Sunday, August 23, 2009

Weak Timber

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 meor if not to provide a counter-argumentthat 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.

Further Reading:

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


Erich said...

Further comments on the Marisol thread worthy of note, first from "awake", followed by my response to him (also a couple of my comments now in square brackets):

"Woops, I see that it was Marisol, not Spencer who wrote the introductory article. In fact, I have noticed this 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 among other anti-jihad luminaries as well -- including Spencer, Bostom and Raymond Ibrahiim..."

Posted by: Hesperado at August 23, 2009 3:07 PM

That certainly was a backhanded "apology" and just about sums up your usefulness as the head librarian here at JW.

[awake here is condemning me for realizing an oversight (mistaking the author of the introductory piece as Spencer, rather than Marisol) I made and publically correcting it -- 37 minutes after I made the mistake. Secondly, an oversight as to who the author was requires no "apology" -- especially since I fault both authors for the same problem (viz., of continuing to purvey the inaccurate Jefferson quote].

"The problems and questions raised by this essay are then further illuminated, and then resolved, in my follow-up essay:"

Posted by: Hesperado at August 23, 2009 3:07 PM

Which would have several comments I am sure by now if anyone was interested in your vast research skills in order to thinly veil your personal disdain for the hosts here at JW, using it simply as a platform to link to your own articles.

I guess outside of the Muslim world, there really isn't that big a market in the "anti-Islam" movement for the continued denigration of Spencer and JW, at least not from anyone other than those who are indeed brave and pioneering from the safety of total anonymity.
Posted by: awake


Please explain to me how it is in the interest of the anti-jihad movement

1) to continue to publish inaccurate historical statements that are important to its pedagogy


2) to exacerbate #1 by reacting with hostility to someone who takes the time and trouble to find the actual accurate historical statement in question?

I am truly baffled by this emotional reaction. But it's the confusion of the piqued emotion with the rejection of the actual substance of the constructive criticism that is remarkable. I wouldn't mind the emotional pique part if it was kept distinct from the constructive criticism part. For example, I wouldn't mind it all that much if representatives of the anti-jihad movement responded to me thusly:

"Okay, Hesperado, I see that you have indeed found out the accurate quote, and we will use it from now on -- but you're still a fucking asshole and we never will like you, and don't take our use of this little fruit of your effort in this regard as implying any support at all otherwise of your horrible, mean-spirited, worthless pile of shit you call your life."

-- just so long as they correct the damn quote for Crissakes!

Posted by: Hesperado

Erich said...

The dialogue thickens: it was so long, I will link to the post I created to dump it:

Mannning said...

"Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien"---which old Voltaire seemed to mean, take the good now: the best requires too much effort, and the payoff is not worth it.

Erich, your "awake" commentor seems to be looking for something to nail you with, and this slight mistake, quickly fixed, must be it.

I would say to the crowd: "isn't there something more important than this to spend precious time on in aid of AIM?"

Of course, proper quotation is important, so take the critique and move on! Try getting to the bottom of my Voltaire quote above, if you want total perfection!