Thursday, October 14, 2010

Chutzpah Watch

a notice on Jihad Watch entitled "Islamic antisemitism: fourteen centuries of hatred", Robert Spencer calls to the attention of his readers a new compendium by Martin Gilbert entitled In Ishmael's House. In his brief introduction to a review of the book by Jonathan Kay, Spencer notes in passing the work by Bat Ye'or on Islamic dhimmitude, which involved onerous oppression of both Jews and Christians by Muslims, which Spencer praises as groundbreaking, but not sufficiently comprehensive of the specific subtopic of Islamic antisemitism.

Then he adds the breathtaking claim that:

"At the same time, however, there has not been any serious scholarly study focused wholly and exclusively on Islamic antisemitism as such; Martin Gilbert has now supplied this need with In Ishmael's House."

Pun intended, what takes our breath away about that remark is Spencer's brazen chutzpah. One supposes that Spencer thinks blithely that he can get away with such chutzpah, for three reasons:

1) His readership slash followers interpret any and all criticism of him to be, at best, a betrayal of the still-inchoate anti-Islam movement;

2) Spencer himself encourages this mentality by bristling defensively at nearly any and all criticism of him and labeling it as an "attack" that serves to undermine the "anti-Sharia resistance" (or whatever roundabout locution du jour he affixes to the vicinity of the still-inchoate anti-Islam movement), a mentality which tends to foster a climate of indiscriminate demonization of all his critics;

3) and meanwhile, most of his critics outside the still-inchoate anti-Islam movement are more obsessed with pinning fantasy charges of "Islamophobia" and "bigotry" on him to bother to notice what might be his real flaws.

So, nobody notices when Spencer reaches calmly out from beyond the grave of his collegial friendship with Andrew Bostom to twist the knife in his corpse.

For those who have forgotten this particular roadkill on Spencer's trajectory upward and onward in the still-inchoate anti-Islam movement, an article by Diana West (reproduced by Bostom on his blog) written in the aftermath back in April of this year serves as a good introduction.

In a nutshell, what happened was that originally, Spencer put up a notice on Jihad Watch dealing with the history of Islamic antisemitism and in that notice included details whose public access Andrew Bostom had helped to make available through his exhaustive production of his book The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism -- but Spencer in that notice failed to mention Bostom at all or even give him a hat tip, or so much as a nod in his direction. Bostom took umbrage, and couched his umbrage as a charge of "plagiarism" against Spencer, also sarcastically calling Spencer a "little King". Spencer, true to form, got on his high horse of sophistical punctiliousness to counter-argue the technicality of the charge; in doing so, riding roughshod over the spirit of Bostom's umbrage and thus only further deepening the slight against him. Bostom dug in his heels. Spencer, true to form, solidified his self-righteous stance, and took the link to Bostom's blog off the blogroll on the front page of Jihad Watch.

The result: another bridge burned in Spencer's circle of quasi-anti-Islam friends.

This most recent notice, however, is beyond the pale. The breathtakingly utter absence of Bostom eliminated from reality in Spencer's wording must be taken, reasonably, as an egregiously gratuitous insult added to the insulting injury with which he had already inflicted Bostom months ago, and the discerning reader cannot help but imagine the pleasure Spencer derived from penning, then publishing it for his posthumous friend to see.

No doubt Spencer felt, and continues to feel, aggrieved as the victim of Bostom's unfair imputation. Such an adjudication of who is right, and who is wrong, in a dispute such as this is never an exact science -- often even (or especially) for those directly involved. However, one fact is clear: Initially, in the original notice Spencer put up on April 21, 2010, Spencer wronged Bostom by failing to accord him the cordial due of at least a hat tip, for his indispensable labors in the heretofore criminally neglected field of the historiography of Islamic antisemitism, in the context of an article that screamed for such a hat tip and a friendly link to Bostom's book. That egregious slight by Spencer -- and Bostom's over-reaction to it -- must reasonably be assumed to have had some precursors behind the closed doors of the Gentlemen's Club, unknown to the rest of us
hoi ochloi in the still-inchoate anti-Islam movement. All else that ensued after that is the immature excesses of two grown-ups petulantly escalating the situation.

When, however, it comes to withholding important information from his readership -- namely, the vitally useful existence of Bostom's book -- The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism -- Spencer's childish chutzpah moves beyond the scope of the problems he may be having with a personal friendship and begins to impinge upon his role as teacher in the anti-Islam movement.


A couple of the hoi ochloi have timidly dared to broach this discrepancy in the comments section, and Spencer responds with lately uncharacteristic alacrity -- yet true to form otherwise -- with a typically cryptic implication of a punctiliously sophistical technicality to justify his egregious oversight:

In response to the reader “Bad Mo Foe” who writes:

You wrote, "At the same time, however, there has not been any serious scholarly study focused wholly and exclusively on Islamic antisemitism as such..." Now, I'm not sure what happened between you and Andrew Bostom, but I believe that his "The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism" predates the volume you bring up here. I hope you two can patch things up, and that you'll give him proper credit for his work.

Spencer replied:

I meant what I said, and stand by it: "there has not been any serious scholarly study focused wholly and exclusively on Islamic antisemitism as such..." Cordially Robert Spencer

(In his notice, the reader will notice that Spencer took the trouble to mention Bat Ye'or, whose work on dhimmitude deals less centrally, and less copiously, with the subject of Islamic antisemitism than Bostom's work, thereby making the latter omission that much more remarkable.)

The reader “traeh” then, in a gingerly nudge of an eggshell, tendered the acutely apt observation:

Sometimes I'm dense. I don't get how Bostom's book is not a serious scholarly study focused wholly and exclusively on Islamic antisemitism as such. But maybe this is a can of worms I don't want to try to open...

Au contraire. It's a can of worms that needs some air and sunlight and a sea breeze or two of public discussion, before Captain Spencer slips out of the harbor again (though it seems he's done exactly that, as the thread in question ebbs over the edge of the blog world to fall into the Abyss of Archives). One of these days, we'll see what's going on in those dusty velvet inner chambers and halls and secret passageways of the Gentlemen's Yacht Club.

Second Update:

Odd goings-on in the day since I wrote my previous update:

1) A commenter named "dumbledoresarmy" -- who, in my lengthy experience reading most comments on Jihad Watch for years, has been consistently informative and erudite (see here for a typical example of her contributions), and most importantly in this context, supportive of Jihad Watch and of Spencer, as well as of his right-hand man Hugh Fitzgerald, and his editor Marisol -- posted a long comment on this Martin Gilbert thread in which she very mildly and peripherally seconded the puzzlement of "Bad Mo Foe" and "traeh" above concerning Spencer's cryptic slight against Bostom; but most of all, the comment of "dumbledoresarmy" was chock-full of interesting details about other studies on Islam. This comment of "dumbledoresarmy" was deleted. I can't imagine why Spencer or Marisol would delete it. The only plausible reason -- that she voiced a mild puzzlement about Spencer's apparent denigration of Bostom's work -- seems illogical, since the other two comments by "Bad Mo Foe" and "traeh" which also voiced mild puzzlement of the same thing were left standing. It could be that there was something about the way "dumbledoresarmy" worded her puzzlement that struck Spencer or Marisol as having crossed some ineffable line warranting its censorship.

2) Then a comment by "Bad Mo Foe" was deleted. In a follow-up comment, "Bad Mo Foe" even notes that it was deleted, but then he has second doubts and conjectures that perhaps it never went through technically. I can guarantee that it did go through, and that it was deleted. Unfortunately, like the comment of "dumbledoresarmy", I neglected to copy it before it was yanked (I guess I didn't predict that Spencer's scissorhands would become unusually vigilant on this thread). Again, it's puzzling why it was deleted, since as far as I remember, it didn't contain anything much stronger than his original comment.

3) A possible clue toward explaining the oddities of #1 and #2 above may lie in yet another cryptic remark made by Spencer, in response to the comment by "traeh" quoted above:

Re the can of worms: Indeed.
I would hate to have to go public with what I know. But I will do so if necessary.
Until then, I stand by my words in this post.
Robert Spencer

This seems to imply, as "Bad Mo Foe" conjectured later, that Spencer may be imputing plagiarism to Bostom's work. True to form, Spencer has to add "But I will do so if necessary" making the reader think, "What exactly would make going public with some nebulous charge 'necessary'...?" Another "attack" by his ex-friend Bostom (where "attack" is, of course, shrill hyperbole in place of a more judicious description)? Or will Bostom try to literally attack Spencer with a golf club at their Gentlemen's Club...? Will we ever know why all these people -- Robert, Andrew, Pamela, Debbie, Diana, Michelle, Bruce, Baron, Dymphna -- are mutually recriminating each other when they are not snubbing each other when formerly they were seemingly warm colleagues? This isn't a mere matter of personal lives. This impinges on the anti-Islam movement.

Third Update:

Now yet another commenter, "efoc", informs us that his comment was deleted as well, just as the comments of "dumbledoresarmy" and "Bad Mo Foe" were deleted. On the face of it, this seems to indicate a strange juxtaposition on Spencer's part of sloppiness and fear -- the former indicated by his failure to simply eliminate all the offending comments, the latter by the unusually high deletions in one thread (particularly such a small thread), the seemingly harmless nature of the content deleted, and the fact that all three commenters who were deleted are stalwart supporters of Spencer. What on earth is Spencer afraid of in this regard? Most unusual. Here is the comment of "efoc":

My comment was deleted too and hasn't returned. Don't think it will either sadly.

Either way, I am in complete accordance with you and what you feel about Robert and Andrew.

Further Reading:

Cracks in the Gentlemen's Club: The Bostom Incident

1 comment:

the author said...

Note: I realized I had published this essay 4 down from the top, so I copied the original, deleted the one I had published, and re-published it on top.

There was one comment from a reader named "her". Here it is:

Blogger her said...

I learned of Dr. Bostom's works through JW, and purchased both "Legacy" titles based on RS's recommendation.

I found it disorienting to read:
"At the same time, however, there has not been any serious scholarly study focused wholly and exclusively on Islamic antisemitism as such; Martin Gilbert has now supplied this need with In Ishmael's House."

Why connect these two authors with such an underhanded and unwarranted public insult?
To have resurrected this dispute by tainting Gilbert's book review with this underhanded sucker punch is disturbing.

I never saw this coming. Sad, really.

5:58 PM