My response to Hugh Fitzgerald
late, I have sent a comment to The New English Review
replying to Hugh Fitzgerald’s overwrought comment
in which he complained that I have trashed his ideas by including him among the separationists. (The full text of his comment
is copied at the bottom of this entry for easy reference.) Here is my comment:
Rebecca Bynum started off this thread by discussing the odd disagreement between John Derbyshire and Robert Spencer about whether Jihad Watch and its featured writer Hugh Fitzgerald can properly be described as “separationist.” This is a term I coined in my December 2006 article, “Separationism,” where I defined separationism, listed several writers including Fitzgerald whom I said could be fairly described as separationists, and quoted from their work. In that article I wrote: “Of course, each of these writers has his or her own emphases, and I don’t wish to impose an unwanted label on anyone. Nevertheless, it seems to me that there is a common core of ideas among the writers mentioned, and “separationism” would be as good a way to describe it as any.”
- end of initial entry -
In a comment consisting of single, 775-word-long paragraph, Fitzgerald, not referring to me by name, but only as “someone,” and as “the first writer,” while Derbyshire is “the second writer” (apparently we are so low in Fitzgerald’s regard that we cannot be named), angrily rejects the term “separationism,” which he describes as “a reductivist” label which, in his view, I have brutally forced on him.
But as anyone can see who reads my article, I did not reduce his or anyone’s ideas to “separationism.” I said that there is a common core among the writers I named, and that separationism was a good word for it. I did not reduce Fitzgerald’s complex ideas to that common core. And I specifically said about Fitzgerald that he is an “original thinker” and that my presentation of his ideas about what to do about Islam was not exhaustive.
In brief, my treatment of Fitzgerald was both respectful and accurate. In return, Fitzgerald treats me with extreme hostility, as though I were some disgusting creature who had intruded myself into the sacred precincts of his ideas and toppled the altar, leaving half-eaten food and a copy of Playboy behind.
Below I will quote Fitzgerald’s statements about me and reply.
He starts by listing his own arguments about Islam, then continues:
“Then someone concludes, without having closely read all those postings, that what you have written can be subsumed or summed up under a word of his choice and proceeds to do so…. And you can protest that the label does not accurately or fully convey the scope and contents of what you had long been suggesting, and that part of what is ascribed to you simply is wrong.” Notice that Fitzgerald says, “And you can protest” that the label is “not accurate,” which makes it sound as though Fitzgerald protested my supposedly inaccurate summary of his views or would like to do so but that project would be futile because I am so set on distorting him. In fact, he never wrote to me about it nor apparently has he ever written at Jihad Watch about it. My article was posted in December 2006, and his comment here, dated May 23, 2007, is the first he has complained about it. In any case he is protesting it now. What’s stopping him? Does Fitzgerald believe that he is the first writer on controversial topics whose work “someone” has misrepresented and which he, the writer, needs to clear up? Why the tone of victimization? Why the hostility? And why does he act as if a rational discussion with me about these issues is out of the question?
Fitzgerald: “One unfortunately cannot always ignore comments made by others if, by ignoring them, one appears to acquiesce in the characterization of one’s own views. One has a right to accept or reject, by explaining what has been omitted, or what has been falsely attributed. But no one likes to have to splutter publicly something along the well-worn lines of ‘that is not what I meant, not what I meant at all’ and may not do so, and thus the label sticks, as reductive pigeonholing, and that pigeonholing turns out to be useful for enemies, not those who are in the same camp, more or sometimes less.”Notice Fitzgerald’s amazingly self-pitying tone. He acts as if he’s been deeply harmed by me, and that for him to take the trouble to clarify his positions would be an unfair imposition on him, so he doesn’t do it, which of course leaves my terrible distortions of his work intact. In brief, Fitzgerald complains endlessly that I have distorted his ideas, but he never shows HOW I have distorted his ideas—because that would be too much trouble.
Fitzgerald: “The word ‘separationist’ can be easily exploited to appeal to common prejudices, made to give off a whiff of Verwoerd.” Fitzgerald’s own writings make it clear that he wants (1) to stop all Muslim immigration into the West and (2) to prepare the ground to start removing Muslims from the West. By contemporary liberal standards, that is indeed a radical position no matter how you label it. If he feels separationism is not a good term for this policy, and if he doesn’t want me calling him a separationist, he’s free to do what he’s doing now, eschew the label and say why he disagrees. But again, he doesn’t actually do that, because he never comes clean about his actual ideas that I summarized in my article.
Fitzgerald: “Thus the careful edifice your thought you had built and sturdily, by expressive force, made sturdy enough to withstand the usual attacks, is unwittingly undermined by others who insist upon the reductivist labelling.” Does Fitzgerald seriously believe that I have “undermined” the “careful edifice” of his ideas with my reductivist labeling! That my brief discussion of him has destroyed his entire work? If he and his ideas are so fragile, if my brief and friendly discussion of his ideas bothers him so much, how does he ever expect to advance his ideas in the public square and have an effect on mainstream thinking and ultimately on government policy?
Fitzgerald: “I reject such a label in my own case. But then, who am I to dare to describe my own views, in my own way, in a manner that is both more accurate and also makes those views more appealing?” Again notice the helpless victimological condition into which Fitzgerald sees himself thrown, by my brutal treatment of him! An admiring writer (me) writes about Fitzgerald, summarizing and synthesizing his ideas, something that would please most people, and Fitzgerald acts as though a horrible thing has been done to him. By the very act of discussing his ideas, I have deprived him of his right to describe his own ideas in his own way. The implication is that no one should ever write about Hugh Fitzgerald, no one should ever comment on him, because the moment that happens, the entire structure of Fitzgerald’s thought process will be ruined.
Fitzgerald: “The appropriative and reductionist impulses stride self-assuredly right through or over the necessarily complicating close attention to details, without which the best-built edifice can collapse into nothing.”Thus my domineering, insensitive, uncomprehending, self-aggrandizing treatment of his work has caused his “best-built edifice” to “collapse into nothing.” Also note the contempt, the total lack of respect, with which Fitzgerald, who sees himself as the injured party, treats me.
Fitzgerald: “Yet some may claim that any objection on my part should be taken as a sign of churlishness.” Fitzgerald thus finds a new way in which he has been victimized, namely he fears that others will unfairly take his amazingly mean-spirited and churlish attack on me as churlishness.
Having considered Fitzgerald’s complaint about my discussion of him, let’s now look at my discussion of him, which he sees as such an anti-intellectual violation of his intellectual integrity. Below, in its entirety, is the section of my December 2006 “Separationism” article that deals with Fitzgerald:
Finally, there is Hugh Fitzgerald of Jihad Watch. Fitzgerald is an original thinker whose many proposals include the isolation of the Muslim world leading to Kemalization. In my gloss on a Fitzgerald article in 2004 I wrote:
That’s the end of my discussion of Fitzgerald in the “Separationism” article. Is there any rational person who can see in it the mistreatment and manhandling that Fitzgerald professes to see?
Unlike Lewis, unlike Bush, and unlike the neoconservatives, Kemal Ataturk recognized that Islam itself is the problem, that Islam is unreformable, and therefore that the solution is not to reform Islam, but to constrain it. One condition discussed by Fitzgerald in another article is to stop all military aid and sales to Muslim countries. Another is to stop the external jihad expansion of Islam in neighboring non-Muslim lands. Thus Fitzgerald has proposed that we rescue the black Christians of southern Sudan (who, he adds, will welcome us, unlike the Iraqis) while we also establish a base in that country:
Furthermore, to be successful, says Fitzgerald, such Kemal-type leadership must come from within the Islamic world, not be imposed on it from without. The most the West can do is to create “end-of-their-tether” conditions in which Moslems themselves recognize the utter hopelessness of Islam, thus triggering the emergence of Kemal-type leaders who will de-Islamicize their countries. The practical question (not addressed by Fitzgerald) then becomes: what are those end-of-their-tether conditions, and what can we do to bring them about?
A base there, as opposed to one in Kurdistan, will be permanent. Within easy range of both the Saudi oil fields of al-Hasa, and of all of North Africa, with its Salafist Army of Combat and Call … American protection of Sudanese Christians would hearten black Christians from Nigeria and Togo … and Kenya, and Tanzania … At the same time Fitzgerald, like myself, calls not only for stopping Muslim immigration into the West but reversing it:
But the main point is that this war of self-defense, against a Jihad that ranges from the Philippines to Portland, Oregon, from Nigeria to New York, from Madrid to Madras, is a war to be waged not merely, not even mainly, through military might. Those pushing the Jihad use far more than military means, and in self-defense, the same methods must be used. Muslim migration must not only be halted, but the mental ground prepared among Western Europeans for reversing the Muslim presence in their countries; Fitzgerald’s strategic ideas thus include (among others I have not mentioned): (1) the externally enforced isolation and constraint of Islam, including (2) active assistance to jihad-threatened non-Muslims at the edges of the Muslim world and (3) permanent U.S. military bases at the edges of the Muslim world, all of which (he hopes) would help trigger (4) Kemal-type de-Islamization movements that would arise within the Muslim world, and, finally, (5) the de-Islamization of the West through radically changed immigration policies, and, ultimately, reverse-immigration policies.
Finally, if Fitzgerald gets so bent out of shape because a fellow Islam critic has written positively about him, how will he deal with challenges to his work by the left, who will surely distort his ideas much more than I have supposedly done? I stand by what I write, while Fitzgerald freaks out and treats me as an enemy because of my accurate and respectful presentation of his ideas. This does not bode well for Fitzgerald’s ability to stand up to real attacks on him and to advance his anti-Islam strategy in the marketplace of ideas.
Stephen F. writes:
I thought I remembered a strange response from Hugh Fitzgerald during your infamous clash with Robert Spencer, so I looked it up. It was a comment by Fitzgerald in a Spencer blog entry replying to your criticisms of Spencer.
The point he’s trying to make is that one should ally oneself with all fellow opponents of Jihad.
He seems to be against any kind of conceptual or dualistic reasoning. It would hinder him in his freewheeling, polyglot, erudite, rambling style.
“There are two categories of people in the world, those who constantly divide the people of the world into two classes, and those who do not.”
Robert Benchley wrote that. I’m with him, I’m definitely on his side. Yes, I agree with Robert Benchley 100%, and I do so 100% of the time. Oops, sorry, I just realized I can’t be with him, can’t be on his team. You see, if I choose his side (even if in some sense both deeper and higher I am with him, which makes it hard not to be with him even in a shallower and lower sense) then I’d be placing myself in the category of those who do what he does, dividing the people of the world into two classes. And I’m in the category of people who don’t want to be on the dividing side of that divide. So I’m not with him, after all, or have decided to think that I think that I can’t be, but on the other hand one wants so much to be on Robert Benchley’s team. Who wouldn’t want to be on a team captained by someone who titled one of his books “David Copperfield, or Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea”?
Roundheads or Cavaliers, Guelfs or Ghibellines, La Montagne ou La Gironde, Bolsheviki ili Mensheviki, los Blancos o los Colorados, Little-Enders or Big-Enders, clerics or anti-clericals, Tories or Whigs, Brobdignagians or Lilliputians, conservatives or liberals, Shakespeareans or Oxfordians, formal or free versifiers, Keats or Shelley, Browning or Tennyson, Dickens or Thackeray, Marie Boroff or Max Beloff, Jean Seznec ou Jean Starobinski, Alexandre Kojeve or Alexandre Koyre, Dos Equis or Kirin, burgundy or bordeaux, beggars or choosers, le cru ou le cuit, Eve or Lilith, Mars or Venus, Scylla or Charybdis, Devil or the Deep Blue Sea, David Copperfield or Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, All or Nothing At All.
Before making those decisions, a break is called for. Nights in the great outdoors. Plain living and high thinking. A la belle etoile. Lungs full of fresh air. The sound of crickets at night. The chirm of birds in the morning. So it’s Tenting Tonight on the Old Camp Ground. But with whom? Pitch a lean-to with the one or possibly two Little-Tenters who completely agree with you, and whom you can stand, even though the Jihadists might come down in the night like a wolf on the fold? Or, instead, help pitch a much larger tent, and share its ample space, its mosquito netting, its sturdy poles, with a dozen or more Big-Tenters? Just now, it might make all kinds of sense, beginning with the common kind, to camp out with those Big-Tenters.
Posted by: Hugh at May 19, 2006 11:11 PM
I had not read this. It’s revealing. And you have well summarized his attitude.
In fact, what Fitzgerald is saying here reminds me of Woody Allen’s old jokes about pseudo-intellectualism, like in “Love and Death” and in many of his short stories. In making fun of the fruitless, divisive, or counterproductive uses of the intellect, Fitzgerald, like Allen, seems to see all intellectualism as pseudo-intellectualism, and so he dismisses conceptual thinking itself.
And Fitzgerald’s uncontrolled, free-associative writing style fits with that. This is why, a few years ago, after I urged him in a friendly way to go beyond writing extended riffs and write real articles, I didn’t hear back from him. It was as if I had urged a wild horse to put on a suit and tie.
And this also explains his resentment of my discussion of his ideas in my “Separationism” article. What I did was to organize his ideas into a concise, coherent form, something he is unwilling or unable to do himself. He hates the thought of his ideas being put in a definite form, because then, as he says, he would have to take responsibility for being clearly on “this” side and not on “that” side, he would be dividing the world into “little tents” instead of being in a “big tent,” and he sees any effort to do that to his work as horribly vulgar. That’s why he spoke of me as though I were some shambling ape trampling over his precious ideas.
I’m indebted to you for digging this up.
But, you know, it gets really tiring at times having so many people against me. Spencer’s personal attacks on me in retalitation for my intellectual criticisms of him were bad, but at least his motivation, as ugly and nasty as it was, was understandable. But to be attacked for praising someone and treating his ideas respectfully, well, that’s getting weird.
I’m glad this was helpful. I’m sorry you always have to defend yourself against attacks, but admire you tremendously for getting yourself heard as much as you do with so little mainstream support. I’m not alone among your readers in thinking that your work has influenced the outburst against S.1348, even though it’s not by any obvious mechanism (no evidence of direct influence). Somehow, you’re affecting the climate, the cosmic equilibrium.
Honestly, I think some people are afraid of being associated with you, due to your angle on race. Therefore they’re not even comfortable being praised by you. It’s a lonely position; I imagine it would be more comfortable to be in the white-nationalist camp. They’re pariahs, but they have their comfort zone.
Yes, Fitzgerald could not stand being praised by me. But what does that say about his earlier comment that people should not divide the world up into different groups?
It’s quite ironic. When I criticized Spencer, Fitzgerald criticized me for dividing the world into little tents.
But when I praised Fitzgerald, Fitzgerald attacked me for appropriating and distorting his ideas.
So, Fitzgerald objects to me when I criticize my fellow Islam critics, and he objects to me when I agree with my fellow Islam critics. What he wants is that I, or rather my point of view, just go away. Well, sorry, Mr. Fitzgerald, but that’s not going to happen.
And yes, I’m more of an outsider than the white nationalists and neo-nazis. They have a community they’re a part of, just as the people in the liberal and conservative mainstream do. For the mainstream, race is verboten, period, and anyone who touches on it is to be treated as a non-person. For the white nationalists and Nazis, race is all-important, but they reject morality as liberal PC, and are mostly anti-Semites—and in many cases they even side with the enemies of the West. My view—that race is a legitimate and important part of the picture that can be discussed in a rational, civilized, and moral way—is a tiny minority view wth no place in today’s world. But, as with separationism, I think someday it will be the majority view.
Stephen F. replies:
The Woody Allen example was interesting. I love some of those old pieces of his—the scholarly study of the laundry lists of some intellectual, the piece on Hitler’s barber, “My Apology,” etc. Maybe comedy is a natural outlet for someone who dislikes conceptual thinking, but is verbally smart.
Garrison Keillor is a bit like that. He does something of a service, in my view, by promoting what’s left of American country and folk music and small-town Protestant culture. He was actually an artsy, intellectual type in his youth and decided that intellectualization is all nonsense, so he adopted his folksy style.
It struck me that Fitzgerald and Spencer, though they seem very different, are, after all, taking the exact same position by refusing to generalize from their own observations of Islam. Spencer tries to present only what Muslims themselves say, to avoid charges of bigotry. Fitzgerald discourses on the various Muslim societies and their interactions with the West, showing the insidious and complex ways in which even the most Westernized Muslim “allies” harm our interests in our interactions with him. Both adamantly resist being characterized by anyone else.
I agree that a change in discourse on race will happen eventually. Maybe soon. Everything changes when, as a white, you realize that you are under systematic attack.
I like your observation about witty people, and also about white people.
That’s a good insight about Spencer and Fitzgerald. Another example of the same thing is that Spencer, to avoid making any conclusory statements of his own about Islam, typically puts his argument in the form of a rhetorical question or challenge: “Will any moderate Muslims appear?” “Can anyone show me an authoritative moderate Muslim teaching that rejects death for apostates?” And so on. It is certainly an effective way to argue. But if he never goes beyond it, then, as you point out, he is avoiding making his own general and definitive statements about the nature of Islam, and that is what is needed above all else.
Stephen said: “Honestly, I think some people are afraid of being associated with you, due to your angle on race. Therefore they’re not even comfortable being praised by you.”
* * *
I accepted too readily that this is the case. The Islam problem has nothing to do with race. My “Separationism” article has nothing to do with race. Should we really regard it as normal and acceptable that a supposed hardline conservative like Fitzgerald utterly rejects any common ground with me on the entirely non-racial issue of what to do about Islam, because, on other topics not related to Islam, I enunciate views about race (e.g., race matters, and America should remain a white-majority country) with which Fitzgerald disagrees? Why, for example, should Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s hateful attacks on Christianity, such as comparing Catholicism to Nazism, not disqualify her as a fellow defender of the West against Islam, while my views on race, which have nothing to do with the Islam question and which I never intrude into discussions of the Islam question, disqualify me as a fellow defender of the West against Islam?
The answer, of course, is that for liberals (and virtually all modern Westerners including “conservatives” are liberals), the first and greatest commandment, ruling all other commandments, is that race has absolutely no cultural or political significance, and that anyone who suggests otherwise is to be cast into the outer darkness.
The dominance of this liberal belief (which is as dangerously contrary to reality as the belief that sex differences don’t matter to society, or that marriage doesn’t matter to society, or that morality doesn’t matter to society, or that the profit motive doesn’t matter to society) is not going to endure.
Here is the original Fizgerald comment as posted at New English Review:
I hate this kind of thing. You put out a whole series of observations. You promote this, you take issue with that. You note domestic political problems, and problems with political support abroad. You describe the war in Iraq as folly, but suggest that other possible interventions—in, for example, the southern Sudan and Darfur—would be wise. You say that it is possible to both recognize, and exploit (sometimes by doing something, sometimes by stopping from doing something) the pre-existing fissures, ethnic and sectarian and economic, that can be found within the Camp of Islam. You note the duty of political leaders to educate themselves in order to better educate those they presume to lead, to instruct in order to better protect. You note that much is a matter of timing, and that insufficient prepartion of the public can inhibit action, and note that the exaggerated attention given to Tarbaby Iraq makes not more but less likely the attack necessary to halt or postpone the achievement of the nuclear project of the Islamic Republic of Iran. You describe plausible and indispensable alliances: for example, those who have their own, independent, reasons for wishing to diminish the use of fossil fuels objectively are helping to deprive the world-wide Jihad of the Money Weapon (some ten trillion dollars since 1973), and wherever possible such overlapping of goals and interests are to be encouraged. You explain what it is about Islam that disturbs: its collectivism, its permanent hostlity toward Infidel legal, political, and social institutions, its inshallah-fatalism, the credulity and cruelty and habit of mental submission that it encourages. You describe its severe limits on artistic expression. You do this, repeatedly, and in great detail. You introduce the final and most important theme: the need for Infidels to themselves recognize, and by so doing to make it difficult for Muslims to avoid recognizing, that the political, economic, social, moral, and intellectual failures of Islam are connected to, are caused by, the tenets and attitudes and atmospherics of Islam itself. You do this, you do that. You offer not summaries, or a striking of attitudes, but rather a Things To Do List. Then someone concludes, without having closely read all those postings, that what you have written can be subsumed or summed up under a word of his choice and proceeds to do so. Along comes someone else, someone who in the past, by the way, apparently complained of the first writer’s views and modus operandi, which makes all the more curious his acceptance, without any investigation of his own, of the summing-up of your views by the first writer. And you can protest that the label does not accurately or fully convey the scope and contents of what you had long been suggesting, and that part of what is ascribed to you simply is wrong. The second writer, relying on the first writer as his authority, has simply been negligent, and caught out, refuses to admit or back down. One wonders how writer #2 would react to the comments of someone else, a writer #3, who had read and decided to approvingly repeat, the comments of writer #1 about writer #2 himself. One unfortunately cannot always ignore comments made by others if, by ignoring them, one appears to acquiesce in the characterization of one’s own views. One has a right to accept or reject, by explaining what has been omitted, or what has been falsely attributed. But no one likes to have to splutter publicly something along the well-worn lines of “that is not what I meant, not what I meant at all” and may not do so, and thus the label sticks, as reductive pigeonholing, and that pigeonholing turns out to be useful for enemies, not those who are in the same camp, more or sometimes less. The word “separationist” can be easily exploited to appeal to common prejudices, made to give off a whiff of Verwoerd. Thus the careful edifice you thought you had built and sturdily, by expressive force, made sturdy enough to withstand the usual attacks, is unwittingly undermined by others who insist upon the reductivist labelling. I reject such a label in my own case. But then, who am I to dare to describe my own views, in my own way, in a manner that is both more accurate and also makes those views more appealing? The appropriative and reductionist impulses stride self-assuredly right through or over the necessarily complicating close attention to details, without which the best-built edifice can collapse into nothing. Yet some may claim that any objection on my part should be taken as a sign of churlishness.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at May 31, 2007 11:10 AM | Send