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.
One important part of the activity of the anti-Islam movement in the domain of Communications—i.e., getting the message out about how dangerous Islam is—involves 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. It’s 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.
Today’s 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 them—i.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 ambassador’s 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 and—moving 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 bookseller’s 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 source—to wit, “as they reported to the Continental Congress”—but 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 isn’t 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 Parton’s 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 Parton’s account, it becomes clear that he is apparently quoting Jefferson as actually having written “The ambassador replied:. . .” etc. The less-than-desirable punctuation here—the lack of quotation marks to demarcate what the ambassador replied—one 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, Parton’s 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.
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 today’s 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 dates—a 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 today’s 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 one’s 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 times—namely, the lack of a definitive, simple yet comprehensive Anti-Islam Manual and, furthermore, the lack of any interest in producing one.
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.
Primary Sources 101 and why Wikipedia should be renamed “Pseudopedia”