Saturday, September 27, 2008
Asymptotic vs. Holistic Analysis: a clarification.
A reader of my preceding essay left a comment which inspired me to clarify my terms asymptotic analysis and holistic analysis, which in turn will clarify why I consider analysts like Brigitte Gabriel, Daniel Pipes and Robert Spencer to exemplify the former and not the latter. (I now reproduce an edited and polished version of my response to that reader.)
My semantic/conceptual tactic has been to widen the definition of asymptotic so as to include those who follow the paradigm of Politically Correct Multi-Culturalism (PC MC)—in order to highlight the problem of an asymptotic tendency in those analysts who are not PC MC and whom we in the anti-Islam movement ordinarily consider to be on our side.
When thinking about the phenomenon of Islamic terrorism, there are three most basic ways to frame that phenomenon:
1) as part of a good struggle against the evil West
2) as the actions of a “tiny minority of extremists” who are “trying to hijack” the otherwise peaceful religion of Islam
3) as the normative, traditional and perennial strategy of Islam as sanctioned by its texts, history and religious culture and as actively supported / more or less passively enabled by all Muslims world-wide, from the 7th century to the present.
The position of #1 would be the view of Muslims and the relatively small minority of hard-core Leftists in the West.
The position of #3 is that of holistic analysis.
Only #2 can be termed asymptotic.
While the New York Times in the way it smears B. Gabriel (as articulated by her in her frontpage.com essay) is obviously thoroughly saturated with PC MC, it does not support #1—even though its ultimately incoherent position may often in a de facto way have that indirect effect. The New York Times and those who share its worldview thus may be located in the same analytical category as B. Gabriel—even though they mutually disagree and criticize each other.
We can further refine this by saying that the New York Times position occupies the low end in the sphere of asymptotic analysis—as does President Bush: both essentially view the problem of Islamic terrorism as having nothing substantive to do with Islam, and both view the vast majority of Muslims as good people. Brigitte Gabriel, by regularly using the term “radical Islam”, occupies the high end in that sphere. Therein, furthermore, I would place Pipes lower than Gabriel (i.e., further away from the holistic conclusion that asymptotic analysis forever approaches but never reaches), and perhaps Spencer somewhere between the two—or, on the odd day that Spencer is feeling differently, higher than her (he tends to float up and down, depending on his mood apparently).
In my view, B. Gabriel (and any other analyst of the problem of Islam) would have to explicitly say that Islam and all Muslims are the problem to qualify as a holistic analyst: simply refraining from saying the opposite is not sufficient to establish that an analyst is not asymptotic. Indeed, a pattern of regularly refraining from doing so tends to inculcate and reinforce the asymptotic paradigm: the activity of merely doing a lot of work documenting Islamic atrocities, injustices and deceptions is not sufficient, even though it is otherwise commendable and helpful to the overall cause of the anti-Islamic movement.
I am talking about how one’s positions and terminology have consequences and how they instill tendencies: Gabriel's terms “radical Islam” and “Islamist” are terms that have consequences. A holistic analyst would never use such a term, because they realize how misleading it is, and how it in fact serves to reinforce the PC MC paradigm. Here’s a closer examination of some of what she wrote in that article (bold emphases mine):
But what is “hate speech” and what is “Islamophobia”? When I describe the threat presented by radical Islam, I quote chapter and verse from the Koran and authoritative classical Islamic sources. When I describe the worldwide campaign of Islamist hate indoctrination against the West, and the mind-numbing mass violence committed and glorified by radical Islamists... Do some of the facts about Islamist supremism manifest “hatefulness?”
Certainly. However, it’s not my fault that the truth about Islamist supremacist teachings and edicts is that they promote hate. Do I fear radical Islam? You bet. . . London subways. Madrid train stations. Bali night clubs. Beslan elementary school. They are all locations of horrendous terrorist atrocities committed by radical Islamists. . . If fearing radical Islamist terror makes me an “Islamophobe,” then I am an “Islamophobe” in its healthiest manifestation.
If all those asymptotic qualifiers she sprinkles throughout her essay were chili powder and the text were a rice dish, it would be way too spicy for my digestion. It seems that Gabriel is not merely using these terms reflexively, as mere garnish. She is using them carefully: she wants to make sure not to put Islam and all Muslims under her condemnation.
When she seems to widen out beyond the asymptote (or push it to its limit) with language like the following—
The Koran explicitly tells Muslims to hate (terrorize, subdue, oppress, and slaughter) the unbeliever until Islam is supreme in the world... In the more than 13 centuries since the emergence of Islam, this strict Islamic dogma has never been abrogated, amended or ameliorated. It is the Koran that is guilty of “hate speech.” I merely am the messenger exposing this hate.
—this by itself, again, does not prevent the application of the asymptotic paradigm. One could still argue that most Muslims today are not “radicalized” to follow their own Koran, super-imposing upon Islamic societies and psychology the same type of watering down of literalness and fundamentalist fanaticism that has occurred throughout the West with relation to Christian texts and history of religious wars. In fact, such an argument is part of the prevailing PC MC paradigm and is regularly used to decouple Islam, and the vast majority of Muslims, from virtually anything bad that Muslims say and do.
My litmus test for the holistic analyst is that, in order to qualify as such, the analyst must state positively the holistic position, not simply negatively imply it (by not not saying it) through statements from which we have to infer it—much less through statements that strongly resemble the asymptotic paradigm!
If analysts like Brigitte Gabriel and Robert Spencer are in fact holistic analysts, they are doing a poor job of clearly demonstrating their position.