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The Middle Course Between Right and Wrong

In their writings on the War on Terrorism, lots of left-wing public intellectuals esteem erroneous on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand arguments. You know the sort we mean: After weakly criticizing some Islamist atrocity or other, the chi-chi lefty will then pretend that a given Western action is equally reprehensible.

Evil acts of terrorism or the American refusal to engage in diplomacy with Syria--who's to say which is worse? According to our self-righteous academics and journalists, that's a very difficult question to answer.

For some reason, our fancy-pants pundits believe that this dubious argumentative strategy is pure genius. And hence we get the pleasure of reading books like neo-Marxist Tariq Ali's The Clash of Fundamentalisms, a screed that portrays Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush as equally unhinged dangers.

They're both, you see, fundamentalists. And neither is a subscriber to New Left Review. In Mr. Ali's mind, that makes them indistinguishable.

We had reason to reflect on this sort of fatuousness when we took in an op-ed in London's Guardian by Karen Armstrong. For those of you unaware of Ms. Armstrong, allow us to inform you that she is among the most prominent apologists for all things Islamic. Like, say, Juan Cole in this country, she uses her academic credentials as a means to whitewash the Muslim faith and support an anti-Western, anti-American, anti-Israel line.

According to a delightful demolition of Ms. Armstrong in the New English Review by Hugh Fitzgerald, she has even gone as far as describing Mohammed as the consummate "peacemaker." As a result, we were unsurprised to detect a particularly pathetic example of the on-the-one-hand, on-the-other argument in Ms. Armstrong's aforementioned Guardian column, titled "An Inability to Tolerate Islam Contradicts Western Values."

Here's the (most) offending passage:

For Muslims to protest against the Danish cartoonists' depiction of the prophet as a terrorist, while carrying placards that threatened another 7/7 atrocity on London, represented a nihilistic failure of integrity.

But equally the cartoonists and their publishers, who seemed impervious to Muslim sensibilities, failed to live up to their own liberal values, since the principle of free speech implies respect for the opinions of others.

Ah, yes: Those Danish cartoonists and their publishers are "equally" culpable for the Mohammed cartoons fiasco, "since the principle of free speech implies respect for the opinions of others." Well, perhaps not as culpable, you might think, since the cartoonists never killed anyone or destroyed any property. But such niggling distinctions don't seem to have occurred to Ms. Armstrong.

Naturally, her overall argument is arrant nonsense. If she's so dead-set on believing that "free speech implies respect for the opinions of others," she ought to have protested vehemently against, say, Andres Serrano's Piss Christ and Chris Ofili's depiction of the Virgin Mary bedecked in pornographic photos and elephant dung.

These artistic examples of "free speech," after all, demonstrated that their creators are "impervious to" Christian "sensibilities." According to Ms. Armstrong's (il)logic, then, such insensitive work ought never be produced. Why hasn't she written sanctimonious pieces in the Guardian berating "progressive" artists for their controversial political art? Does she believe that only Muslims are entitled to "respect" for their opinions?

Actually, Ms. Armstrong's obtuse column seems impervious to our sensibilities. If she had any respect for our opinions, she wouldn't have written it--and the Guardian wouldn't have published it. Clearly, she's "equally" culpable as the enraged Islamists threatening another 7/7.

(Note: The crack young staff normally "weblog" over at "The Hatemonger's Quarterly," where they are demonstrating great regard for "Muslim sensibilities" by failing to note Arab countries' esteem for Lionel Richie.)


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Comments (8)

"...the principle of free s... (Below threshold)

"...the principle of free speech implies respect for the opinions of others."

Absurd. Freedom of speech -- the right to speak one's mind without fear of violent reprisal -- has absolutely nothing to do with "respect for the opinions of others." What if "the opinions of others" are not respectable? And what if those others don't observe the "respect" principle symmetrically?

Armstrong is so dedicated an apologist of Islam that she now descends to arguments a ten-year-old could refute.

Wow! I did not know that Mu... (Below threshold)

Wow! I did not know that Muslims respected the opinions of others especially faith and religion opinions? I thought they would kill be if I did not believe like them.
The most telling example of the muslims disconnect with reality was when the Pope quoted a 15th century speech about the violent prone approach of Islam. How did the muslims react? Invitations to a public debate? No. Embracing people with differing faiths to instruct us on our ignorance? No. Demonstrate publicly with placcards that stated death to the Pope. Behead the Pope. Kill the unbelievers. ww

Yeah, they're peaceful. An... (Below threshold)

Yeah, they're peaceful. And don't forget it, or they'll chop your head off!

I don't care what you say<b... (Below threshold)

I don't care what you say
We never played by the same rules anyway.

I won't be there anymore
Get out of my way
Let me by
I got better things to do with my time
I don't care anymore I don't care anymore
I don't care anymore I don't care anymore

Karen Armstrong is consiste... (Below threshold)

Karen Armstrong is consistently guilty of the "on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand arguments" which, if they were put on a scale, one would almost always far outweigh the other. In this article she relays to us her indignation and surprise at being cussed out in a hallway by what she terms as a "Christian fundamentalist" while admitting that "His words were tumbling over one another incoherently."

This is what she uses as her example of the "on-the-one-hand" argument of Christian fundamentalism as opposed to the "on-the-other-hand" argument of the 7/7 bombings. Nice.

Not only that, but in the same article she gets numerous facts wrong showing her total lack of understanding of fundamentalist Islam as opposed to militant Islam; in one instance saying that "Until recently, no Muslim thinker had ever claimed [violent jihad] was the central tenet of Islam.".

Many Muslims will tell you that fundamentalist Islam is not necessarily militant Islam. Fundamentalism of any kind is subject to interpretation of its religious writings.

You're missing the best par... (Below threshold)

You're missing the best part of the equivalence argument. It begins with a weak analogy and then spends the rest of the argument saying one side is totally wrong while the other is right, if not at least perfectly understandable.

Nuance is how leftists explain away their hypocritical contradictions. They call these contradictions "shades of grey".

I just finished reading Hug... (Below threshold)

I just finished reading Hugh Fitzgerald's piece and all I can say is WOW. I'm by no means a historian, but even I caught Armstrong's faux pas at labelling Columbus a "Jewish convert to Catholicism". My first thought was that we don't even know where he was from or who his parents were. How could she glean that information from so little knowledge of his life before his fabled journey?

It is weird, Columbus was f... (Below threshold)

It is weird, Columbus was from Genoa. There were once some weird theories that he was a Sephardic jew but I think they've been discredited.






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