In today’s Jihad Watch, Raymond Ibrahim has published an essay that contextualizes the Somalian piracy with the American history of the Barbary Pirates.
Of course, I knew without a doubt that Ibrahim would have recourse to that Blogospherically famous quote about the Muslim ambassador’s Islamic justification for piracy related to then ambassador to London Thomas Jefferson in 1789.
I also suspected that, instead of finally alleviating the subtle hornet’s nest of niggling problems that have attended that famous little gem of a quote, Ibrahim’s use of it would only tend to perpetuate it.
And so it seems I was correct.
For background analysis on this, see my previous essays Primary Sources 101 and the Blogospheric anti-Islam Movement and Primary Sources 101 and Pseudopedia revisited.
First, we have the amusing situation of remotion from the primary source by three degrees: Ibrahim cites Melvin E. Lee, Melvin E. Lee cites Frank Lambert, and finally Frank Lambert cites Paul L. Ford.
Despite this ridiculous remotion, we do seem to find in Paul L. Ford finally an ostensibly credible secondary source—to wit, as Melvin E. Lee notes in footnote #11 of his article referenced by Ibrahim:
Thomas Jefferson, “‘The American Commissioners’ Report to John Jay,” in Paul L. Ford, ed., The Works of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 9 (New York and London: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904-5), p. 358.
A multi-volume collection of the works—one assumes the complete works—of Thomas Jefferson would proffer for us, at last, the motherlode of primary source material in which one could locate the actual gem of the quote itself. However, in the context of the Communications arena of this most exigent endeavor of the still inchoate anti-Islam movement conducted largely, still, in the Blogosphere, this citation at third or more remotion of an ostensibly trustworthy secondary source is simply unacceptable—particularly when the actual original document in question and its appropriately complete reference are entirely possible to provide in any given online article, including both Ibrahim’s and Melvin E. Lee’s.
Secondly, I have already run into annoyingly niggling little snags in trying to pin down this ostensibly trustworthy secondary source, the multi-volume edition of Jefferson’s works edited by Paul L. Ford. The edition apparently is not available even for a limited preview on Google Books. I then checked the college library of my city, and their citations of this edition contain numerous problems—including the lack of any information about volume numbers and more importantly an ambiguity about whether its library system even has it on its shelves or not—whose resolution via email with staff members of the library I am now awaiting. If it turns out that my nearby college library indeed has the edition—and, of course, specifically has volume 9, the one cited by Melvin E. Lee as containing the specific primary source in question—I will then have to go physically to the library and look up the reference to check it. It is not so much that this presents any privations or imposition on me: an excursion to the college library is often a pleasant way to spend an hour or two. It is the fact that at this late stage of the game, nearing the second decade of the 21st century, the Blogosphere—and particularly that part of it devoted to the still inchoate anti-Islam movement—should not merely be a medium for demagogic rhetoric and rumor-mongering, nor even for the more respectable activity of speculative essays ungrounded in actual references, but should also include appropriately complete references to primary sources that substantiate at least our more important claims.
The problem of this deficiency is acutely augmented by a further flaw in the representation of the quote in question by Ibrahim / Melvin E. Lee / Frank Lambert / Paul L. Ford: its wording varies from other instances of the same quote adduced by various writers in the Blogosphere, as well as in one other instance of it which I have found from a 19th-century secondary source. In my previous essay, I presented both versions to show the discrepancies. Now we have three versions, compounding that original problem. As I argued before, a primary source quote is supposed to be verbatim, and it is supposed to have one form only, not multiple renderings. This is an intolerable situation where three permutations of an original quote are floating around: it undermines the veracity of the quote.
The quote presented by Ibrahim / Melvin E. Lee / Frank Lambert / Paul L. Ford only supplies a partial citation—indeed, not even a full sentence; but even that small amount is sufficient to reveal a divergence in wording:
“right and duty to make war upon them [i.e., “all Christians” as Melvin E. Lee puts it in his own words] wherever they could be found, and to enslave as many as they could take as prisoners.”
Meanwhile, the quote bandied about the Blogosphere—including by such luminaries as Pipes, Bostom and Spencer—has these words for that same part:
“right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as Prisoners, . . .”
Notice the differences: The former version has “and to enslave as many as they could take” while the latter has “and to make slaves of all they could take”.
In addition, the latter capitalizes “Prisoners” while the former does not (a common orthographical peculiarity of 18th-century writing was the capitalization, seemingly without rhyme or reason, of apparently random words).
Also, the former ends the excerpt on a full stop period (contained within the final quotation mark), whereas the latter ends the excerpt on a comma, with the conclusion to the sentence following.
Finally, the former contains a little problem in the words of Melvin E. Lee—the secondary (or, rather, the quaternary) source: he describes the object of the attack and enslavement by Muslims as “all Christians”. Where is Lee getting this from? From the original wording of the primary source presented by Paul L. Ford? Or from the representation of that wording by Frank Lambert? This is important because it presents a significant divergence from the quote as bandied about the Blogosphere and as reported by my 19th-century secondary source, where the object in both of those versions is “all nations” which have not acknowledged Islam—though here, both of those versions also have variances in wording on describing this:
1) “all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority” (where “their” refers back in the sentence to “the Laws of their Prophet” and “the Koran”)
2) “all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet”.
Some may think a further problem I have noticed constitutes excessive quibbling on my part, but when it comes to adequate referencing of sources, a scrupulous attention to detail is de rigueur. In light of this, Melvin E. Lee’s citation in his footnote #11 contains an extra single quotation mark. I here reproduce it again:
Thomas Jefferson, "‘The American Commissioners' Report to John Jay," in Paul L. Ford, ed., The Works of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 9 (New York and London: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904-5), p. 358; quoted in Lambert, The Barbary Wars, p. 116.
The single quote mark comes just before the third word, “The”, following “Thomas Jefferson”, and just after the opening double quote mark which the reader logically assumes—and can see for himself—is resolved by its closing double quote mark at the end of “John Jay”. To what, then does the opening single quote mark refer? And where is its closing single quote mark to contain what it is referring to? It cannot be the apostrophe at the end of the word “Commissioners” since that is, indeed, an apostrophe denoting the possessive form of the word “Commissioners”, and not a single quote mark. This sort of discrepancy, however minute it may seem to the reader, is important in that it exposes a potential inaccuracy in the citation itself, which poses a problem of accuracy more generally.
Today’s article by Raymond Ibrahim only compounds the problem I had noticed and analyzed in my previous essay. Such an exacerbation is to be expected when no one has bothered to pin down the primary source and make it available online. Again, in this case, it would be relatively easy to do so.
When I hear back from my local college library, and I learn that the work in question is at my local college library, I will go there and check it for myself. It is possible that it is not available there, but at some other library further away from me, which will present more inconvenience for me. Others in the still inchoate anti-Islam movement who travel more than I do (such as Robert Spencer who regularly goes to college campuses and could take 30-60 minutes out of his schedule one day to pin down this reference) and/or who have immediate easy access to major library systems (such as Raymond Ibrahim, currently a grad student at a school in the Washington, D.C. area—Catholic University, which surely would have a superb library containing the primary source in question—and who furthermore has worked in the Library of Congress himself and doubtless has access there) have a greater facility and higher responsibility than me to do this basic and important task. Andrew Bostom who has made it his life’s work to collect, edit and present primary sources on the problem of Islam, is another one that could be adduced in this same regard. Many others come to mind as well, such as Daniel Pipes or Hugh Fitzgerald (who often drops hints about his travels and his access to obscure libraries and scholarly bookstores in various parts of the world).
But I suppose it will have to devolve upon me—a relatively obscure nobody in the Blogospheric anti-Islam movement in pursuit of his “hobbyhorse” at which Robert Spencer and Hugh Fitzgerald have arrogantly and snidely turned their sneering noses—to finally pinpoint the proper reference to this important little gem of a quote which has become so often used by so many in the still inchoate anti-Islam movement. Will I get a nod of thanks by any of the aforementioned for my trouble? Let us wait and see, though I won’t be holding my breath.