Sunday, August 30, 2009
Who speaks for us in the Anti-Islam Movement?
The question has many complications: it does not stem from a monolithic situation either existing or desired, nor does it demand a monolithic solution.
Thus, it is reasonable to accept a loose principle whereby we agree that, for example, Robert Spencer, because of his credentials and his intelligence about Islam, speaks for us in the Anti-Islam Movement with regard to many statements he has made concerning the subject of issues under the broad umbrella of the Problem of Islam.
The caveat, surely, to this loose principle would be to avoid a universal rule whereby it becomes incumbent upon us in the Anti-Islam Movement to accept everything Spencer pronounces upon that subject. That is to say, while we agree to the loose principle, we also reserve the right to dispute this, that or the other thing Spencer might pronounce upon concerning that subject. Surely that cannot be deemed unreasonable—and yet, there seem to be supporters of Spencer who would deem it so. And even what we dispute may not reflect utter rejection—it might partake of any one of many shades of degree ranging from strong disagreement to suggestions for modification without necessarily rejecting the totality of whatever pronouncement is in question. (This being another nuance all too often incomprehensible to certain Spencer supporters in their rather obtuse devotion to him.)
An immediate corollary problem appears at this juncture: Who is this “we” that is receiving Spencer’s pronouncements, and then deciding whether or not to agree with any one of them, or deciding at least to agree in part, but not in whole? The “we” ideally would embrace all people in the growing Anti-Islam Movement. What is this Movement? As yet, it seems to have no visible official contours or structure. In fact it seems to be a rather ragged collection of diverse, and largely anonymous people apparently spread out in a diaspora around the West, if not around the world both in the Blogosphere and out in the “real world”, with most of its central communications located in the former. Its numbers, however, remain a mystery.
This generates another wrinkle of complexity. For, how do we define who is within that Movement, and who isn’t, or who shouldn’t be, in it? (We’ll leave that question for now.)
And yet another wrinkle: How are such decisions—of whether, and to what degree, to agree with those who more or less speak for us by pronouncing upon this, that or the other issue involving the Problem of Islam—to be adjudicated? Does there currently exist any process at all for such adjudication? The answer to the latter question, of course, seems to be: No, not yet. At least no process with any semblance of effective organization and representation.
At any rate, given the amorphous nature of these very pragmatic questions in the context of the still inchoate Anti-Islam Movement, we have today exhibit A:
In a recent introduction to a Jihad Watch article, Robert Spencer wrote to his readers (emphasis added in bold):
It is not "hate" to report accurately on how Islamic jihadists use Islamic texts and teachings to justify violence against non-Muslims. Nor is it "anti-Muslim" to do so. . . . Just for the record, the "feud" [between Charles Johnson and Spencer, et al.] did not break out over "whether or not the anti-Muslims should join forces with European neo-fascists." It broke out over a couple of weblinks. No one was or is saying that anti-jihadists (which is not the same thing as "anti-Muslims") should join forces with European neo-fascists.
Let us extract the givens that Spencer is dispensing to his readers, which I have bolded for emphasis, and formulate their meaning discursively for unambiguous clarity:
1. It is not “anti-Muslim” to condemn Islamic jihadists.
2. Muslims are not the same thing as jihadists.
The obvious, though implicit, third dictum that flows logically from these two:
3. We should not condemn Muslims unless they are jihadists.
Aside from the problematic aspects to these statements which most, if not all, of “us” in the Anti-Islam Movement could readily discern, there is the parallel problem, concerning our titular question: Does Spencer in this instance speak for us when he presumes to pronounce upon these things as though they are undisputed verities?
Spencer supporters who disagree with points 1-2-3 (and I suspect that would embrace most of his supporters) can respond in various ways: They can just ignore those points and pretend like Spencer never said them. Or they can register disagreement, but conclude that it’s no biggie. Or they can more forcefully, but with all due respect, stand firm and make it publically known that they disagree with these points and that in fact the principle involved here is a “biggie”. Such disagreement, in my view, should be expressed publically, it should not be suppressed and swept under the rug in the name of “not rocking the boat”. Indeed, there should develop a mechanism within the Anti-Islam Movement for such disagreements to be expressed publically, and beyond that, to be discussed and debated. Should the Anti-Movement ever evolve from its present condition of amorphous disorganization into an actual organization, it may well be that its support of certain policies will hinge on whether, or not, those points express the official platform of the Movement. And it may well be that through the Movement’s own internal adjudication procedures, hopefully reflecting democratic principles, it will have been decided that Spencer’s position on this is correct, or at least should be deemed correct for the purposes of the Movement’s support of certain more general policies. This may be regrettable for those of us who strenuously disagree with those points, but short of seceding and forming a breakaway second Movement, there would be little we could do, other than continue to try to change the Movement’s position from within, for the future.
Lest we be accused of unfairly picking on Spencer in any way, we can adduce any number of fine positions he has presented, such as this articulation from another recent Jihad Watch article that shows his capacity for excellent formulations:
. . . virtually everyone . . . in Washington on both sides of the aisle, assumes that the jihadists are merely reacting to actions by the United States. The possibility that they may hate us for reasons of their own that have nothing to do with what we have done or can do doesn't seem to enter anyone's mind. Yet it is precisely that possibility that is suggested again and again by a close examination of the belief system of the jihadists themselves. They believe that they are commanded to fight against us because we are Infidels. If we are arrogant or inconsistent in living up to our own values, that makes for good grievance propaganda fodder, but it is not the root cause of the conflict itself.
It would be hard to imagine anyone within the perimeter of the Anti-Islam Movement who would take issue with Spencer on that (though there seem to remain quite a few who do not recognize the implicit and not entirely unproblematic dissonance between this articulation and the previous three points discussed above).
At any rate, this has been a rather brief meditation on some of the complexities involved with the titular question of this essay, using one real and concrete example.