Saturday, December 13, 2008
Complexity and Simplicity
There is a time for complexity, and there is a time for simplicity.
On Jihad Watch today, Kathy Shaidle interviews Robert Spencer. The interviewer asks him the simple question, “Is Islam itself the problem?” and Spencer replies like a weaselly, expensive defense attorney trying to keep his corrupt politician from going to the slammer. His value as a Communicator and Analyst in this kind of context is in my view significantly impaired.
Spencer should begin his answer with a simple response—“Yes, it is.” (or: “No, it is not.”)—then he should unpack it and apply weaselly oil to lubricate it if he wants, and then the reader can see more clearly if:
1) he is either trying to have his cake and eat it too; or
2) he does NOT in fact think that Islam itself is the problem; or
3) he is genuinely and logically explicating important nuances which nevertheless do not vitiate his initial simple response.
Similarly with his response to the second question—is “moderate” Islam even possible?— Spencer should simply begin with—“In my opinion, No.” (or: “In my opinion, yes, though it is extremely unlikely”)—then proceed with the complicated unpacking.
If his response is the latter, then part of that unpacking must include a statement directly and clearly addressing the usefulness of our admission that there exists a possibility that is nevertheless “extremely unlikely”. If he cannot present a cogent argument defending the usefulness of our admission of the existence of such an “extremely unlikely possibility”, then he should not even mention that possibility at all, or only mention it negatively, as something other people believe but which for the purposes of our self-defense, is a worthless statement.
Once he presents an argument defending the usefulness of our admission of the existence of such an “extremely unlikely possibility”, then the reader can determine whether that argument is cogent or not. Otherwise, Spencer is, in terms of this precise and particular problem, just presenting a complex bundle of gobbledy-gook. And he has been doing so for years, and has only stubbornly repeated that gobbledy-gook when challenged on it by readers of Jihad Watch, as partially documented on my now retired blog Jihad Watch Watch.
Spencer’s response to the third question directly undermines the crucial and paramount axiom of holistic analysis—Because we cannot sufficiently tell the difference between harmless Muslims and dangerous Muslims, we must assume they are all dangerous—by reiterating once again the useless likelihood that harmless Muslims exist somewhere out there, but not providing us with a key to pinpoint who and where they actually are.
That third question was:
“What about genuinely concerned, patriotic and devout Muslims? Are they confused? Will they one day have to choose between religion and country?”
And Spencer replied:
“They aren’t necessarily confused. They may have grown up and learned their Islam in areas of the world—Central Asia, Eastern Europe, West Africa—where the Islam that has evolved historically simply did not emphasize warfare. . .”
Spencer’s response is technically correct, but worthless for the purposes of our self-defense, since we cannot sufficiently tell which Muslims are “moderates” and therefore harmless to us. It does not matter that they exist (which they most likely do): what matters to us is where do they exist and who are they specifically? For various reasons—most importantly the culture of taqiyya in Islam—we cannot sufficiently answer these questions for the purposes of our self-defense. So to assume they are answered in the favor of a certain number of Muslims is to put our self-defense in jeopardy.
This example of Poor Analyst Spencer Redux is hardly the only example since I retired my blog Jihad Watch Watch back in May of this year; but, like his opening observations about the supposedly “anti-terrorist” Muslims protesting Mumbai about which I complained recently, it was sufficiently egregious to warrant notice. If Spencer would stop pushing his penchant for poor analysis above the threshhold of egregiousness, I wouldn’t feel the need to remind my readers of the original need for Jihad Watch Watch.