Sunday, May 02, 2010
Cracks in the Gentlemen's Club: The Bostom Incident
The whole point of the "Gentlemen's Club" of the anti-Islam movement, as I have articulated that concept before on this blog, is to cover up significant disputes and/or ruptures that might occur between prominent members (if not, indeed, movers) of the still inchoate anti-Islam movement. Why cover them up? It's not clear, since the question of why seems also to be part of the secretive goings-on of the Gentlemenly Aristocracy of the anti-Islam movement. The best conjecture would be that they are afraid that airing out of disputes would "weaken" the movement, and would thus play into the hands of the Muslims and their enablers.
The one major exception to this was the grotesquely gargantuan public implosion of Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs, some time last year. It was an exception because the dispute (which became a rupture) between Johnson and Robert Spencer (among others) was not secreted away behind the closed doors of the Gentlemen's Club, out of sight of the common rabble of ordinary civilian Jihad Watch readers, but was aired in the full sunshine of the public, with Spencer, for example, publishing several Jihad Watch missives devoted exclusively to Johnson and responding to Johnson's name-calling with more of the same.
Another exception has been the treatment of Lawrence Auster by Robert Spencer, who in effect declared Auster a de facto persona non grata for the anti-Islam movement. This wasn't so much a rupture or expulsion from the Club, as it was a clarification that Auster is not wanted.
Other than that, heretofore it has been difficult to tell whether certain professional friends of Spencer in the anti-Islam movement have over the recent past fallen out of his favor or not. When his former favor included regular and frequent high praise (as in the case of Diana West), the later change in behavior on Spencer's part -- ignoring them to the point of seemingly snubbing them -- then leads to a reasonable, albeit tentative, conclusion that some falling out between them had occurred. But we ordinary civilians in the anti-Islam movement could only conjecture about this, since the key players seemed to continue to abide by the Code of the Gentlemen's Club -- perhaps modelled after Midwestern Methodist or Lutheran aunts who always reminded their nieces and nephews that "If you can't say anything nice about someone, don't say anything at all" -- whereby any explanation for a recent change in ostensible signs of a former friendship, from former warmth and admiration to a sudden and sustained coldness, was wanting.
Other than Bostom, Spencer has grown cold with regard to three others who in former times were routinely praised -- Diana West, Bruce Bawer, and Baron Bodissey of the Gates of Vienna blog. Concerning Bruce Bawer, I wrote at length about his egregious faux pas, back in May of 2009, of effectively coming out (pun intended) in support of Charles Johnson's grotesque witch-hunt of "fascists" in the anti-Islam movement. That above-linked essay of mine also contains some analysis of the strange contortions which the Code of Silence tends to produce.
As for Baron Bodissey, I had an interesting exchange back in February in the comments section to my blog entry that explored why Spencer seemed to have been remiss in mentioning such an important figure as the American politician Allen West who is clearly the most knowledgeable American politician -- if not of the world -- about the dangers of Islam. Since it was Andrew Bostom (followed quickly by Diana West) who seemed to have first called attention to Allen West, I conjectured at the time that perhaps Spencer was ignoring Allen West because otherwise he would have had to give hat tips to two people (Bostom and Diana West) with whom for some reason he no longer seemed to want to be associated. In the comments section, a reader named "Anonymous" confirmed for me that Jihad Watch formerly had the Gates of Vienna blog on its blogroll, but no longer (and as of today, it remains absent there). That reader also asked Baron Bodissey, who owns that blog, whether this reflected any falling out he had had with Spencer. This was Bodissey's reply:
My policy is not to fight with anyone who is at least mostly on the same team as me. Charles Johnson forced a fight upon me -- and besides, it became obvious that he was no longer on the team, if he ever was. In all other cases I have managed to duck open confrontations, which is my preference. As a result of my policy, I will air no dirty laundry here. You will have to ask Atlas Shrugs and Jihad Watch the rationale for their actions. Pamela and Robert have their reasons that the reason knows not.
As I put it at the time to "Anonymous":
[Bodissey's] responses to you exemplify in spades the "Gentlemen's Agreement": he couldn't have put the crux of the Agreement any more directly and clearly.
And I added:
His attitude, and the anxiety one detects just beneath the surface, I continue to find silly -- all based on the notion that having mature disagreements out in the open is somehow going to "weaken us". One major reason why the West is superior to Islam is that (with the usual caveats that nobody is perfect) we have cultivated an ability to have differences and express those differences openly, yet in civil fashion, without succumbing to a breakdown through vituperation and violence. It is supremely ironic that Baron Bodissey -- who trumpets his love for the greatness and distinction of the West -- would cower so from boldly practicing this particular feature of the West's greatness.
That same reader of mine also found an interesting comment by Baron Bodissey's blog partner, Dymphna, in which she clearly implies that she and Bodissey consider the rupture in their relations with Spencer and Pam Geller to be the fault of the latter two:
Atlas Shrugs and Jihad Watch delinked us a long time ago. We didn't notice until readers started asking us about it. We referred them to the source(s) -- i.e., Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, but I've no idea what happened as I don't think any of them ever reported back. (...) Have you ever had an irreconcilable conflict? One that no matter what you did, you couldn't resolve? These happen in families and at work. If you've ever been ensnared in such an experience you know that sometimes it's not about you at all.
About Diana West, and her apparent fall from Spencerian grace, I have written two or three essays -- all conjecture, since I had no solid evidence of a rift between her and Spencer (and she even denied any such rift in a private email to me last year). Now, this week, we see Robert Spencer exhibiting the wounded reflex of lashing back at Diana West by characterizing her sober analysis of the Bostom situation as a "vicious attack" and as a "smear campaign". Her sin, of course, was to disagree with Spencer. When we compare that petulantly hurt characterization of Diana West with all the praise Spencer heaped on her regularly and frequently in days of yore (as I documented in my essay The Persian Flu) --
"tell-it-like-it-is Diana West"
"Diana West has a superb column..."
"Diana West's superb proposal for recasting the "war on terror"..."
"West for President!"
"From the superb Diana West...
"With her usual acuity and perceptiveness, Diana West explains..."
"The ever-perceptive Diana West..."
"The ever-insightful Diana West..."
"One of the most clear-sighted and brave columnists on the scene today..."
-- and add to that the long-standing ignoring of Diana West by Spencer (as he had of late come to ignore Bostom, as well as Baron Bodissey and Bawer), it becomes clear that I was right all along: another falling out. But the explanation for this falling out remains in the darkness behind the locked doors and velvet ropes of the Gentlemen's Club. With the exception, of course, of that comment by Spencer about West's "vicious attack" and "smear campaign" against him -- albeit a comment rather tucked away in a comments field to a thread already at that point teetering on the brink of falling into the Chasm of Archives.
I tend to think it's not a coincidence that during the time that Spencer grew unprecedently frosty to West, she wrote many essays taking a stance diametrically opposite his on two important issues: Vlaams Belang, and the Iranian demonstrations. Nor does it seem a coincidence that during approximately the same period of time Spencer found a new friend -- Pam Geller -- whose romanticized idealism of the Iranian "reformers" caused her to swoon regularly and dramatically with hope. If I'm right, this means that Spencer's personal rifts are having a concrete effect on his role as a reporter and analyst for the anti-Islam movement.
The Bostom Incident
A major crack in this system of the Gentlemen's Code thus occurred recently when suddenly out of the blue Andrew Bostom on his blog accused Robert Spencer of plagiarism and took a pot shot of calling him a name ("Little King"). This was in response to a Jihad Watch essay Spencer published three days prior (April 21) in which he dismantled at length and in detail the canard that Muslims learned antisemitism from the Nazis of the 20th century. As Jihad Watch readers know -- because in the past Spencer has referred them to Bostom and highly praised his efforts in marshaling long-forgotten Western scholarship on the matter -- Bostom has become a kind of pioneer in the subject of Islamic antisemitism, not only publishing many articles on the subject, but also producing a massive compendium, The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism. I had noted at the time that Spencer's omission of Bostom was rather curious; and indeed, I had noticed for quite some time, perhaps many months, a dearth of hat tips to Bostom on Jihad Watch, leading me to tentatively conjecture whether some falling out had occurred between them. At some point not too long ago, in the context of publishing various photos of an anti-jihad event, Spencer published one photo that showed himself, Pam Geller and Bostom all together and looking mutually warm. That was the only evidence to date that apparently no falling out had occurred, but at the time I remember thinking that I probably had been wrong in my conjecture. Looks like I was right all along.
Given that Spencer and Bostom had shown ample signs of being good friends for years up to last week, and that each one had highly praised the other many times, the reasonable conclusion to come to was that some falling out over some matter must have preceded Bostom's post, as well as Spencer's April 21 post in which he rudely and unprecedentedly ignored Bostom. For a fleeting while at the beginning of this latest episode, both Bostom and Spencer seemed to try to maintain a feeble vestige of the Code of the Gentlemen's Agreement -- through the silly mechanism of not overtly mentioning the other's name whilst publicly tilting and counter-tilting at each other: Bostom in his initial sally of April 24 (before his subsequent updates) referring to Spencer simply as "The Little King" and "A Little King Plagiarist", and Spencer in turn referring to his old friend as "A certain writer".
In subsequent days, the Code of the Gentlemen's Agreement has in this regard shown more cracks: Bostom and Spencer publicly referring to each other by name, each one brimming with pique if not hostility. Still, both are stolidly maintaining the core of that Code: neither has uttered a peep about what happened that precipitated all this curious behavior. I noted this in a comment in the Jihad Watch thread linked under Spencer's name above:
Both sides, it appears, are following the Gentlemen's Agreement in this regard -- i.e, in not openly adverting to the other, and certainly not divulging any aspects of the evident rift between them that might elucidate it to the hoi ochloi who loyally follow their words and support them -- even as they (Spencer and Bostom) seem to feel the need to publicize to that same population of followers in oblique fashion their mysterious rift.
And I added:
I don't think that, were the two of them to air the pertinent details of their rift out in the open air and sunshine of free democratic discourse with the public who admires and follows them, it would necessarily hurt the anti-jihad movement either. In fact, I think it would help, if only because such airing out is healthy -- both intellectually and socially. Apparently, their rift preceded Bostom's posting about Spencer's putative "plagiarism", though being one of the hoi ochloi myself, I am not privy to the goings-on behind the closed doors of the Gentlemen's Club.
Spencer then responded to me in that thread:
Frank Hesp: Your continued insistence that personal disputes between individuals must be aired out in public is to me inexplicable and unseemly. I have a public presence in regard to the jihad, and that's it. I don't have any obligation to you or to anyone else to make any aspect of my private life public. I have responded to Bostom's substantive charge with a substantive reply. No other details, should any exist, are anyone's business but Bostom's and mine.
(An aside: Spencer has a strange, cheeky, rude and childish tic that manifests itself in addressing certain of his interlocutors with monikers he chooses, rather than the ones they sign off with: thus, my visible name in comments at Jihad Watch is "Hesperado", but he persisted in addressing me as "Frank Hesp", where the "Frank" part dates back to an unpleasant email exchange I had with Spencer a few years ago, in which my fake name for my Yahoo email account was "frank norman". The reader can get a sampling of that email exchange in this essay published by Lawrence Auster -- in which yet again I call myself some other name, "Erich".)
My response to Spencer:
As to the privacy of personal disputes, of course generally speaking a person has the full right to maintain it, and I have never claimed otherwise. If, however, that person is a famous quasi-leader of an international sociopolitical movement (however amorphous and inchoate that movement may continue to be); and if any dispute which that famous quasi-leader may have with another person who is also a significant personage in that same international sociopolitical movement (however amorphous and inchoate that movement may continue to be) pertains to, or involves, matters relevant to that international sociopolitical movement, then it becomes of pertinent interest to other members of that international sociopolitical movement, particularly if they look up to that quasi-leader as a quasi-leader. Of course, members of that international sociopolitical movement have no power to compel their quasi-leader to divulge the details even of such a dispute; but they certainly have the right to voice their opinion that the details of such a dispute are in fact of interest to all members of that international sociopolitical movement and of course to the ongoing progress of that international sociopolitical movement itself. If, however, that dispute was completely unrelated to that international sociopolitical movement, then of course, it's nobody's business. I suppose it's possible that Andrew Bostom and Robert Spencer fell out over some matter completely unrelated to the anti-jihad movement -- perhaps Andrew got fed up with Robert always trying to cheat on the golf course, or perhaps Robert got fed up with Andrew always trying to find a way to avoid paying for dinner whenever they went to a fancy restaurant -- but somehow that seems unlikely.
Bostom, of course, has not behaved well throughout this episode. The hostility of his initial salvo, with the insulting term "Little King" for Spencer, was immature. Also, his electric use of the term "plagiarism" repeatedly, and without adequately substantiating the charge, has been reckless. While Diana West weighed in with an intelligent analysis of this angle, she did not demonstrate that Spencer's fault amounted to plagiarism -- only that it was tantamount to a professional discourtesy, which itself can be either minor or grave, or anywhere in between. The discourtesy Spencer showed Bostom by failing to give him his due props in the context of his (Spencer's) recent Islamic antisemtism article could reasonably be said to be serious, when their longstanding friendship and mutual admiration is factored in, along with the prodigious time, labor and personal funding Bostom expended to make possible public access to some of the information upon which Spencer depended in his article. Bostom's reactions to this discourtesy betray a penchant for childish pique. Spencer's counter-reactions only have made the matter worse. The ball is in both courts.
As I wrote in a comment to that Jihad Watch thread on the Bostom incident:
"While Spencer may be legalistically correct that he didn't "plagiarize" Bostom on the sophistical technicality of the definition of that word, it seems a bit of disingenuousness is afoot for the spirit of his indebtedness to Bostom, even if not the letter by which he can accurately squeak by on his denial of the charge."
In this respect, I find inadequate Lawrence Auster's observation that what really got Bostom's goat was not plagiarism per se, but the indignity of being denied a "hat tip" by Spencer at the time the latter penned and published his Islamic antisemitism article. Again, considering all the time, labor and personal expense Bostom invested in getting some of that information available to be used, and considering their longstanding friendship and mutual admiration, the discourtesy Spencer showed Bostom far exceeds the withholding of a mere "hat tip" to a colleague who may have stumbled across something while casually Googling one day and passing it on to Spencer. But, as the discourtesy falls outside of technical definitions that are more precise (like plagiarism), it becomes subject to subjective interpretation. When the formerly warm and mutually admiring relationship of two people breaks down dramatically and apparently suddenly (at least to outside observers), and when we then see both parties continue to use egregiously intemperate language in describing the other and the other's apparent allies in the dispute (e.g., Bostom calling Spencer "Little King", Spencer characterizing Diana West's sober analysis as a "vicious attack"; etc.), it is safe to assume that the blame for the fracture of that relationship falls on both parties. While no one relishes being insulted with hostile epithets, particularly by someone one once counted as a friend, still one must resist the temptation to tilt back emotionally.
For example, consider the elementary revelation that both Bostom and West unearthed about a particular volley which Spencer fired impulsively back at Boston --
My April 21 article is a chapter from my 2007 book “Religion of Peace?” If Bostom used the quote from “Looming Tower” in a 2009 piece, he got it from me...
The elementary revelation being that, in fact, Spencer's claim was diametrically and flagrantly incorrect: Spencer's own book, as both the West and Bostom articles demonstrate, shows that Spencer got that "Looming Tower" quote from Bostom, not the other way around as Spencer claimed! This seems to indicate that Spencer is being exceedingly sloppy and forgetful. And he had the temerity to append that this supposed fact (about which he was, in fact, dead wrong) shows that Bostom is being "gratuitous and libelous"! One senses here, and in Bostom's hostility against Spencer that seems to come out of the blue, the intemperate and impetuous reflexes characteristic of two grown men letting their emotions about some falling out they have had -- who knows about what -- cloud their judgment and interfere with the elementary care calmer minds would take to adjudicate differences like this.
If this immature behavior on the parts of both Bostom and Spencer didn't evidently involve matters pertinent to the still inchoate anti-Islam movement about which we all have a sincere and exigent stake -- even we shabby civilians who are not the movers & shakers which Spencer is (and which to a lesser extent Bostom is) -- it would be a matter only of the private business of these two immature men. What their rift was about, and why two grown men would allow it to affect, perhaps so far in only small ways, the anti-Islam movement of which they are such prominent participants (if not indeed movers), we shabby civilians may never know. But I think we deserve to know, if it pertained to or involved matters relevant to that movement.
One indication of potentially significant consequences for the movement was noted by Lawrence Auster recently:
Quoting Spencer's response on Jihad Watch to a reader --
It would have been private. Bostom chose to make it public. That was his decision: to give fuel to the Islamic supremacists and their enablers. Thus he has become one of the latter.
Spencer equates his own person with anti-jihadism. To criticize Spencer is to weaken anti-jihadism, help Islamic supremacists and become their enabler. This is pathological narcissism.
I'm not sure if it's "pathological" (Auster himself has a tendency to use hyperbolically inflammatory language when describing other people's positions and opinions), but it does seem to smack of Spencer's having let his fame and success and the adoration of his followers get to his head a tad. The decision of whom to anathematize from the anti-Islam movement should not be decided by one man who has innumerable adoring fans. It should be a matter discussed in open forum, and adjudicated in as democratic a manner as possible.
And this vilification of Bostom as an "enabler of Islamic supremacists" certainly bespeaks Spencer's contribution to making this rift irrevocable -- just as Bostom's quirky prickliness is also to blame.
The importance and the laudable worth to the anti-Islam movement of both these gentlemen behooves them to swallow their pride and try to patch things up. One way to do this, perhaps, would be to take the rift out of the dark closet in the back of the Salon of the Gentlemen's Club -- where for who knows how long it festered until it finally erupted -- and air it out in the sunshine of public discourse, among all the civilian friends both of them enjoy among the growing family of their supporters and admirers. Let's let these cracks in the Gentlemen's Club be an opportunity to let the sun shine in and air out the musty place!