Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Primary Sources 101 and the Blogospheric anti-Islam Movement

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b6/Gutenberg_Bible,_Lenox_Copy,_New_York_Public_Library,_2009._Pic_01.jpg

Introduction:

For various reasons, the Blogosphere remains one of the most important (if not the most important) realms where the still inchoate anti-Islam movement continues to crystallize and continues to try to get its message persuasively out to the general Infidel public.

One of those reasons is the mainstream dominance of PC MC throughout the West, which has the effect of marginalizing if not altogether excluding from the public airwaves in all media any substantive criticism and critical examination of the problem of Islam. This situation has pushed those who seek to conduct that criticism into the Blogosphere: one wonders what would have happened post-911 had there been no Internet for members of the still-inchoate and growing anti-Islam movement to utilize.

Another reason, of course, is the nature of the Internet of which its Blogosphere is a major part, allowing for an amazing amount of freedom as well as an amazing and unprecedentedly global reach for the communication of information and the exchange of ideas.

Discussion:

One important part of the activity of the anti-Islam movement in the domain of Communicationsi.e., getting the message out about how dangerous Islam isinvolves the verifiability of claims we make about Islam and about Muslims. There are many facets to this area, but today I only focus on one: the problem of primary sources.

On the Internet in general, there seems to flourish either a disregard for the importance of primary sources for verification of claims, or an ignorance of what they are. Its not a complex concept: a primary source is simply the original document that establishes evidence of a particular claim.

Inextricably related to the primary source itself is an adequate reference to it by the person making, or reproducing, the particular claim. That adequate reference must include, at minimum, the following:


the original author, 

the primary source document in which the author wrote his relevant statement, 

the page number in that document (unless, of course, the document is so old it predates the convention of pagination), 

the date he wrote it, 

the editor(s) who published the reproduction of that document, 

the page number in the edition that has reproduced that document,

and the date and place of publication or republication of that document. 

If an Internet link is provided, it's of little value unless it leads the mouse-clicker to the information itemized above (rather than, at best, a wild goose Googling that may take hours to succeed -- if one is lucky!).

All of the above items are necessary for the elementary function of providing enough information to the reader so that he himself may find the document and see for himself that it exists in the same form attested by the person making the claim in question.

Todays example is a remarkably damning piece of evidence about the sociopolitical culture of Islam and its hostility to the West: it is the statement made by a Muslim ambassador from Tripolitania (now Libya) in 1786 in a meeting in London with Thomas Jefferson (then ambassador to Paris) and John Adams (then ambassador to London). The meeting concerned negotiations on how to minimize the piratical attacks by Muslim ships on European (and American) ships in the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. The main issue on the table was, to put it bluntly, what price was acceptable for the Americans to pay to persuade the Muslims to stop attacking themi.e., extortion. At that point, America was too weak and economically strained so fresh from its Revolutionary War to try to bargain from a point of strength, much less to make any demands on the Muslims. Nevertheless, Jefferson was already trying to figure out some way for America to free itself from the snare of this unacceptable extortion, and he would spend many years doing so, until finally America around about 1815 found the material strength and the political resolve to punish the Muslims involved with sufficient military attacks (mostly naval bombardments) to cause them to cease their piracy and extortion for good.

Back in time again to that meeting in London in 1786, Jefferson at one point asked a gingerly question of the Muslim ambassador: he asked him why the nations of North Africa (known as the Maghreb  -- Algeria, Tripolitania, Tunisia, Morocco) were attacking American ships, kidnapping their crews and stealing their cargoes. The Muslim ambassadors answer to Jefferson is the specific example I use today for this essay on primary sources. For now, I shall paraphrase his answer, since the problem I am examining today pertains directly to our ability to render an actual exact quote. Reportedly, he said that the reason those Muslim nations were attacking American and European ships was because according to Koran and the Sunna, Muslims have a right to attack and plunder Infidels and furthermore that if any Muslim dies while doing so, he goes to Paradise.

Now, this is a marvelously juicy quote for us in the still inchoate anti-Islam movement to be able to have in our armory. It goes a long way toward helping us establish certain things that go against the prevailing grain of PC MC assumptions about Muslims:

1. First and foremost, that when Muslims attack us, they are not merely rogue Muslims disconnected from a more organized body of Muslims directly motivated by their religion. Of course, this example of the Barbary Pirates does not prove that all attacks by Muslims are that solidly founded in Islam: as I argued in my previous essay The #1 problem: Statistics and Dot-connection, this kind of data is not conclusive proof, but it is a persuasive indication.

2. Closely related to #1, that various violent acts of Muslims that seem random or statistically dissolvable into the generic category of criminal behavior are, in the minds of Muslims and in their holy texts, part of their ongoing expansionist and supremacist project of Jihad. Again, the same caveat to #1 applies here as well.

3. That the problem of violent Muslims is not merely a recent phenomenon justified by their grievances against Israel and Bush, but goes back to the late 18th century when Israel did not exist and America had not done anything to Muslims at all.

The importance of these points, and furthermore their particularly poignant context of being centrally involved in the beginnings of America as a nation and its formation of the military institutions of the Navy and the Marines, makes it incumbent upon us in the still-inchoate anti-Islam movement to nail down the primary source of this quote by the Muslim ambassador and have the reference to that primary source readily available in the Blogosphere. That the precise opposite is the case is particularly distressing, at this late stage of the game.

The actual situation with regard to this quote throughout the Blogosphere has the following unfortunate features:

1) The quote and its historical context is repeated at multiple sites and blogs, but never is any reference given as to its primary source.

I have seen it thus repeated like a rumor or an urban myth (i.e., with no primary source reference) by various bloggers some more or less well known, such as Fjordman, Sheikh Yer Mami, Baron Bodissey of Gates of Vienna, Hugh Fitzgerald, Pamel Geller, Michelle Malkin andmoving higher in the hall of famous anti-Islam bloggers, Daniel Pipes and Andrew Bostom.

Often, no reference is given at all for any kind of a source, primary, secondary or tertiary. Somewhat less often, a reference is given that just takes the reader to another blogger in the echo chamber of the Blogosphere who himself offers no source. Occasionally, a reference is given that takes one back to supposedly authoritative founts of the veracity of the quote, such as Andrew Bostom, or more pertinently (yet less often), Johsua London, a historian and author of a recent book about the problem of the Barbary Pirates and its role in early American history. However authoritative these two might be, they remain secondary sources. Certainly the latter of the two is the more persuasive secondary source, whom one would be comfortably confidant had actually checked out the primary source himself. However, the ease with which the primary source could be pinned down, if it exists, and then its reference made generally available for all to use in the Blogosphere, makes the reliance upon a secondary source, no matter how credible, intolerable. We are not talking about some obscure hadith that might only be available in Arabic or in Urdu in some dusty booksellers curio shop in some casbah in Fez, Morocco, or in some jasmine-scented alleyway in Karachi, Pakistan. It is particularly aggravating when even Joshua London himself, writing for the online National Review magazine, again adduces the quote with only a shred of a reference to a primary sourceto wit, as they reported to the Continental Congressbut no trace of a proper reference to the primary source which one would reasonably assume he must have read himself in his scholarly research for his book. And Robert Spencer, in his book Stealth Jihad, uses this same quote and context, but cites as his reference only another secondary source, a book called American Sphinx by Joseph J. Ellis, on page 89.

2) If #1 isnt bad enough, I have found that there are at least two permutations of the quote in existence. This is simply impermissible.

While one of the permutations seems to be the only variant, this becomes problematic because it is cited in a reputable source, well outside the Blogosphere
an article titled Jefferson, American Minister in France, by the prolific 19th-century historian and biographer James Parton, published in 1872 in The Atlantic monthly magazine, volume 30, issue 180, pp. 405-424. In Partons version, the quote runs like this:

"The ambassador replied: It was written in their Koran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave; and that every mussulman who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise."
 

From reading Partons account, it becomes clear that he is apparently quoting Jefferson as actually having written The ambassador replied:. . . etc. The less-than-desirable punctuation herethe lack of quotation marks to demarcate what the ambassador repliedone assumes reflects on Jefferson, not on Parton. [Update, in fact, it reflects poorly on Parton, as my analysis of the actual primary source which I finally located reveals: see link below.] 

Meanwhile, the form of the quote bandied about the Blogosphere (and in Spencer
s book) goes like this:. . .that it was founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as Prisoners, and that every Musselman who should be slain in Battle was sure to go to Paradise.

The differences are sufficiently remarkable to put the reader in doubt as to what the actual original quote was.
Furthermore, the Blogospheric version misspells Mussulman as Musselman (I doubt that the Muslim ambassador was referring to fishermen who gather mussels from shorelines); while, to add more niggling aggravation to our search for authenticity, Partons rendering spells it correctly but fails to capitalize it. A quote has only one form, and that is verbatim. If there exists more than one wording for a quote, this jeopardizes the veracity of all wordings of that quote. The uniformity of the quote bandied about by the various Bloggers, thus, does not so much substantiate the veracity of their version, as it simply reflects the tendency of Bloggers to repeat things they read in the Blogosphere.

It would be apposite at this juncture to note a certain wrinkle to the quote: apparently, even the original quote, which could be definitively ascertained from an actual reading of the primary source (apparently, some document among the archives of the papers of the Continental Congress, which was the institutional body embodying the transition of America from a state of a confederation of Colonies to its form as the United States of America), was not a direct verbatim quote from the lips of the Muslim ambassador, but was a paraphrase of it by Jefferson himself who wrote up his report of the meeting with him. This wrinkle should be of no cause for concern, however, since only a crank would dispute the reportage of Thomas Jefferson himself after that reportage has been verified.


Conclusion:

Today
s specific example could be multiplied to innumerable instances of claims made in the still-inchoate anti-Islam movement concerning Islam and Muslims. Some of those instances are more important due to the nature of the claim, such as todays example, and some are less important. (An example of the latter is a nice anti-Islamic quote by the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, where the problem here is that the reference citation to the primary source, which is at least supplied by some of the Bloggers, varies from citation to citation in terms of titles, page numbers and datesa distinct problem with the same result of undermining the effectiveness of the quote. However, the opinion of an 18th-century founder of a Christian denomination will hardly carry much weight in todays climate of cynically sophisticated and residually anti-Christian secularism.)

At any rate, the general disregard and disinterest among members of the still-inchoate anti-Islam movement for the importance of primary sources is lamentable. A damningly juicy quote like the one used in today
s example may enjoy some traction for a while as it skims along on the surface of demagogic rhetoric. However, sooner or later the effectiveness for a quote like that will run up against a brick wall whenever the intended audience of the quote asks for a reference to verify it, and the person employing the quote cannot produce it. This is particularly infuriating knowing that it is entirely feasible to pin that quote down in its primary source form, if it exists. In addition, having the adequate reference to the primary source at ones fingertips from the beginning adds considerable weight to the force of the quote.

Individuals of the still-inchoate anti-Islam movement have no excuse for this pathetic state of references to primary sources
and the blame and shame most acutely falls on the shoulders of those who have more money, influence and resources to do something about this. The larger situation verges into the problem of a major deficiency in the still-inchoate anti-Islam movement about which I have written many timesnamely, the lack of a definitive, simple yet comprehensive Anti-Islam Manual and, furthermore, the lack of any interest in producing one.

Note: 


I refer the reader to my response to the comment by Nobody” in the comments section below. My response further clarifies the importance of the Jefferson quote of the ambassador as a primary source.

Related Reading:

Primary Sources 101 and why Wikipedia should be renamed “Pseudopedia”
 


2 comments:

Nobody said...

But there is a difference between having primary sources for things like Qur'an, Hadiths, which is actually easier to get, vs primary sources for history books and books regarding quotations, all of which have a weighted amount of perceived subjectivity built into them.

Therefore, if somebody were to actually produce the original quote by Jefferson re: the Barbary pirates, in the same manner that people often cite Churchill's 'The River War' quotation, then Jefferson would be a secondary source here on what the Mehgreb ambassador said re: the Qur'an. I don't see how that improves anything.

Using Islamic texts to cite and demonstrate anything, be it status of women to jihad on Infidels is easy to do. Saying anything about history these days is impossible because on the PCMC side of things is a whole populace that regards classical history the way it used to be written as the biased viewpoints of White men.

For example, if one tries to justify the destruction of the Maya, Aztec and Inca civilizations on the grounds that they practiced human sacrifice, one would immediately be contradicted by PCMC types who would claim that that is a blood libel claim made by the White conquerors to justify the massacre and destruction of these native peoples. (The case is made worse in the case of the Incas, whose emperor was abducted for ransom and murdered after the ransom was paid) If one doubts this, just look at the public reaction to the Mel Gibson movie about the Mayas.

So as far as history goes, finding primary sources for anything is not going to do one much good. But I do agree that providing evidence simply by inter-links between the echo chamber does not do our side any favors.

Erich said...

Nobody,

I would beg to differ on at least one point you argue.

"there is a difference between having primary sources for things like Qur'an, Hadiths, which is actually easier to get, vs primary sources for history books and books regarding quotations, all of which have a weighted amount of perceived subjectivity built into them."

First of all, the example of my essay here involves a quote from a Muslim who is not a member of the rabble, but an ambassador. It would be harder for a PC MC to dismiss an ambassador as an "extremist" and thus as unrepresentative of the Muslim mainstream.

As such, the quote should have the same weight as any quote of any similar Muslim in the news today -- a politician, a supposedly reputable academic, etc. (example: the speech to the OIC in 2003 of Mahathir Mohamed, former Prime Minister of Malaysia which contained some nice little gems of anti-Semitism and Islamic paranoia).

"Therefore, if somebody were to actually produce the original quote by Jefferson re: the Barbary pirates, in the same manner that people often cite Churchill's 'The River War' quotation, then Jefferson would be a secondary source here on what the Mehgreb ambassador said re: the Qur'an."

Two problems with this:

1) Churchill's quote is his opinion based on his observations. They are not his reporting of what a Muslim said.

2) Jefferson is reporting a direct quote by a Muslim speaking to him personally. Jefferson in this case functions like a tape recorder. If Jefferson were some disreputable person of low credibility, the quote's veracity would be impaired. But as I said in my essay, only a crank would dispute the veracity of Jefferson's reportage in relaying this quote. Now, there are a certain number of PC MCs who tend to dislike Jefferson for being an evil white imperialist and slave-owner (and even had an affair with one of his female black slaves), and for this reason might discount his reportage. I may be wrong or deluded on this account, but as bad as PC MCs can be, I think the proportion of those who would go so far as to dismiss Jefferson's credibility in reporting the words of the Muslim ambassador reflects only a small minority.

However, this is a subtly separate issue from the issue of reportage. Even in today's news, many quotes are "secondary" in that they are reported to us by somebody. The exception of course is when we have an actual audio or video of them saying it, or an actual writing we know is from their hand. But people today do not discount the reportage of a quote unless the reporter is not reputable. So, to take our Jefferson example again, imagine that a hero of the PC MCs -- Martin Luther King Jr. for example -- said that he sat down with a Muslim ambassador and King said that "the Muslim ambassador said that 'the Koran makes it an obligation for every Muslim to attack Infidels and that if the Muslim doing this dies he goes to Paradise'" -- the PC MCs would not dispute the primary nature of that quote just because it is reported by somebody. That they would lend more credence to it because a hero of theirs was the reporter is beside the point, since it reflects their bias: the main point being that when the reporter is deemed reputable, no one except for an eccentric crank would dispute the primary nature of the quote reported. And Jefferson surely counts as a reputable reporter. He wasn't just wandering around London and happened to overhear a conversation in a pub one night. He was sitting in a room in his official, responsible capacity as an ambassador (to Paris) from the fledgling United States, sitting across from a Muslim ambassador and having an official discussion with him. Jefferson furthermore was a brilliant statesman and renaissance man intellectual, and was centrally instrumental in the political and legal formation of the United States and later became President. If all that isn't enough to establish his credibility, he was accompanied by a witness to his meeting with the Muslim ambassador, John Adams, himself ambassador to London.

Another distinction I don't think you are taking account of in this context (though I know you are aware of it otherwise) is a distinction of sources on Islam between two types:

1) textual sources like Hadiths and Koran only inform us of what Islam might be in its essence

2) sources of quotes (written adn oral) and of behaviors of certain Muslims (or of masses of Muslims as in demonstrations, lynchings, etc. inform us of the nature of Muslims.

Now, as I argued in my previous essay on Statistics and Dot-connection, #2 type sources can never bridge the gap between the demonstrable "extremism" of the limited number of Muslims in question, and the general category of "all Muslims" -- not even "most Muslims". Nevertheless, while they do not constitute definitive conclusive proof by which to criticize all (or even most) Muslims, they do offer persuasive indications that something is generally pathological in Islamic culture and sociology. When a Muslim who is an ambassador says what that quote reports him to say, that will help to jar the muddled thinking of many PC MCs, I maintain. It may not wake them up, but it certainly will help to give them a little buzz of electricity in that general direction. And my point is that it will have this effect all the more so if we have the full reference to the primary source presented along with the quote, while that effect may be undermined by our inability to produce it.

Thus your comment:

"Using Islamic texts to cite and demonstrate anything, be it status of women to jihad on Infidels is easy to do."

Yes, but the problem of extrapolating that to "most Muslims" (let alone "all Muslims") remains undiminished, especially when our PC MC mindset requires a higher threshhold than rationally normal of smoking-gun demonstration to even consider that extrapolation.

"Saying anything about history these days is impossible because on the PCMC side of things is a whole populace that regards classical history the way it used to be written as the biased viewpoints of White men."

This harks back to my point about some PC MCs and Jefferson. Certainly, your point here would apply to some dead white male who was demonstrably racist. Jefferson, I maintain, is not sufficiently blemished in the PC MC eye to be dismissed by the majority of them. I may be miscalculating here, but I don't think so. This is all relative and reflects degrees: for example, while there are historical whites who would be worse reporters in the mind of PC MCs, a Lincoln for example would probably be more respected as a credible source than Jefferson.

"For example, if one tries to justify the destruction of the Maya, Aztec and Inca civilizations on the grounds that they practiced human sacrifice, one would immediately be contradicted by PCMC types who would claim that that is a blood libel claim made by the White conquerors to justify the massacre and destruction of these native peoples."

There are types of historical evidence that can exist that would refute such a PC MC counter-claim and only the most mendacious type of PC MC (really, more like a Leftist at that point) would dig in his heels when presented with it. You seem to be maintaining, however, that no such type of evidence can possibly exist.

In addition, it is not impossible that one could find a "liberal" anthropologist who wrote a paper specifically supporting the evidence of Maya, Aztec and Inca civilizations having practiced human sacrifice. This is a separate issue from whether the Europeans were justified in destroying their civilizations -- but you conflated the two by implying that it would be impossible even to

1) possess persuasive evidence of those civilizations having practiced human sacrifice

and

2) then persuade some or most PC MCs with this evidence.

I maintain that both 1 and 2 are possible in this kind of historical case; but even after the PC MC accepts that evidence, he will likely have further fall-back positions either to exculpate those civilizations or at least to deny that their destruction was justified under any circumstances (due to their fundamentally incoherent logic of favoring non-white non-Westerners above white Westerners even when the former are shown to be guilty of the same, or even worse, crimes).