Sunday, July 17, 2016
A quibble? Or the quiddity?
Quibble: a distracting, sometimes contentious trifle.
Quiddity: the essence or point of something.
The other day on Jihad Watch, Hugh Fitzgerald translated from the French an op-ed by Alexis Brézet, the chief editor of the French newspaper, Le Figaro (a mainstream paper of France). The op-ed sounds robust about the problem of Islam in that mainstreamy way we few canaries in the coalmine have come to know, and notice.
However, it looks to me that Hugh Fitzgerald injected a tad more robustness into Brézet's piece than is warranted, through a crucial mistranslation of one word in two places (in the first paragraph and in the penultimate, seventh paragraph). Here's Hugh's translation of the paragraphs in question (bolding of the key word for emphasis added):
Merah, Charlie, Bataclan, Magnanville, and now Nice…How many more times until we recognize what is staring us in the face? How many more savage attacks, how many more maddened massacres, before our leaders become willing to admit that Islamic fanaticism is waging a war to the death against our country and our civilization?
. . .
This willful blindness has lasted far too long. To win the war, it has to be conducted without half-measures and pusillanimity. And to give those who are fighting a chance to win, we must rearm in every sense. Rearmament for our soldiers and police, of course. Rearmament, by strengthening our laws, everywhere it proves necessary. Rearmament, by strengthening our conviction that we are in the right, to overcome collectively the perverse logic clothed in the mental rags of “living together,” which in France is used to block any serious measures being taken against the root of radical Islam, with the refrain that “that would be playing into the hands of the terrorists.”
Here are the originals in French (again, with one word bolded for both paragraphs):
Merah, Charlie, le Bataclan, Magnanville, et maintenant Nice… Combien de temps avant que nos yeux se dessillent? Combien d'attentats sauvages, de massacres aveugles avant que nos dirigeants se résignent à admettre que le fanatisme islamiste a engagé une lutte à mort contre notre pays et notre civilisation?
. . .
Cet aveuglement volontaire n'a que trop duré. Pour gagner la guerre, il faut la mener sans demi-mesure ni pusillanimité. Et pour donner à ceux dont c'est la mission quelque chance de l'emporter, il nous faut réarmer. Réarmement militaire et policier, bien sûr. Réarmement législatif, partout où cela est nécessaire. Réarmement moral, surtout, pour surmonter collectivement ce syllogisme pervers drapé dans les oripeaux du «vivre ensemble» qui prétend disqualifier, en France, toute action un peu énergique contre les racines de l'islamisme radical au motif que «ce serait faire le jeu des terroristes».
The bolded words make clear the mistranslation: In the first instance, Hugh has translated the French le fanatisme islamiste as "Islamic fanaticism" and in the second instance, l'islamisme radical as "radical Islam".
Now, I'm aware of the fact that in bygone eras when politically correct multiculturalism was not dominantly fashionable throughout the Western mainstream as it is in our time -- say, the 19th century -- people often lapsed into using the word "Islamism" as synonymous with "Islam", with no indication that they distinguished the former as somehow "extreme" or "radical" compared with the latter, as PC MC has come to do in our time. Couple this with the possibility that present-day French may retain certain flavors of what may ring archaic in present-day English, and there might be a case for Hugh's translation. Except that a random search of French writings on the subject I just performed came up repeatedly with the clear distinction between Islamic (Islamique) and Islamist (Islamiste) -- see here, here, and here. Indeed, in the third link there, to an online essay, one sees the distinction anxiously maintained to protect Islam:
Il ne faut pas confondre Islamique et Islamiste. L’immense majorité des Musulmans est tolérante, pacifique et prône la tolérance. Islamique signifie de religion musulmane.
"One should not confuse Islamique and Islamist. The vast majority of Muslims is tolerant, peaceful, and promotes tolerance. Islamique signifies the Muslim faith."
And yet another French article explicitly singles out Islamisme and Islamist as distinct categories from Islam and Musulman (French for Muslim):
Islamisme... est un mouvement regroupant les courants les plus radicaux de l’islam. Ces courants veulent faire de l’islam une idéologie politique qui passe par l’application rigoureuse de la charia (loi islamique fondée sur les préceptes du Coran) et la création d’États islamiques. Le terme est réapparu en France à la fin des années 1970.
"Islamism... is a movement organizing the most radical currents of Islam. These currents have the goal of making Islam a political ideology under the strictest application of Sharia (Islamic law founded on practices of the Koran) and of the creation of Islamic states. The term has reappeared in France at the end of the 1970s."
The article goes on to claim that only 5-10% of French Muslims could be characterized to adhere to this "Islamism".
Back to the editor of Le Figaro whom Hugh translated: Why didn't he write le fanatisme islamique rather than le fanatisme islamiste? The most likely answer is that he, like so many others in the mainstream, are afraid to go all the way to condemn Islam itself -- even when they think they are being robustly bold about confronting the problem.
In the second example, we see the editor double up his robust marshmallow of rhetoric to protect Islam, where he not only uses the term that has come to be ridiculed even by some in the Counter-Jihad Mainstream -- "radical Islam" -- but he has to add extra padding in the form of an anxious "-ism" with his "radical Islamism" (l'islamisme radical).
But the editor of a mainstream newspaper hiding Islam behind layers of nougat... nothing new there (except the French marzipan flavoring). Perhaps the real question is why did Hugh see fit to vamp up the nougat with translation tweaks? I conjecture that Hugh's asymptotic tendency causes him to over-value such faux-robust rhetoric, because the distance between Hugh's learning curve and the editor's may not be that divergent. I.e., we have to conclude that he actually thinks Alexis Brézet, the editor Le Figaro, has woken up, and so his mistranslation to him must seem to be simply a minor adjustment for what he must have "really meant". This cuts both ways: Either he's wrong about Brézet being tougher on Islam than he really is -- or Hugh has in fact gauged Brézet accurately, because Brézet's softness is approximately on a par with Hugh's seemingly tougher stance.
For, no matter how advanced a Counter-Jihadist may perceive himself to be in his clear-eyed analysis of the problem, if that analysis suffers from the asymptotic flaw, it will have a deep consanguinity with the PC MC positions that gradate downward, so to speak, on a long trajectory into incoherent mush at the lower end, though at the higher end seeming robust. As long as the Counter-Jihadist fails to engage the paradigm shift leading from a preoccupation with a problem of Islam, to the problem of all Muslims, he will tend to be, in varying degrees, just a species of the PC MC.
Is all this a quibble? Or is it not rather the essence of the matter, the crux? For we are always told by the Oh-so Robust Counter-Terrorism Analysts that if we "don't name the enemy" we can't fight him effectively. Well, what greater irony is there than the person who pats himself on the back for being so bold as to be able to step outside the politically correct box to "name the enemy" -- only to be talking about a fantasy enemy, whittled down to manageably bite-sized proportions, safely much smaller than the catastrophic problem of all Muslims?
So, when that same editor of Le Figaro goes on in his essay to wax robust and call for a "war" and how to "win" it, one does not any longer have to wonder what that war will entail: it will be robust against the Tiny Minority of Extremists (or perhaps the Slightly Larger Number of Extremists), but it will do nothing about the deeper, broader problem: the ocean of all Muslims wherein the jihad grows and whence it pullulates.