Sunday, August 23, 2009
Four months ago, in April of this year, I published three essays here on the problem in the Blogosphere of adequately referencing sources to ensure veracity.
The example I used is a report written by Thomas Jefferson and John Adams about their meeting with a Muslim ambassador in London to discuss the problem of Muslim ships engaging in piracy against American and European ships. The Blogospheric problem that I noticed involved variants on the wording of what is supposed to be a primary source document. I also noticed repetitions of one variant or another among bloggers—indicating an “echo chamber” effect in the Blogosphere, by which a quote found in one blog is simply repeated in another blog, and this continues like a chain reaction among many bloggers, while the concern for veracity gets lost, or never was there to begin with.
In the meantime, I have posted a comment or two on Jihad Watch noting this problem, including this one eleven weeks ago, linking to my main article here.
Then today I note on Jihad Watch that one of the main staffpersons there, Marisol, cites in an article that very same money quote of Jefferson, and uses a secondary (if not possibly tertiary) source (Christopher Hitchens, from an essay he published in the online magazine Slate) which unsurprisingly perpetuates a variant of the original, with incorrect wording:
The ambassador answered us that [the right] was founded on the Laws of the Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have answered 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 Mussulman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.
The secondary source upon whom Marisol relies, Hitchens, provided no reference citation at all for his quote. It is reasonable to assume that Hitchens himself got it from a secondary source, whether online or from a book, as Robert Spencer did in his own citation of an incorrect variant on page 89 of his book, Stealth Jihad, citing the secondary source American Sphinx, a book by Joseph J. Ellis.
The correct wording, which I saw with my own eyes after my own two hands turned the pages to the correct place on pages 357-9 in volume 9 of the Julian P. Boyd edition of the Jefferson papers (see the third link at the bottom of this essay for more details) , reads:
We took the liberty to make some inquiries concerning the Grounds of their pretentions to make war upon Nations who had done them no Injury, and observed that we considered all mankind as our friends who had done us no wrong, nor had given us any provocation.
The Ambassador answered us 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 variances are readily apparent. (Note: I also included the paragraph before the main quote, to show the context for the “it” being mentioned by Jefferson, which in the Marisol/Hitchens version is indicated by an interpolated “[the right]” (whose meaning only becomes apparent when reading the Hitchens version).) Although the variances do not terribly affect the substance and import, they do affect the veracity if no one cares to provide the actual citation of the correct version. It is simply unacceptable for a serious sociopolitical movement dependent in great part for its persuasion upon ideas and historiography to be bandying historically important primary source quotes around that have one or more variances.
So, in the comments field of today’s Jihad Watch article, I posted a long comment detailing the problem as concisely as possible, given the complexities involved, and provided links to my more extended analyses of that problem. Shortly thereafter, I posted a follow-up explanatory note.
Some time later, I get my head bitten off by Marisol, who not only shows me no acknowledgement or gratitude for my corrective, but added insult to injury by lashing out in actual hostility:
You snipe and bend over backwards to find fault, and then wonder why you have so few friends in the blogosphere. In appointing yourself as the guardian of the boundaries of ideological purity, you have made yourself the odd man out. Suppose you had offered the above source in a helpful spirit, rather than one of smug superiority. You know what they say about a drop of honey versus a barrel of vinegar.
Here was my response soon after:
It's just a matter of getting the primary source right. If someone comes along who finds the actual primary source and corrects those who have been using secondary sources most of whom have been perpetuating incorrect variants, what sense does it make to get hostile at the corrector, especially if he has taken time and trouble to determine the actual correct wording?
The reader can judge for himself: read my two posts at Jihad Watch linked above. Then see if Marisol’s characterization of them as “smug superiority” devoid of a “helpful spirit” is fair, or even remotely reasonable. The only spot where I injected a bit of judgemental insinuation was where I indirectly alluded to the repetition of the inaccurate quote by Marisol, along with others including Spencer, Bostom and Raymond Ibrahim as indicative of a problem “of a promiscuous Blogospheric echo-chamber sloppiness with regard to the money quote by Jefferson and a consequent apparent unconcern for nailing down the actual primary source text”.
Had someone written that to me, along with the rest of my comment, I wouldn’t lash back at them and bite their head off. If I disagreed, I would articulate my disagreement with an actual counter-argument. If I could not disagree, but saw the commenter was correct about the substance, but I still didn’t like his manner in presenting that substance, I would express that as well, but I would keep it separate from the matter of the substance. To confuse the two, and then to refuse the constructive criticism because of that confusion, is just unacceptably childish and irrational. Marisol’s response to me, however, seems to imply that more is going on than merely an aversion to my specific “vinegar” in my comment—i.e., a long-standing animosity to me based upon my many criticisms over the years of certain aspects of Spencer’s methodology.
It is no surprise that into the next day, nary a peep from Marisol as to my logical reply to her attack on me (and here, while I have criticized others for misusing the word “attack”, I think it applies ) has appeared. She need not apologize at all, but simply recognize the logic. That the inaccurate Jefferson quote still stands unedited on that Jihad Watch article is testament to the fact that petulant pique seems to be more important to Marisol, and to Jihad Watch, than basic historical accuracy.
And while Marisol has not seen fit to respond to me, she has taken the trouble to take the advice of another commenter, “Cornelius”, who nearly three hours after my reply to her, directed her attention to a previous thread in which he and I had a long exchange of various disagreements:
In case you missed it, I had a prolonged exchange with Hesperado on the very question of his "ideological purity" in the August archive at the end of the thread 'Comments Are Back'. You might find it interesting.
Then the following morning, approximately 12 hours after Cornelius's post to her, Marisol responded:
Cornelius-- very interesting. Thanks.
If my readers will peruse that exchange between Cornelius and me which he recommended for Marisol to read (linked above), and which she found “very interesting”, I would invite them to see whether they agree with me—or if not to provide a counter-argument—that Cornelius was consistently misreading me, supplying inadequate argumentation to my challenges, and veering off into irrelevant emotionality rather than sticking to logic. Somehow, I get the feeling that Marisol came away from her reading of it as stubbornly myopic to those problems as Cornelius proved himself to be.
Marisol’s reaction is indicative of a larger problem in the Anti-Islam Movement. And that problem is the tendency of certain people to let personal animosities and fear of internal criticism get in the way of availing themselves of constructive criticism to help improve the Anti-Islam Movement. Certainly, not any criticism that comes down the pike—particularly down the pike of the Information Superhighway—will really be constructive and therefore useful. But that determination should not be made on the basis of whether you like the guy giving you the constructive criticism, nor whether you deem him to be an “enemy” due to past wrangles you may have had with him. If that criticism is couched in reasonably mature and intelligent language, then no factors should enter into the determination of its usefulness other than its own merits.
To continue to cultivate this attitude, as Marisol and Spencer (among others, such as Cornelius and Davegreybeard and awake) do, is to continue to build the Anti-Islam Movement on the weak timber of an irrational fear and hostility to internal, constructive criticism.
Once again, here are my three prior essays on the matter of the Jefferson quote and adequate referencing by the Anti-Islam Movement of primary sources:
Primary Sources 101 and the Blogospheric anti-Islam Movement
Addendum to Primary Sources 101
I Struck Gold! Second Addendum to Primary Sources 101