Sunday, July 20, 2008

Richard Seymour and his critics

I suppose I should have something to say about this, inasmuch as it briefly reviews my contribution to 'Christopher Hitchens and His Critics'. The author of the review, Max Dunbar, describes my piece as 'scatological', which is true to the extent that it contains one swear word near the end. But I'm sure he meant to say 'abusive', which is far more to the point. He says that my critique of Hitchens is that he changes his mind a lot. It is not that. It is, partially, that he fabulates, retrospectively adjusting his positions so as to render them a great deal more coherent than they actually are (the tale of his Damascene conversion in a Kurdish jeep is the key example). This is not the end of Hitchens misrepresentations, but since the author of the Butterflies and Wheels article doesn't bother to deal with these, neither will I.

Dunbar says that I claim "that the jihadis and ex-Baathists in Iraq are a ‘grassroots guerilla movement, one that has arisen because of the brutality of the occupation’", and that my "sources for this statement are the CIA (!) and a bunch of antiwar websites similar to his own." In fact, the antiwar websites mentioned just provide graphics of data gathered by the Multinational Forces in Iraq and supplied by the US Department of Defense, which I have cited directly elsewhere (Dunbar could have asked me, or he might have checked the dossier in the sidebar). The statistics speak for themselves: the vast majority of attacks by insurgents are directed against occupation troops, not against civilians or even America's local auxiliaries. The exclamation mark beside 'CIA' is also unwarranted. In this case they provided 'evidence against interest'. In other words a branch of the American state supplied information about the nature of the military opposition to the occupation that directly contradicted a case being produced and disseminated energetically by that state.

Dunbar accuses me of "believing that the murder of young working-class Americans is somehow understandable". I don't. I think the killing of occupation soldiers (which is presumably who he means) is more than understandable - it is an absolute necessity. I am not persuaded, as Dunbar appears to be, that one should not defend oneself against an armed occupation soldier because he may be working class. He adds that I "perceive the killing of trade unionists and aid workers and the bombing of mosques and UN buildings as mere collateral damage." Not only did I not say this in the article, but I don't think I've ever said it. It isn't even implied, so far as I can tell. That exhausts Dunbar's engagement with the article in question, but there is one other thing. He mentions, before he gets to discussing my piece, that I run an "unreadable" weblog. On this evidence, it would be more accurate to say that he finds it unreadable, because he is demonstrably incapable of properly reading what he purports to be criticising.