Monday, November 12, 2007

A Utopianism That Demands Self-Destruction

Christine at Vigilant Freedom has been busy over the last few weeks researching and compiling data to counter the attacks on Vlaams Belang and Sverigedemokraterna that have been mounted at Little Green Footballs and other websites.

The result of her efforts, “The European Foreign Policy of Charles Johnson”, has now been posted at the CVF blog. It’s required reading for anyone who wants to fully understand what has been happening since the controversy over VB and SD started last month.

Christine’s essay at the CVF blog is really just a summary; the bulk of her research is included in two versions of an archival document, one in Word format and the other in HTML (Warning: these documents are HUGE).

She found and included all the LGF comments by Charles Johnson concerning the controversy, and analyzed them in order to write her blog post.

Here are the first few paragraphs:

Charles Johnson of the well-read blog (LGF) has raised concerns about the attendance at the Counterjihad Brussels 2007 conference by members of the Flemish Independence party Vlaams Belang (VB), and the Sweden Democrats (SD) party. We have answered those concerns with specific refutations. However, Johnson has asserted not only his concerns about VB and SD, but his wish and expectation that both U.S. and European groups and individuals should stop associating with VB and SD or any similar political parties or individuals.

Our concern is that this could have a chilling effect on communications and political activism of some U.S. readers of his blog. We are not as concerned about a chilling effect on the Europeans who were the great majority of those attending the conference, since only six Americans attended out of over 70 participants (excluding a few foreign residents with dual citizenship). The Europeans who have heard of LGF — and some are great fans — consider LGF to be more a U.S. blog than a European one.

Because we have a sincere respect for the good work Johnson does, and we hope he will continue to do, we have responded to his concerns in a sober and restrained fashion. However, in the last three weeks Johnson has strongly and repeatedly expressed his demand that all associations, political groups and individuals in the “counterjihad movement” must never associate with a wide range of European conservative and right wing political groups and individuals, including VB and SD. In that time, Johnson has also formulated and extensively published on his recommended foreign policy for non-governmental U.S. and European coordination against radical Islamism. We take his foreign policy recommendations seriously, although we do not agree with them. We will explain shortly why we disagree.

In order to provide a factual and complete understanding of Johnson’s recommended European foreign policy for non-governmental communications, we have compiled a list of all his comments from the LGF posts on this topic. The LGF posts themselves are also relevant and are linked in the document. The entire document of Johnson’s personal comments on the VB/SD topics can be downloaded here as a Word file (2.5 MB) or an html file (1.1 MB). We will keep these up-to-date. Due to the large number of comments Johnson makes per post, we may have accidentally missed a few, but we have made a diligent effort to capture them all to represent his views as objectively and seriously as possible.

Some blogs, including LGF, use selections from regular commenters to illustrate implicit or explicit recommended policies of a particular blog community. We choose at this time to focus solely on the comments of Johnson himself and his recommended policies. First, two statements to provide perspective:
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Analytic frameworks should vary. Some analytic frameworks should be micro and some should be macro. Certain researchers excel at analysis that uncovers a single deceptive document, as in the “Rathergate” and “fauxtography” projects. The scope of these research efforts is constrained, a micro focused effort with experts attacking it from all sides, and a high probability of success. On the other hand, the analytic framework to assess a political party should be greater, a macro effort, since history, political statements, interviews, resolutions and multiple leaders and factions all need to be taken into account. In the case of VB — the largest political party in Flanders and an outgrowth of a Flemish independence movement dating back to the founding of Belgium 175 years ago, a party now opposed not just to the Belgium government but also to the European Union — several overlapping macro-analytic frameworks are required to understand current and historical events, to evaluate past decisions and generate future policy options for non-governmental coordination. If LGF continues its interest in Belgium or other countries anywhere, we hope that it will increasingly use a macro framework in its assessments.

Unfortunately, using the analytic frameworks of micro research (investigating a coverup or deception) to try to assess a complex macro situation (investigating a party supported by over 800,000 people and opposed by many more, with over half a century of history or predecessors) can result in poor situation assessments and policy recommendations. The problem isn’t Johnson’s motives, which of course are only the best, or his analytic ability, which is demonstrable, but rather of a mismatch between the research methodologies of the blogosphere and the real world of European coalition politics, history and culture. An “Army of Davids” does not scale up, without education and experience, into an “Army of Thucydides.”

Minds cannot be read, but actions and statements can be. We cannot determine the secret motivations of either bloggers or politicians, so instead of seeing all statements as a cover-up of true intent, we treat them simply as statements. If a politician makes contradictory statements — taking one position in the past, and then taking a new position — we see this as a common phenomenon, and either a sign that the politician is learning from experience or responsive to a constituency. If politicians tries to hide the fact of the earlier statement, that’s not unusual behavior but it is an attempt at a coverup. If — as in the cases of VB and SD — several decades of parties opposing them have exposed every possible scandal, and posted them all on the internet years before — then no coverup can be successfully attempted, since all is known to the publics of their respective countries. As Johnson himself states repeatedly, information attacking both VB and SD is extensively posted across the Internet. We suspect he will find this is the case for any political party engaged in competition for votes with other political parties over any period of time.

Similarly, if a blogger makes contradictory statements — taking one position in the past, and then taking a new position — we see this change in the same way. For example, Baron Bodissey of the Gates of Vienna blog invited Johnson to the October 18-19 conference; Johnson in fact received three emails with information about Vlaams Belang’s participation, the first being sent on July 14. Similar emails (the short personal note at the beginning varied, but the body was the same) were sent to all speakers and potential participants. Most other invitees responded; Johnson responded to none of these emails, but they also did not bounce back.

She points out how well Mr. Johnson’s approach to the issues, however inadvertently, lines up with the EU’s policy on proscribed “racist” speech:

This lack of conventional methodological standards, combined with ambitious policy goals for influencing activists in multiple nations, can lead to major gaps in research and policy. The most significant in our view, is Johnson’s neglect in his analysis of the rapid growth in authoritarian laws under the European Union apparatus, and under some nation states. These laws expand the list of proscribed behaviors, words and thoughts, using the rationales of racism, discrimination, Holocaust denial, xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-multiculturalism etc. Three of these laws (2 from the EU, 1 from Belgium) are described and their impact discussed here.

Christine goes on at length to describe the details of the arguments at LGF, including many quotes and references.

She points out that the conference in Brussels was not about Vlaams Belang, but instead an opportunity for knowledgeable and interested anti-jihad people from across Europe to gather together and combine their efforts. She emphasizes the credentials of some of the speakers and participants:

The attendees and speakers at the Counterjihad Brussels 2007 conference included experts in many areas — the speaker biographies are here, and many participants who did not speak are equally expert in their own fields and country . Part of the purpose was to introduce subject matter experts, writers, practical politicians, local activists and even a few bloggers to each other. Here is a small sample of speaker backgrounds — do read the biographies of all these extraordinary and dedicated individuals, as well as their conference presentations:

  • Bat Ye’or: Author of five books and scores of articles on non-Muslims under Islam
  • David Littman: MA and postgraduate studies, scholarly publications on the topic for almost half a century, over 100 written and oral statements concerning human rights published in his various NGO capacities
  • Paul Belien: Law Degree, Doctorate in International Studies, adjunct fellow, Hudson Institute, author of A Throne in Brussels.
  • Lars Hedegaard: President, Free Press Society, author of several books on contemporary world history, former Editor-In-Chief of the Copenhagen daily newspaper Information
  • Jens Anfindsen: Doctorate in Philosophy, political analyst for Norway’s Human Rights Service
  • Johannes Jansen: Professor, University of Utrecht, expert in Islamic extremism, author of multiple books and articles on the topic
  • Arnaud Dotezac: Professor of Law in Lausanne, Switzerland, focusing on the law of religions, particularly Islamic law, and also on the law of armed conflict
  • Arieh Eldad, M.D.: Physician, member of the Israeli Knesset
  • Patrick Sookhdeo: Ph.D. from London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies on the impact of Islam on society. He also holds doctorates from Western Seminary, Portland, Oregon and Nashotah House Episcopal Seminary, Wisconsin. Director of the Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity and of the Barnabas Fund. His latest book is Global Jihad: The Future in the Face of Militant Islam
  • Dr. Marc Cogen: Professor of International Law, Ghent University, and Co-Founder of the ‘European Friends of Israel.’
  • Sam Solomon: expert in Shariah law, executive director of Fellowship of Faith for the Muslims, U.K., founder of the Christian Law Society
  • Robert Spencer: internationally renowned expert in Islamic theology, law and history, author of seven books and hundreds of articles and monographs about jihad and Islamic terrorism, including his latest book Religion of Peace? Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn’t
  • Andrew Bostom, M.D.: Associate Professor of medicine at Rhode Island Hospital (Brown University Medical School affiliate hospital), author of books and many articles, including his latest, The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism: From Sacred Texts to Solemn History

Christine’s conclusions are instructive:

It’s worth noting again that the Vlaams Belang and Sweden Democrats are both the most pro-Israel parties in their countries, that both have taken strong stands against anti-Semitism and racism, that extremists have left or been kicked out of both parties because of these policies, and that each is the primary voice (the sole voice in the case of SD) arguing for controls on immigration, standards for assimilation and a stop to Islamisation.

If Johnson’s recommended policies were to be applied, not just to the SD but to all political parties opposing Islamisation, all members and previous leaders would be banned — presumably indefinitely, since the evidence of association goes back a long way and seems to contaminate forever.

No political parties would ever fit this ideal. It is a utopianism that results in policies that would effectively ban political participation by any “members or leaders” of most conservative and right-wing existing parties. Given VB’s and SD’s rapidly growing support, this utopianism demands that they self-destruct just as they now are within a year or two of having significant influence in their respective parliaments. In fact, this is utopianism imposed with such potentially destructive results — though surely not a destructive intent, of course — it becomes a casual nihilism.


There will be no immediate conclusion to this debate, but we hope it can be made better-informed and more focused on real issues, and less on abstractions and propaganda. In the meantime, in the real world following the October 18-19 conference, activists have already met in several places in Europe to combine efforts; at least one local conference is planned in the next month, following up on discussions from the second working group day; several writers are working on preparing translations of various works into each others’ languages; rather a lot of networking goes on daily, among a greatly expanded group of international colleagues; and we are planning a limited-participation online conference to address problems, policies and legislative initiatives on immigration and assimilation.

We intend to associate at that conference with members of Sweden Democrats, Vlaams Belang and a number of other groups and political parties, if they wish to participate, in order to exchange ideas and views. We hope that the resulting papers and policy initiatives will be useful for participants and non-participants alike.

It was an exhaustive and exhausting effort to put together this material, and Christine deserves our thanks. Everyone who attended Counterjihad Brussels 2007 knows how invaluable her work has been.