On December 7, I wrote an article in FrontPage about the Chomskyite/Saidist scholar Mark LeVine of the University of California at Irvine. LeVine replied a few days later; I first saw his reply when it was posted here in a comments field. I replied there before I knew that LeVine’s reply had appeared on Juan Cole’s website; now it is making the rounds, and several people have sent it to me.
That made me think it was prudent not to leave my response to his reply in a comments field, so I am placing it here for easy access by anyone who may be interested. And there is also, of course, a further message from me, which you can find here, after an email exchange with LeVine, as well as Hugh Fitzgerald’s blistering take on LeVine, found here.
Dear Dr. LeVine (with a capital V, as you may not have noticed I wrote it consistently in my article; the headline, which I sent in with a capital V, lost the capital when it was printed):
Thanks so much for your reply. It is good to hear from you.
A few notes below:
You say: “First of all, thanks so much for titling a piece you did about me “Noam Chomsky as Rock Star”: (http://www.frontpagemag.com/
Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID= 16220) This is the best blurb I’ve gotten yet for my forthcoming book!”
Please feel free to use it! You can credit me as “director of Jihad Watch and author of ‘Islam Unveiled’ and ‘Onward Muslim Soldiers.’” Thanks.
You say: “More seriously, however, it seems that you did not read most of what I have written before writing your critique of my work. I say this because I have discussed in detail most every thing you have accused me of not discussing–the origins of Hamas, the immorality and futility of suicide bombings, hatred for Israel and the like. It would be nice to be accused of something that I didn’t do, instead of being accused of not doing something I have in fact done. Then at least I could learn from the criticism, which is always a good thing.”
Well, let’s talk seriously, indeed. In fact I did read what you had to say about those issues, but it all seemed to me to be overshadowed by your call for a “hudna,” and other issues I mentioned in my piece. You are here accusing me of something I didn’t do, because I do not say that you never discuss these issues. What I actually said was this: “Glaringly absent from this analysis, and from most of what LeVine also writes, is substantive respect for these ‘mosquitoes’ as actors in their own right in today’s great global drama.” “Most,” as the great linguist Chomsky could tell you, is not the same word as “all.”
You say: “Perhaps you just googled a few recent articles of mine and made your judgements from those?”
In fact, no.
You say: “You could also have checked my CV, which is online, and found articles in Le Monde, the Christian Science Monitor and Tikkun magazine dealing with these issues. May I suggest that it might be time for you to hire a new research assistant?”
Thanks, but I do not have a research assistant, and I read the LeMonde, CSM, and Tikkun pieces, as well as other material linked at your CV. Nice page.
You say: “Your main issue with me, beside my taste in music and linguists, seems to be that I naively argue for a ‘hudna’ or truce between Americans and Muslims, especially radical Muslims.”
You say: “This is certainly debatable advice on my part. In fact, I offered it precisely so it would be debated. However you, your criticism sadly does not contribute to a much-needed debate; instead it falls into the orientalist trap of trying to use Islamic legal compendiums dating back well over 600 years (Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, the author of the source you cite for your analysis of “hudna,” ‘Umdat as-Salik, died in 1386) to define for all times what Muslims think about a particular issue. This is probably not the best way to understand what Muslims think about various issues today; just as basing the opinions of Jews solely on the writings of Maimonedes or even Americans based solely on the views of the authors of the Declaration of Independence (or better, the Magna Carta) would likely produce a distorted understanding of contemporary views.”
Thank you for calling me an “Orientalist.” May I use your “Falls into the Orientalist trap” as a blurb on my forthcoming book?
Meanwhile, your point about the age of ‘Umdat as-Salik is irrelevant. Al-Azhar in 1991 certified that it “conforms to the practise and faith of the orthodox Sunni community.” That is, today, not 600 years ago. I use it because it is readily available in English, so that readers can verify the truth of what I am saying. But I am sure that you know that what it says about a hudna is not eccentric, and is echoed in numerous other legal manuals used by Muslims. Are you willing to declare flatly that Hamas does not by a hudna mean a 10-year respite to gather strength?
You say: “But such thinking is among the primary ideological moves in Orientalism and the larger discourse of imperialism (if saying this makes me a “Saidist”–a term I’ve never encountered before. Shouldn’t it be “Saidian”?–then so be it)”
I do indeed prefer “Saidist,” but I cannot claim credit for the marvelous term. I believe it comes from Ibn Warraq’s evisceration of the late poseur:
You say: “This doesn’t mean that some, or many Muslims, might want to use a truce to regroup or grow stronger in order to better attack ‘us’ later.”
Great. Thanks. That’s my point.
You say: “Nor does it mean that some extremist Muslims use medieval texts to justify terrorism or violating agreements (what the US Government uses to justify these things is an equally interesting matter, but it seems not to interest you).”
Let me make sure I understand: you are accusing the US government of terrorism?
You say: “Moreover, you seem to think that all you need to do to understand Muslims is read religious texts and look at extremists. The 99.9% of Muslims who don’t engage in violence against the West…”
I invite you to read more of what I write, and you will find that you have mischaracterized my positions.
You say: “Let’s just take the example of Hamas, since you seem so knowledgeable, or at least interested, in this group.”
Ad hominem attacks are so much fun, aren’t they?
You say: “He looked at me like I was crazy, and actually said, ‘Are you crazy? We want a divorce, not to live closer to Jews.’ You can interpret it however you want. His interpretation, offered in his next sentence with a lot of exasperation, was ‘Just give us a state and leave us alone already.’”
At the risk of raising more of your contempt by citing yet another text, are you suggesting that Hamas has abandoned the goals stated in its Charter?
You say: “On a few other notes, who exactly do you mean by ‘aging rock glitteratti’ that I supposedly hang ‘hobnob’ with?”
You say: “And what exactly is ‘hobnobbing’?”
I suggest Dictionary.com, or Merriam-Websters online.
You say: “And since when has Noam Chomsky’s star ‘faded.’ Please correct me if I’m wrong, but last I saw he had lot more bestsellers in the last three years than you and all your friends put together have had in your entire careers.”
Do you really know who my friends are? Anyway, I don’t know how you can say this when you quote me, just a few lines later, acknowledging that Chomskyites and Saidists have total control of the Middle East Studies establishment today. The “faded” reference was in terms of their credibility.
You say: “As for Edward Said, didn’t your mother tell you not to speak ill of the dead? And while I would love to take credit for making Chomsky and Said ‘cool again,’ can you show me when they went out of style?”
As for speaking ill of the dead, what do you think of Arthur Jeffrey? D.S. Margoliouth? A.S. Tritton? As for Said, see the Ibn Warraq link, cited above.
You say: “Your argument that they’ve put it in a straitjacket is one made by someone who never has actually read them in any detail and in fact knows absolutely nothing about the field of Middle Eastern studies, most of whose practitioners predicted exactly the terrorism that happened with 9/11 when our Government and spy agencies were busy elsewhere, and who rightly predicted exactly what would happen when the US invaded Iraq (so far that makes it Middle East Studies 2, Bush/Neocons 0 by my count).”
I suggest that you may have overlooked the fact that there are not just two horses (MES and Neocons) in this race. As for the accurate predictions, I remember Esposito’s (now substantially revised) book on the Islamic threat too well to be able wholeheartedly to agree with you. Cf. also Martin Kramer’s work.
You say: “How can I accuse you of this? Well, you write “LeVine owes his status [as wunderkind] to his willingness to place the responsibility for the strife between the West and the Islamic world squarely on the shoulders of the West.” And where exactly did I write that I ‘place responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the West’? Can you please show me where I’ve written that? I’m not saying I haven’t, but I sure don’t remember doing so (perhaps all those years on the road have taken their toll). If I did write that somewhere, then that was not very smart of me and I appreciate your calling it to my attention.”
Well, this passage does seem to suggest that the US can end terrorism by changing its policy. Certainly what else must be done is not specified: “Let’s only hope they will have the courage to explain to president Kerry (or even Bush) that, without both an acceptance of responsibility for past policy and the transformation of future policy toward the Islamic regions of our planet, there will be no solution to terrorism, only continued violence and war.”
You say after that that I should have read the article through to the end, and that you do say Muslims must reappraise their positions. Unfortunately, the sentence I quoted above is what is actually at the end of the article.
You say: “What I did write was, among other things …. ‘Beyond the criminal minority, the 9-11 report was right to demand that Muslims worldwide confront the violent and intolerant version of their religion that is poisoning their societies and threatening the world at large.’”
Yes, I saw that. I have called for that many times myself. I didn’t quote it in the article because your call for a hudna seemed to deprive it of any substance. Perhaps you can explain how they go together.
You say: “Is it inappropriate for me to suggest that you get some tutoring in effective reading strategies before your next expose?”
Yes, I think it is, but thanks. See above about the hudna.
You say: “And while we’re at it, you quoted but never answered or rebutted the following argument of mine: ‘Not just Palestinian activists, but foreign peace activists and even Israelis are routinely beaten, arrested, deported, or even killed by the IDF, with little fear that the Government of Israel would pay a political price for crushing non-violent resistance with violent means…. Not surprisingly considering this dynamic, a poll I helped direct earlier this year revealed that Hamas has now surpassed the PLO as the most popular Palestinian political movement.’ I think it’s a good argument, so thanks for publicizing it. But can you rebut it? I don’t think so…”
I know that Hamas is now most popular. The point I was making was clear in the article — that you place responsibility for Hamas’ popularity on Israel, at the expense of other salient causes.
You say: “Let me close, Mr. Spencer, by saying that I would be happy to debate you publicly if you’ll take the time actually to read what I write rather than going off about what you wish I’d have written. You have a standing invitation to come to UC Irvine anytime. I’ll get a nice big room and some bottled water. You make arrangements with C-SPAN, as I assume you have better connections there than do I. Not being a rock star, and considering the budget cuts at the University of California, I can’t offer you a free dinner, sorry. However, since you seem to need help thinking straight how about inviting Daniel Pipes and Bernard Lewis along to help you? I’d love to get the three of you on a stage. For that, I’ll spring for dinner.”
Let’s not debate your work; let’s debate the facts of the situation that confronts us. Contact me at email@example.com to set it up. I don’t know Lewis, and I am happy to go it alone, if you don’t mind. What exactly do you propose we debate?
Best regards and thanks again,