October 14, 2012

“Stealth Jihad: New York Review of Books calls for criminalizing of criticism of Islam”

Atlas Shrugs — who the respectable right has learned to run from — argues persuasively against the stances being adopted more and more by the self-appointed sophisticates on the left who, at heart, follow an ideological path that as I’ve pointed out on innumerable occasions leads inevitably to authoritarianism and tyranny.

And its to that point that I’ll speak here, commenting briefly on an excerpt from Malise Ruthven’s “Can Islam Be Criticized?,” the New York Review of Books, October 11 that was brought to my attention by Dan Collins:

These contrasting responses suggest the possibility of a two-pronged approach to the free speech issues raised by images of the Prophet. “Insulting” the Prophet with the intent of stirring up hatred might be categorized as a form of “hate speech” comparable to anti-Semitism, racism, flag desecration, or Holocaust denial, which are forbidden by law in many countries (though not the US, where a proposed amendment protecting the US flag failed to pass by a single Senate vote in 2006), because the sacred image of the Prophet has become a fundamental part of how Muslim communities have come to define themselves. While in practice it may be difficult to draw the line between “insult” and “criticism,” if there is a distinction it must lie in intention.

What is disturbing here is not so much its rather obvious relativism — this is, after all, a staple of anti-foundationalism with respect to the left’s “rules” for hermeneutics. Instead, what bothers me most is that — even as many on OUR side (mostly within the legal profession or attendant professions) have fought so tenaciously to reject intentionalism in order to keep o a consensus-based model of interpretation (that is, a model of interpretation that replaces the originary intending agency in the communication chain with the intent of the receivers of the signs, an “interpretive community”, who reduce those signs to signifiers in order to resignify them as they wish, and in keeping with their own motives. This is the foundational — and since largely institutionalized assumption — behind “textualism”: the text exists outside of the intent of its original author(s) as its own thing, holding a kind of ontology that, when pressured. makes no coherent linguistic sense. Because saying a text can exist outside of any agency to either intentionally produce or decode it is to say any accidental scenario that produces the mimicry of language, like for instance the egret tracks in the sand I’ve used as an example, is language, rather than just something that looks like language because the squiggles made accidentally match a code we’ve learned to use, and a convention to “read” the code we’ve been taught is the way to interpret. Following this same rationale, cloud formations that look like sheep are sheep, if that’s what we chose to see them as) — the left is now learning to ape the appearance of intentionalism in order to hide its decidedly authoritarian reimagining of the process, and so may be learning the markers for a more coherent-appearing hermeneutics before those on our own side relent and face linguistic reality.

Take Ruthven’s example: What could possibly go wrong?

After all, reasonable people will gather and determine whether or not you, as the producer of a text or utterance, are being hateful or merely critical — and they will attribute that hate/criticism distinction to your intent. Which, naturally, they get to assign. And that’s easy to do, because the hateful ones are those on the right and vote for Republicans and speak of the dangers of Islamic jihadism. Voila! Tolerance we can all live with!

The change here is subtle, but it’s worth noting: the left is beginning to understand that they can’t simply ascribe to you an act of hate simply by saying that it sounded like that to them — particularly when you have a plausible defense, like for instance, context, or a biographical or intertexual record of having expressed an opposite sentiment to the one they are claiming for you.

And that’s because despite their efforts to make what you meant / intended about what they heard / rewrote — and the attendant outrage it caused regardless of your intention (subconscious racism! dog whistles!) — the argument has become so counterintuitive to people that, though they may still often apologize out of fear of being stigmatized (that is, they take the path or least resistance), they nonetheless recognize that the argument is essentially an act of intellectual theft, with them as victim. Over time, resistance to such a practice will grow fiercely, and the practice will eventually be crushed under the weight of its own incoherence.

Which is why what we see here is so pernicious. The distinction between hate and criticism is not about what we may have heard. That’s unfair, and smacks of bad faith or politically motivated argumentation.

Instead, the distinction must come down to the intent of the author / speaker. Which is correct. Only, the move now is to claim ownership, as the receiver of the message, over determining what that intent was. This is no different than resignifying and pointing out how someone’s words can be seen by a group of reasonable people to be hateful, for instance; except that here, the dodge of, say, a reader poll, goes away: the interpreter will take the next step and declare that the intent of the author/speaker was such that they are hateful / and or were merely being critical.

Again, this is a politically motivated form of hermeneutics — albeit one that is much more in line with what intentionalism proclaims is how language works. The trick here being to learn the methodology, then learn to simply declare an intent where you don’t honestly believe their to be one.

This is, however, believe it or not, a step in the right direction for returning us to a more coherent linguistic paradigm on which to pin our epistemology. Because once we get back to (even false claims of) intent, the more difficult work of showing how and why you believe that to be the intent comes in to play. Merely ascribing intent to someone based on your reading is not enough to sell the interpretation; instead, you’ll have to point to reasons why you believe we need to ascribe such an intent.

For the lazy, pedestrian progressive, this will come down to a tautology: well, they’re haters, so therefore what they meant must be hate speech — which won’t exactly sell, so obvious is the circular logic; for the more careful and learned leftist, they’ll be forced to approach these kinds of texts to give evidence of subtext, or show other historical examples that suggest a pattern of meaning, and so on — all the traditional ways we rely on code and convention and textual clues to make our case for a given interpretation.

That requires hard work.

— IF, that is, the right is prepared to defend against it. Which they would be, would they simply learn that it is not “fundamentally unserious” to understand how it is everything you think you know comes to be known. And that is through language and the assumptions about it we assume to be applicable.

I’m troubled that the left is learning to rework the paradigm while many on the right continue to resist the obvious — and mostly for selfish, vocational-specific application.

If it comes to the point where the progressive left is able to rename their response theoretics as a kind of intentionalism — while we on the right cling to the incoherent idea of textualism — well, let’s just say that such would be a shame. Because if you’ve read me over the years, you are prepared to combat such a maneuver — and yet many on the right (and their friends on the left) not only wish me not to be read on the subject, but they actively attempt to cast my arguments as “pseudo-intellectual” or confused.

I’ve taken on all of their counter arguments, however, and in each case landed precisely at the assertion from where I started: intentionalism just is.

The progressives may be looking to restrategize their rhetorical gambits around such a truism, albeit by bastardizing it and deconstructing the very notion. Intent applies to both sides of the communicative chain. But in order to claim to be “interpreting” you must attribute the meaning to the producer. You can, of course, attribute false motivations. But if you’ve learned how interpretation works through an intentionalist lens, you’ll also be able to combat bad faith attempts to define your intent by pointing to all those things that militate against such a cynical and politically-motivated reading.

That’s a net positive.

Provided, again, we stop dismissing as unserious what the left recognizes — and has since Gramsci — to be the key to creating their own reality.

Posted by Jeff G. @ 12:57pm

Comments (13)

  1. Matthew Feldman, a political scientist, has used the term “Christianism” to describe ultra-right-wing anti-Muslim polemicists such as Geller

    um … Geller is Jewish.

    The author is a tool. F*ck him.

  2. I don’t quite know how, but I’m sure that relates to this.

  3. A cursory examination of Ruthven’s article reveals no mention of Theo Van Gogh (oh my, that name is Greek for god — tread carefully!), the disappearing corpse.

    Furthermore, there is no serious examination of the implications of Islamic law regarding apostasy and punishment as it relates to criticism of Islam, though a mere glancing mention is made. Where went Ayaan Hirsi Ali? She too has disappeared.

  4. Where went Ayaan Hirsi Ali?

    canoodling Niall Ferguson somewhere on the Scottish Moors.

    Or maybe Harvard Yard.

  5. By the by, I have a transcript of the Tom Holland documentary for anyone who wants it. Only ask and it’s yours.

  6. Actually, I believe Andrew Sullivan came up with the term “Christianists”.

  7. You are correct SDN.

  8. What’s really sad is that their whole approach simply illustrates their cowardice…. and suggests that the best way to deal with them is to make them as afraid to criticize us as they are of Islam… which is going to require a few examples a la Theo van Gogh.

  9. Wait, I’m a Heathen (worship the old gods of my ancestors). If I despise Islam, does that make me a Christianist?

  10. No, it makes you an Infidel. Just like the rest of us.

  11. Actually, it makes me toast in an Islamic country. People of the book (Christians and Jews) get a pass, as long as they learn their place. Those of us of any other religion get death, forced conversion, or slavery as our reward by our good Islamic masters…

  12. Any religion is, by definition, sacrilegious to the rest; atheism, to all. If Muhammadism can’t coexist with the rest, then it must undergo reformation, or else cease to be a religion. wait…it already has ceased being a religion. It’s a political movement, akin to that one the world had to beat down in the early ’40’s.

    /skirting Godwin: successful!

  13. Yeah, sure, telling people not to kill you is hate speech.

    Someone let me know where to invest in straitjackets.