Thursday, January 10, 2008

You Have To Do Better Than That

Eric Yoffe, a leading Reform Rabbi, has been working hard at developing bonds and bridges between America's Islamic and Jewish community. A noble goal, to be sure. But in the Jewish Week, a group of Islamic leaders have objected to his choice of a partner: the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA).

Unfortunately, it is difficult from their editorial to grasp why I, as a standard issue liberal Jew, should find the ISNA problematic. It vaguely alleges that the ISNA has "served as a front group for Wahhabism" and other extremist Muslim ideologies, but doesn't say what it means by that. And when pressed for an example of the ISNA's radicalism, it gives us this:
Ingrid Mattson, president of ISNA, revealed the style of radical rhetoric with which the organization is saturated when, in addressing the URJ’s recent convention, she declared that in the current U.S. presidential primaries, “we see candidates being asked to prove that they comply with an ever narrower definition of what it means to be a Christian — forget about being a Muslim or a Jew.”

This is hardly spine-tingling material. Indeed, I might agree with it myself. And even if I disagreed, it hardly strikes me as beyond the pale of respectable discourse. But to the authors of this editorial, it is "an inexcusably irresponsible, inflammatory charge." Seriously? I'm supposed to buy that?

Elsewhere, it misreads Rabbi Yoffe's statement that "Islamic extremists constitute a profound threat. For some, this is a reason to flee from dialogue, but in fact the opposite is true," as promoting dialogue with the extremists, when he obviously is arguing that the presence of Islamic extremism makes dialogue with the rest of the Islamic community more urgent, not less. I could give other examples too; but overall, the styling of the editorial was persistently in such bad faith that it was anti-persuasive -- after reading their article, I came away further from their stated position than when I started.

The editorial was signed by nine people, affiliated with the American Muslim Congress, the Aafaq Foundation, the Center for Islamic Pluralism, the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, and the International Quranic Center. I know nothing of any of those groups (nor do I know anything about the ISNA). It's entirely possible that the ISNA really is a radical group camouflaged as moderate. It's also possible that this is a power-play by groups trying to smear and discredit a less accommodationist rival. I have no way of evaluating that without doing more research than I care to. Suffice to say that, if the former is in fact the case, these nine persons do serious harm to an important cause when they argue with such reckless disregard for fairness, clarity, or truth.


PG said...

There are a lot of organizations that seem to carry negative connotations without a clear explanation of why.

As best one family could tell, going to a Muslim Students Association convention was enough to cause them to fail a security check and lose their jobs at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. They were reinstated after a few years and a lawsuit, but never have been informed of exactly what caused their initial firing.

Mark said...

Having been essentially accused by you twice in the recent past of making claims "in bad faith", a red flag came up when you claim that against the article in question today.

Bad faith, I thought, meant claiming something you don't believe to conceal and promote other ulterior motives.

What do you mean when you use that term?

For the frequency with which you use that term might imply either you use a different meaning or it seems to me believe yourself to have (superhuman or at least) outstanding abilities to discern interior motives of people.

David Schraub said...

I define "bad faith" as making a claim or argument without really caring if it's true/plausible or not (extreme negligence, in other words) because it would strengthen your position; in contrast to an honest exposition which tries to present and grapple with the opposing side in a reasonable light. So in terms of how it differs from your definition, you don't have to actively disbelieve what you're saying -- casual disregard or apathy for whether it's true or not because you think it would make a good argument qualifies as well (and that's something that can be seen without ESP).

So, the claim that Rabbi Yoffe was advocating dialogue with extremists is a bad faith argument -- it's pretty clear that he isn't saying that, the only way to interpret him so that he is saying that is to read him in a spectacularly uncharitable manner, and I'm left to conclude that their use of the claim wasn't grounded in a desire for honest dialogue or progression, but polemic and partisanship.

Cycle Cyril said...

unindicted co-conspirator: Islamic Society of North America

Anonymous said...

What is wrong with today's Jews?
A perspective of a moderate Muslim.

When Muslims criticize Jews chances are it's Islamists. You rarely see moderate (an I do mean real moderate, not Islamists like CAIR who claim to be moderate) Muslims saying unflattering things about the Jews. So, normally, when I see the Jews do dumb things i.e., supporting an Islamist congressional candidate because of partisanship (American Jewish World's support for Keith Ellison) or providing utilities to a terrorist enclave (Gaza), I try to keep my mouth shut. For obvious reasons. But not this time.

I thought I've seen everything: Cuban missile crisis, fall of Berlin wall, 9/11. Until recently, I thought that the father of modern terrorism getting awarded a Nobel Peace Prize was the most peculiar event in my lifetime. But a recent, largely unnoticed event, could take the cake in peculiarity contest.

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