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David Swindle’s Complaint is a Diversion

Posted on March 15 2010 11:42 pm
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Recent Sturm und Drang over John Guardiano’s mild-mannered blog post is a diversion from what bloggers and readers should be doing, which is analyzing and arguing about Islam.

It speaks well of David Horowitz, David Swindle, and the entire NewsReal Blog editorial team that they permit and even encourage vigorous argument and debate. Not all journalistic and academic quarters nowadays are so intellectually tolerant, freewheeling and open-minded.  So I salute their editorial mission, and I thank them for their indulgence.

However, in all candor, I must say that I am surprised by, and disappointed with, David Swindle’s response to my post, Anti-Muslim Ignorance and Caricatures are Conservative Problems. David mostly sidesteps the sum and substance of my argument.

Instead, he devotes himself to questioning the propriety of my post and criticizing what he seems to think are my temerity and effrontery. In short, David thinks I’m too mean and uppity: because, by his lights, I have “viciously” and “harshly” attacked Robert Spencer.

I have? This is certainly news to me! I’ll let readers judge for themselves, but I think my post is quite mild-mannered in tone, style and substance.

David singles out for opprobrium my use of the words “ignorant,” “caricaturing,” and “right-wing.” But since when did these three words become part of the hate-speech lexicon?

If “ignorant,” “caricaturing,” and “right-wing” are enough to offend your sensibilities, then I respectfully suggest that political debate may be too much for you. Indeed, is it not rather thin-skinned to take offense at these three words?

It so happens that I never called Mr. Spencer “ignorant.” That word appears in the post’s title, but not in specific reference to Mr. Spencer himself (though admittedly, that inference could be made based on the sum and substance of the post itself).

But in truth there are many conservatives — and non-conservatives, I should add — who are ignorant of Islam and who unfairly caricature that religion.

In any case, Mr. Spencer quite obviously is not ignorant. The man is an accomplished scholar, and I have never questioned his scholarly credentials or knowledge. However, I have questioned his political and practical wisdom, and whether he ultimately is right about Islam.

Moreover, conservatives who are the most hostile to Islam seem to take comfort in Mr. Spencer’s writing. These conservatives also seem to take comfort in the writings of Andrew McCarthy at National Review Online and John L. Work at NewReal Blog.

What do these conservatives all have in common? An apparent belief that Islam itself, and not just radical Islam, is the problem. I disagree with these conservatives; and for that David castigates me as some sort of uppity upstart who doesn’t know his place.

Why, I haven’t read one of Mr. Spencer’s “meticulously researched texts” or books! David complains.

No, I haven’t, but so what? I have read many of Mr. Spencer’s articles, essays and interviews. And I certainly am familiar with his website, Jihad Watch. I’ve also read reviews of his work in numerous newspapers, magazines and journals. The idea that I’m not equipped to comment on Spencer’s work is silly. Of course I am.

As for my credentials to criticize Mr. Spencer — or anyone else for that matter — well, as David rightly notes about himself: “I do know how to analyze texts, weigh evidence, and judge arguments.”

Exactly so. That ought to be the standard for journalists and bloggers. Or is it your contention, David, that to write about something, we all must be credentialed Ph.D.s and certified “experts”?

In truth, as David well knows, our credentials are not at issue. Journalists and bloggers are not licensed professionals. We’re professional students who are always learning and writing.

And we don’t wait until we reach some mythically perfect and complete state of knowledge to write. Instead, we write continuously as we learn about a topic.

That’s why I certainly will follow David’s advice by reading at least one of Mr. Spencer’s works about Islam. I enjoy reading, after all, and surely stand to benefit from Mr. Spencer’s learning and knowledge.

Still, this is all a diversion. This is all a diversion from what we ought to be doing, which is having a substantive discussion about Islam.

Unfortunately, David erects yet another diversion to a substantive discussion. He complains that I lack “intellectual humility. If you don’t know about something, don’t pontificate on it,” he lectures.

That’s good advice — although, of course, journalism and blogging are not endeavors that naturally lend themselves to intellectual humility. After all, the mere act of writing an article or post in the public square is itself a manifest expression of intellectual boldness and even audacity.

In any case, I quite obviously think that I do know something about Islam; otherwise I wouldn’t have taken the time to write my post.

The bottom line is this: Robert Spencer is a big boy and an accomplished scholar. Surely, he can handle a little mild-mannered criticism. I certainly have nothing against him.

In fact, I respect Mr. Spencer and his work, even if I think (as I do) that he is ultimately and profoundly wrong or mistaken about Islam and the war against radical Islam.

My hope is that we can discuss substantive issues without all this Sturm und Drang over hurt and bruised feelings.

Political and public-policy debate, I believe, ought to be vigorous and hard-hitting, but never personal or ad hominem in nature. That certainly is the standard to which I have aspired and will continue to aspire. Bring it on.

John R. Guardiano is a writer and analyst in Arlington, Virginia. Follow him on Twitter.

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