Thursday, July 19, 2007

Willful Ignorance

This post was finished just after Blooger locked us out. I posted it at IBA during the interregnum, but here it is again for our regular readers. And thanks to Epaminondas for his informative comments while the post was over there at IBA.

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An essay by Terry Mattingly describes the primitive superstition which lies behind the conspiracy theories that are spreading like viruses through Pakistan, roiling the waters and causing unrest.

In reading his article, I was reminded that human beings are, above all, reasoning creatures. That this faculty can be short-circuited by the notion that other people (or groups of people) conspire against us, bears witness to two tendencies. One is our susceptibility to project onto others what we most fear, and the other is our laziness: in a perversion of Occam’s razor we settle for the crudest explanation for a phenomenon — or an imagined one — so that “reason” gives us the needed justification for going on the attack.

Here’s the example that Mattingly uses:

The rumor spread across Pakistan in a blitz of text messages on cell phones.

There was a killer virus on the loose, and all you had to do to catch it was answer a call from an infected number. The virus didn’t hurt cell phones but would — eyewitnesses confirmed this — cause users to drop dead. The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority was forced to issue a denial, telling users that it was safe to turn their phones back on.

Unfortunately, Pakistan doesn’t have a Snopes page — a place to check out things like the latest weird email your co-worker sends you about a new destructive virus that eats your hard drive and metastasizes into a blood-sucking robot that will consume you and your mates in short order.

It will come as no surprise that many of the viruses in Pakistan often have one origin: the all powerful, evil Joooos:

Then there were messages claiming that Israeli trucks were carrying a million HIV-infected melons to Arab consumers in a new biological-warfare plot. This was not to be confused with other urban legends about a “Western-Zionist conspiracy” to use polio vaccines and other medical means to sterilize the next generation of Muslims.

Having lived through the firm conviction of many otherwise reasonable African Americans that the US developed AIDS in order to commit black genocide, I have often pondered the notion that people who feel oppressed and fearful look outside themselves for the nearest enemy to blame — in the case of HIV in black Americans, the Man is at the bottom of this nefarious plot. Pointing the finger away from oneself to the villain in charge allows for a certain amount of emotional security. At least you “know” the cause of your troubles. Faced with the ambiguity of chance and of having to accept responsibility for our behavior, it’s much easier to find a bad guy.

Mattingly excerpts from a recent speech (“Fact vs. Rumor: Journalism in the 21st Century”) in Istanbul by Husain Haqqani of Boston University. Haqqani says:

“The contemporary Muslim fascination for conspiracy theories often limits the capacity for rational discussion of international affairs…”

He doesn’t add that it also leaves the average, illiterate Muslim susceptible to the propaganda of the various factions spawned by the Muslim Brotherhood for the last several generations, all of whom have Utopian fantasies of conquering the world once and for all.

But Haqqani also argues — not very convincingly — against this “fascination” as being at all inherent in Islam:

“The Muslim world’s willingness to believe rumors is not a function of the Islamic religion. Like other Abrahamic faiths, Islam emphasizes truth and righteousness. The Quran says: ‘O ye who believe! Fear Allah, and (always) say a word directed to the Truth.’ And one of the sayings attributed to Prophet Muhammad … specifically forbids rumormongering: ‘It is enough to establish someone as a liar that he spreads what he hears without confirming its veracity.’“

Hmmm…another one of those cherry-picked quotes that fails to take into account the universal Islamic belief in taqiyya, a belief that arose very early, during the Sunni-Shi’ite split. Originally, Shi’ites — the oppressed group — developed the notion of taqiyya as a method of dealing with the superior Sunnis. Eventually, however, most of the splintered groups of believers in Allah found the concept useful when dealing with anyone outside the confines of their particular group. “Taqiyya” may be Arabic but the concept is as old as tribalism and I have no doubt you could find it being practiced under another less exotic name in some of the more remote hollers in the Appalachian Mountains here in the USA.

However, this behavior is quite limited in much of the rest of Western culture, which has long moved past tribalism, even past the nuclear family to some arrangement of serially monogamous relationships with others, however fleeting. Keeping secrets, lying to outsiders, universal dissembling - all have been replaced with another set of false premises based on building an image for public consumption. Where there is no belief in a permanent Truth, taqiyya is irrelevant.

Back in Pakistan, and much of the Middle East too, feasting on rumors and fear is an every day function, like eating or sleeping. Consumption of these rumors increases the fear and bigotry so commonplace in the “Arab Street.”

Mr. Mattingly says:

The result is a climate of confusion and cynicism that prepares millions of people to believe the next round of rumors, often with violent consequences in an age in which ancient prejudices and modern technology merge seamlessly.

I would disagree that these two opposites “merge seamlessly”. In fact, their collision helps to create and foster the “climate of confusion and cynicism” he observes.

Haqqani, quoted by Mattingly, looks at the results of surveys in organizations like World Public Opinion. Here much of the Middle East speaks positively about globalization, religious freedom, and democracy. At the same time, the majority of respondents also hold that Muslim nations should enforce Islamic theocracy in order to avoid contamination by the West.

So who will point out to them that they are already contaminated? Cell phones and cable TV and jihadi porn videos have changed them irrevocably. The only course left when faced with such overwhelmingly uncomfortable cognitive dissonance? Why, reach out and blame someone - and three guesses who the Evil Someone is:
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Large majorities affirmed the belief that the United States is trying to “weaken and divide” the Muslim world and slightly smaller majorities said America’s goal is to “spread Christianity in the region.”

The impact of the rumors can, perhaps, be seen in another paradox in these surveys, said Haqqani. Large majorities in Egypt, Indonesia and Morocco (results were mixed in Pakistan) agreed that violent groups that kill civilians are guilty of violating the “principles of Islam.” However, less than a quarter of those polled believed that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida were responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.

“Many Muslims seem to believe that 9/11 was a great achievement, but that Osama didn’t do it. They are confused by all the rumors.”

Confused? That’s a polite way of saying “ignorant.” Haqqani pleads that:

Leaders in the West must understand that almost half of the world’s Muslim population is illiterate. Meanwhile, the 57 nations in the Organization of the Islamic Conference contain about 500 colleges and universities, compared with more than 5,000 in the United States and 8,000 in India. That is one university for every 3 million Muslims.

One college for every three million Muslims? And did that just happen? What about the billions of petrodollars the House of Saud has poured into treacherous propaganda madrassahs aimed at creating monsters bent on destroying the West? The Saudis could have spent those untold sums on real schools with real teachers and actual educational content. Who is to blame for the ignorance and poverty in the Middle East (and its murderous consequences), if not the Saudis? Follow the money and you’ll find the cause for the widespread illiteracy and ignorance. It resides palatially in the middle of the desert, a snake lying in wait for its next opportunity to spew more venom.

Haqqani claims that —

“What we are seeing is not just a crisis rooted only in religion or education. This is a culturewide crisis of politics and economics and technology and education, and it is easy to see the role of religion because of the powerful role that faith plays in the lives of millions of people.

“The greatest fear of most Muslims is that their societies will be overrun by the Western world… They believe that modernity equals Westernization; Westernization equals promiscuity and licentiousness; and all of that equals a loss of faith. We cannot change that overnight. It is a project of a century or more, in which millions of people must learn that the modern world is built on values, laws and tolerance, not just highways, airplanes and cell phones.”

He fails to say Islam has always attempted to take just the technology of the West while avoiding contamination by its ideas. He also fails to say it has never worked. And when is this “project of a century or more” going to begin? Haqqani fails to mention the already decades-old project of the Muslim Brotherhood to bring about the exact opposite. Not a world built on “tolerance” but a world founded on submission to the will of Allah.

As long as the corrupt House of Saud continues to churn out hate-filled Wahhabists and/or Salafists, there will be no peace, no tolerance, and no education in the Middle East. They need that Pakistani ignorance firmly in place, or how else are they to carry out their stated mission?

Mr. Haqqani, you are being willfully deceitful: this is not about “values”; this is about the triumph or the defeat of the Ummah. From your academic perch at Boston University, which eventuality do you hope for?


Anonymous said...

welcome back.

Beach Girl said...

Baron and Dymnpha - how glorious to have you back! It is as though a member of our family has returned.

Unknown said...

Muslims are very permeable to rumors, even more if these rumors are wrappeds in Koran talks, and maybe this could be used to make them going away.

Yorkshireminer said...

This is just something to ponder. I have noticed over the last few years that the whinging is getting more and more hysterical and shriller. Most of us complain about the West being in denial. You know the sort of thing Politicians calling Islam a Religion of Peace, our gorge rises and will write a nasty comment just to get it out of our system. We do not really consider Islamic denial, we call them stupid ignorant sand jockeys, because to our western minds what they are spouting is illogical and we can't understand how they can be so stupid to think that way.

1632 is quiet an interesting year Gallilio went before the Inquisition. The whole of the Catholic Church was in denial, not only that the counter reformation was in full swing Germany was being decimated in the 30 years war. It is reputed to have lost between 30% and 40% of its population, and became a cultural backwater instead of a cultural leader. What caused this hysterical outburst by the Catholic Church? Quite simple, technology, Gutenberg invented the movable type, book production moved out of the hands of the Church, Not only that but they lost control of the content as well, is it any wonder the Catholic Church went apeshit with the Jesuit terrorists leading the charge.

Just over 100 years later a Scott perfected the steam engine, he invented an external condenser and the industrial revolution started to gain irresistible momentum. This finalised the doom of political Christianity, church and state became separated. This brought with it as a consequence liberal democracy, the ending of slavery and revolution to those countries that could not adapt quick enough. Industrialization changes irrevocably the relationship between church and state.

Could we be seeing, not the cheering of triumphalists but a primeval scream, felt but not understood, perceived but not quantified. Accelerating scientific progress and the speed of communications tie the Islamic world closer and closer into the world economy. It will have to change or become extinct in exactly the same way the Lancashire hand weaver had too when confronted with the factory system.

This of cause would not have been a problem if vast quantities of oil had not been found in Islamic countries. We have supplied them with obscene quantities of money in exchange for the oil. Money give you choices. They have chosen not to industialize. They have chosen instead to spend it on weapons and defending their religion with propaganda and building mosques in the west. Their religion cannot adapt, it is the word of God and immutable, because it cannot change it will be broken. I am certain the more perceptive know this. The flailing from one extremist rumor to the next is not a sign of strength but floundering. Is this not denial?

Are we not seeing here the Islamic equivalent of Edvard Munch's “The Scream” ?

Unknown said...

Yorkshireminer doesnot mention that thanks to our sillyticians we, in Europe paid that oil twice: we paid and accepted being flooded with muslims who are now in place, are still coming, and ready to outnumber us by a bellywar. The ultimate aim for any war is land conquer. And they are winning.

Nick said...

Well rumours and gossip and weirdness is fun. I enjoyed the bonkers conspiracys of Mulder and Scully.

But the key thing is I enjoyed it as fiction.

That's because I'm educated and healthily skeptical. The level of generalized ignorance in the Islamic World is staggering. Let's look at an obvious example. India vs. Pakistan. 60% of Indian PhDs are in the sciences. 80% of the (much smaller per capita) number of PhDs awarded in Pakistan are in some branch of Islamic theology.

It is farcical. Yorkshire miner is correct. This is the death-pangs of a dying culture. People see the massive population growth in Islamic countries and see it as a strength. The average Gazan woman will give birth to 6.8 children. So maybe they'll conclusively outbreed Israel? Won't matter with a per capita GDP of $600. When the industrial revolution hit the UK the population exploded but then so did the GDP. Big difference with what is happening in the Islamic World.

They have all these kids they can't afford and they see Europe & the US as wealthy and China, India and Brazil becoming wealthy and powerful and they wonder why not us? We are following the devine revelation of Muhammed designed by Allah to create a perfect society so why don't we get our slice of the global pie?

The real answer is of course, oddly enough, in the Koran.