Wednesday, April 04, 2012
In effect, I would argue, the article faces in two directions simultaneously. Formally, it is addressed to British Muslims, a wake-up call, an appeal to get their skates on and join in more in wider political issues. Substantively, it is addressed to a wider audience, as an explanation for the seemingly inexplicable and aberrant behaviour of Muslim voters in Bradford West. It says, Muslims are obsessed with foreign affairs, and thus appear to be foreign; they care only about war and don't join in the wider arguments about inequality or the NHS; they respond only to that which specifically affects Muslims as Muslims, the least expansive kind of identity politics, and in effect isolate themselves from wider British public life. Acknowledging the chilling effects of so-called anti-terrorism legislation on political activism by Muslims, it nonetheless blames them for inhabiting an "antiwar comfort-zone" and exhorts them to abandon it.
Addressing Bradford specifically, the article insists that Muslims weren't enthused by the anti-austerity message of Respect, and only knew that its candidate George Galloway was antiwar and pro-Muslim. The authority for this piece of information is a local Labour student. So there you have it: the degeneration in our parliamenary democracy, the fragility of mountainous Labour majorities (demonstrated well beyond Bradford West), the collapse in coalition parties' support, the polarisation and volatility of politics in the age of austerity... all of this can be set aside, for the main cause of the result in Bradford West is a political pathology among British Muslims.
Okay. This isn't the worst example of its kind. Given the source, it is a disappointment, but you come to expect this from pundits. And most of the British punditocracy just did not get it about Bradford West; never mind foresight, twenty-twenty hindsight would have been nice. They were left trying to cobble together ersatz explanations from an impoverished analytical language that rarely knows how to ascribe political and tactical intelligence to voters. Watch them at work on the television: the same old dull, leaden psephological cliches from the same dull, leaden pollsters and pundits which we've been hearing for forty years to no avail: voters are becoming less tribal, more like consumers, sick of party politics they gravitate toward single-issue campaigns, except for Muslims who vote en bloc along tribal lines etc etc. So, Hasan's piece hardly stood out.
However. If you follow me on Twitter, you might already know that I took some of this up with Hasan. I asserted that the article was filled with unfounded, unfair and patronising generalizations about British Muslims that would do nothing but feed into the stereotypes which Hasan usually opposes, and I challenged him to back up his assertions. This generated a terrifically rancorous twitstorm. What struck me is that those defending the piece, including Hasan, have one argument, and one argument only: he is a British Muslim and is thus perfectly placed to make the kind of judgement calls that he made in this article. That is the only defence offered, the only defence available. Variations on the theme were offered: you, ghetto leftist, shouldn't attack someone with Hasan's record; you, provocateur, have stepped over the line this time; you, non-Muslim, have no basis for disputing Hasan's arguments; how many Muslims have you met, known or been related to anyway? I will spare you the various tiresome interjections along the lines that "guys, this is booooring, please stop". As if they don't know what Twitter is; as if they don't know how to scroll past lines of text.
In essence, the defence rested on an appeal to authority. In fact, for it to be coherent, for it to sustain the sorts of arguments made by Hasan without external support, it really has to be an appeal to omniscience. So, now, I have to explain that an argument stands or falls on its merits, on the proofs that can be assembled for it, not on the merits of the person making it? I doubt it. I doubt that a simple logical fallacy is responsible for such a streak of emetic twaddle. I assume that, to defend it on such sycophantic and illogical lines, either you have to be sympathetic to the thesis in the first place, hence grateful that a person of suitable authority gave voice to it, or you must have a conception of political etiquette (cf. 'coalition-building') in which one doesn't publicly criticise luminaries, or at least not too strenuously, and always 'constructively', ie on favourable terms. Talk about comfort-zones.