West Africa (if not North and Central Africa in general) in the 19th century. Basically, these were jihads of resistance to the intrusion of Western colonialism, and they probably took root much earlier, when the West began to penetrate Africa in earnest at least a century earlier. Prof. Hodgkin does not delve into these movements in any depth or detail, since they are not within the purview of his review, but they do form the backdrop to his final paragraph, which basically upbraids Dr. Trimingham (the author of the book he is reviewing) for being politically incorrect.

The political incorrectness in question here is Dr. Trimingham’s apparently pro-Colonialist bias, which then leads him to denigrate the jihadist rebellions of 19th century Africa (particularly the Islamic dan Fodio clan and the Fulani jihad of West Africa) as having thrown “Western Sudan into a state of complete anarchy” and “ruined the regions they submitted” until the French (and here Hodgkin snidely interjects “those agents of divine Providence”) were able to “bring peace to this vast war-tortured region”. These observations of Trimingham seem to be perfectly reasonable to us Jihad Watchers, but unacceptable to Prof. Hodgkin, who adduces pro-colonial sources and interpretations (including what he dismissively refers to as an “old colonial myth”, though he never refutes it). However, we shall see that while Trimingham is less PC MC than Hodgkin—who brusquely paints the former’s historiography of 19th century Africa as a “naive colonial account of this terrible phase of African history”—, he nevertheless does not seem immune to a tendency to minimize the significance of the “religious” aspects of Islam.

I will now quote blocks of Hodgkin’s damning paragraph in italicized portions, interspersed by my bracketed unitalicized comments:

Finally, I am not happy about Trimingham’s tendency to intrude moral judgments, of doubtful validity, into his historical narrative. Al-Hajj ‘Umar is labelled an ‘Islamic adventurer’. Rabih ibn Fadl Allah is simply a ‘slaver’ who had no genuine interest in religion’. Samori Ture ‘appears to have had little genuine concern for Islam’; and he and other leaders of the resistance to European colonial penetration, such as Mamadu Lamin and Tyeba, are also described as ‘adventurers’, who ‘used Islam largely as a cloak for their personal ambitions’.

[Hodgkin is unhappy because Trimingham undervalues the role of religion in these politico-military movements—just as, earlier in his review, Hodgkin noted with disapproval Trimingham’s dismissal of the Islamic underpinnings to the Fulani jihad of the dan Fodio clan, citing H.F.G. Smith’s contention that “the Shehu Usuman dan Fodio and his two chief supporters were extraordinarily well read in Arabic [read: Islamic] literature”—though it is clear that for Hodgkin, the role of religion [read: Islam] in these African movements was a positive and admirable factor; and that is why he is unhappy that Trimingham neglects to give their prominence due credit.]

Seeing that, for this period, Trimingham draws fairly heavily on French writers of the colonial school, such as Péroz, these judgments should (as the saying goes) be used with caution. Indeed the term “patriot” might with entire propriety be substituted for [Trimingham’s] “adventurer” throughout.

[Or how about we substitute “jihadist” for both of those inadequate terms? And I trust the reader noted as grimly as did I the eery echo of today’s “freedom fighter” in Hodgkin’s preference for “patriot”.]

As for the question whether Rabih, Samori, and others were good Muslims or no, it is generally agreed that such matters are best left to the judgment of Allah. Only God can know whether Samori, Rabih, Dr. Trimingham and I are in fact mu’minin.

[This is an extraordinary comment by Prof. Hodgkin—or at least it surprises us by its anticipation of the smarmy Karen Armstrongs of our day. If he is a Muslim, such a comment, while characteristic of Muslim arrogance, is nevertheless out of place in a scholarly review. And if he is not a Muslim, then he is not only claiming a magnanimously ecumenical interpretation of faith that is ferociously contradicted by the Qur’an itself; and he is not only apodictically claiming that no one (but Allah) can adjudge who or what an authentic Muslim is; he is also (likely unwittingly, if he is not a Muslim) insinuating an essentially Muslim tactic about such a matter which—though it superficially resembles (particularly with his bending-over-backward “respect” for Islam) the kind of agnostic humility sometimes cultivated in Christianity whereby one serenly abjures any condemnation, or praise, of one’s brothers in the faith—actually affects a refusal to condemn the orthodoxy of fellow Muslims whenever, and wheresoever, Infidel eyes and ears might be about to exploit such divisive weakness. But when Infidels are not around, or are in a state of weakness, the good Muslim will make no bones about drawing a deadly line in the sand dividing the Believers (the mu’minin) from the Unbelievers.]


In these two scholars, Trimingham and Hodgkin, we see the perhaps incipient signs of an ominous crack that has become more pronounced in our day: between

1) those who “respect” Islam and through that “respect” are not shy about emphasizing the role of religion in Islam—in positive and beneficial terms, of course (even when the gymnastic contortion has to be performed to find in Islam the positive and beneficial quality of being the main, or only, remedy for the disturbing and dangerous pathologies that keep erupting from out of the orbit of that wonderful religion);


2) those who tend to minimize the role of Islam in the problems arising out of the orbit of Islam—finding the only causal recourse, therefore, in non-religious factors such as economics, geopolitics, and general human flaws (greed, ambition, etc.).

Of course, many if not most of our prevailing pundits who pontificate about Islam in our time cobble together both #1 and #2; while #2 sometimes bifurcates into those who more easily find the West to blame for Islamic pathologies, and those who don’t but nevertheless do not see Islam as the source of those pathologies—with the only logical conclusion being that the cure can likely be economic or geopolitical while largely ignoring the religious factor.

More broadly speaking, I am, indeed, coming to see in the Western movement that resulted in the dismantling of its Colonialist structures a major source—and catalyst—for the rise of a dominant and mainstream political correctness over the past 50-odd years. This movement must have had strong, albeit amorphous, precursors; but to the degree that one can isolate major catalysts of a sea change—and to the degree that one can delineate a temporal beginning, however ragged, to such a sea change—it seems to me one can say that the anti-Colonialist movement in the West, both in its preceding groundswell as well as in its concretization in the 1950s and 1960s and its subsequent aftershocks, is one of, if not the most, significant engines of the sea change that ushered in the Age of Political Correctness.

That Age is, unfortunately, still with us, perhaps more dominant and mainstream than ever. It is possible that, just as the dismantling of Western Colonialism inaugurated its reign, so too will, eventually, the problem of an Islam Redivivus set the gears in motion of its long overdue demise.

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