Thursday, 31 July 2008

Private Eye letter

Letter in response to a 'photo-bubble' in Private Eye titled 'Top Judge backs Sharia law', showing Lord Phillips in wig and gown with a speech-bubble saying 'I'm a bit of a Burqa'. The item was the featured photo-bubble for issue 1214 on the Eye website, but has since been replaced by this one: which I like to think might be a result of my rebuke. Letters, Private Eye 1215, 15 July 2008, p13: Wig and Frown Sir, Apparently Lord Phillips is a 'burqa' (geddit?) (page 3, Eye 1214) for stating that private civil disputes may be submitted to a mutually agreed arbitration procedure which could be based on Sharia while obviously still subject to English or Scottish law. It is hard to see why, and given freedom of contract how, the state should intervene to prevent such a practice. The offending photo-bubble is therefore pure 'homburg', and the dismal pun entirely 'surplice' to requirements. Will you now say 'sari' for this ill-considered outburst of tabloid-style muslim-bashing? TIM WILKINSON. Via email.

Daniel Pipes - a (tentative) retraction

Well, I don't know if someone has being doing a Google blog search and drawn Pipes's attention to the previous post, or if he was just taking his time in responding, but either way he has now (some time in the last two or three days) posted my comment on his blog. I try to judge people on their actions, not on failed, abandoned or repented attempts; who will presume to look into men's hearts and condemn them for what they might have done had they been unconcerned with public opinion? Not me mate. So at the risk of sounding a bit self-important (as if anyone is reading and gives a monkey's) I therefore withdraw the accusation of cowardice. Here is Pipes's rather feeble attempt to answer my criticism (from

Daniel Pipes replies:

I stand by my analysis of Sadowski. I bolded his words as well as mine because it they contribute integrally to distorting my meaning.

As for "never" and "always" - I do make a point to avoid such formulations, but when it comes to the notion of over a billion Muslims unifying into a single polity, I feel on safe ground saying this will never happen. Who will gainsay centuries of history and contradict me on this one?

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Daniel Pipes - dishonest coward

[EDIT @ 31 July 2008: NB PLEASE SEE THE NEXT ENTRY FOR AN UPDATE ON THIS MATTER] Below is an item from Daniel Pipes's website.

The website states that Comments are screened for relevance, substance, and tone, and in some cases edited, before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome, but comments are rejected if scurrilous, off-topic, vulgar, ad hominem, or otherwise viewed as inappropriate. I submitted a quick comment in response to it on the 14th of July (his time). Subsequent comments by others were published, but not mine - even though it was neutral in tone, contained no 'offensive' content and was considerably more grammatical and comprehensible than the ramblings in most of the published comments, though to be fair these evidently don't come from native English speakers. The only possible reason for his rejection of my comment was that it demolished the claims he made in his post. His refusal to publish it says a great deal about his intellectual honesty. My rejected comment is reproduced below Pipes's original article.

The Problem with Middle East Studies A Microscopic Investigation

by Daniel Pipes History News Network July 14, 2008

As one of the few pro-U.S. and pro-Israel voices in the field of Middle East studies, I find my views get frequently mangled by others in the field – thus I have had to post a 5,000-word document titled "Department of Corrections (of Others' Factual Mistakes about Me)" on my website.

Usually, the precise evolution of such mistakes escapes me. Recently, however, I discovered just how one developed in three steps and confronted the two academics who made the errors. Their unwillingness to acknowledge their errors illustrates the mixture of incompetence and arrogance of Middle East studies as it is, unfortunately, too often practiced in the academy.

(1) In "The Muslims are Coming! The Muslims are Coming!" National Review, November 19, 1990, I wrote about some of the reasons for Western fears of Muslims:

Muslims have gone through a trauma during the last two hundred years – the tribulation of God's people who unaccountably found themselves at the bottom of the heap. The strains have been enormous and the results agonizing; Muslim countries have the most terrorists and the fewest democracies in the world. Only Turkey (and sometimes Pakistan) is fully democratic, and even there the system is frail. Everywhere else, the head of government got to power through force[,] his own or someone else's. The result is endemic instability plus a great deal of aggression.

Despite such problems, I concluded, "none of this justifies seeing Muslims as the paramount enemy."

(2) Yahya Sadowski, then of the Brookings Institution, quoted the bolded line of the above paragraph in an entirely different context in "The New Orientalism and the Democracy Debate," Middle East Report, July-August 1993, p. 14. Discussing Western considerations of democracy's prospects in the Middle East, Sadowski wrote:

The thesis that Middle Eastern societies are resistant to democratization had been a standard tenet of Orientalist thought for decades, but in the 1980s a new generation of Orientalists inverted some of the old assumptions and employed a new vocabulary which allowed them to link their work to a wider, international debate about the relationship between "civil society" and democratization. These updated arguments sought to prove not only – as neo-Orientalist Daniel Pipes put it – that "Muslim countries have the most terrorists and the fewest democracies in the world," but that they always would.

Sadowski quoted my words accurately but turned their meaning upside-down; he transformed my rather prosaic observation of fact into part of a grand theory that I never enunciated – and which, for the record, I repudiate. Throughout my work, I stress mutability and change and argue against historical essentialism concerning Islam. I see the Muslim world as changing and avoid extrapolations from present-day circumstances to the future. I make a point not to say something will "always" be a certain way. Further, contrary to Sadowski, I hold that Islam and democracy are indeed compatible.

Joel Beinin of Stanford University and Joe Stork of the Middle East Report then gave the Sadowski article legs by reprinting it in their co-edited 1996 University of California Press book, Political Islam: Essays from Middle East Report; I am quoted on p. 34.

(3) Then along came Yakub Halabi, at the time a Ph.D. student at the University of Denver, with "Orientalism and US Democratization Policy in the Middle East," International Studies, 36 (1999), pp. 385-87. Halabi relied on Sadowski's distorted version of my words and further elaborated on it, now in the context of his discussion of Western attempts to understand how a passive Muslim people could have brought off the Iranian revolution:

The neo-orientalist school emerged in the aftermath of the Iranian revolution. It was an attempt to remove the anomaly in the orientalist approach that could not explain why a Muslim society rebelled against the Shah. … Orientalists as well as neo-orientalists, however, ignore any sort of modernity or novelty in Islamic societies in general and in the Iranian revolution in particular.

Halabi went on to note that some analysts depicted Islamic movements as not just radical but also anti-Western and anti-modernist.

One such writer Daniel Pipes, for example, depicts Muslims as "permanent" anti-democrats and terrorists. In his words: "Muslim countries [not only] have the most terrorists and the fewest democracies in the world, but that they always will."

"In his words"? Hardly; I said nothing of the sort. Halabi changed my meaning by ascribing the word "permanent" to me, though it appeared nowhere in my essay; by adding two words in square brackets; and by falsely ascribing Sadowski's phrase to me. To complete the transformation, he even altered Sadowski's language, changing the final bolded word from "would" to "will."

As with Sadowski's perversion of my sentence, I disavow the fictitious quote Halabi attributes to me.


My comment (verbatim including minor typos):

First, lets be clear that this Halabi character is clearly in the wrong and displays appalling scholarship - first in relying on a secondary source, then by altering the quote so as to change its meaning. It's hard to see how it could be an honest mistake. If his remarks about subjectivity etc are correctly reported, then he also intellectually bankrupt. If Pipes stuck to criticising Halabi, that would be fair enough. But he doesn't restrict himself to that - he attacks Sadowski, who doesn't misrepresent Pipes at all. He states that certain new arguments - part, he claims, of a neo-orientalist trend - say not only what Pipes says - i.e. (in my words) that muslim countries are uniquely terroristic and undemocratic - but also that this is an immutable fact about islam. Pipes himself aggravates his false account of the import of Sadowksi's comments by bolding both the quote and a fragment of the surrounding statement as though they formed a unified and discrete whole. As for Pipes's protests about his own views, he claims: "I see the Muslim world as changing and avoid extrapolations from present-day circumstances to the future. I make a point not to say something will "always" be a certain way." But in the same essay he complains was misrepresented, only three short paragraphs after the comments under dispute, he states: "Muslims are not now politically unified and never will be so." Pipes's protests would be more convincing if he could avoid misrepresentation himself.

Tim Wilkinson

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Ratbiter biter

Here's a piece from Private Eye, and an email exchange relating to it:


Private Eye 1213, 27 June 2008, p8



ALTHOUGH Britain is in a cold war with Iran, the contrasting fate of Iranian journalists in London shows that the last people to know it occupy senior positions in the Metropolitan Police and Foreign Office.

You would never guess that Iran had held British sailors hostage or supplied the weapons that killed British troops in Basra from the official indulgence shown to Press TV, the state-funded international network of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's regime. It operates out of studios in Ealing, right next door to Hamas TV.

Inevitably, George Galloway's gorgeous face is on frequent display, but the Iranians have also persuaded British journalists to front shows. Andrew Gilligan hosts one discussion programme, while the former Taliban captive turned Islamist Yvonne Ridley hosts a second.

Behind the cover of impartiality that Gilligan and other ingénues provide, the station works hard to promote links between white neo-fascists and the Islamist far right. The Iranians have - teamed up with the former model Lady Renouf (nee Michele Mainwaring), and the reasons for the mutual attraction are obvious. When her friend David Irving faced charges of Holocaust denial in Austria, Renouf called for "so-called Holocaust -victims to be exhumed to see whether they died from typhoid or gas". She attended the Holocaust denial conference in Tehran and enthused about Ahmadinejad's "open, democratic approach", then suggested to Press TV that it give airtime to another neo-Nazi, Nicholas Kollerstrom, who was forced out of an honorary position at University College, London for not only denying that the Nazis implemented an extermination campaign but adding for good measure that Islamists did not plant the 7/7 bombs in London. (MI5 massacred its own people, apparently, then fitted up innocent jihadis.)

Although Britain has financial sanctions against Iran, no action has been taken to stem the flow of funds from Tehran to the station. Fair enough, you might think, as we believe in freedom of speech in this country. But when it comes to the enemies of theocratic rule, British liberalism is nowhere to be seen.

Press has a rival: Your TV, which has been broadcasting from London since 2002. It supports the overthrow of the mullahs and hopes that one day Iran will be a democratic country with a constitutional monarchy, rather like ours. The authorities, however, can't see the similarity. In 2005, the Met raided the home of its founder,, Frood Fouladvand. Coincidentally, the police action occurred on the same day in 2005 that Iran was holding a rigged election.

Fouladvand is an Iranian atheist who denounces what has been done to his country in the name of religion. Death threats from Iran and Hezbollah have followed. Far from saying that Britain is a free country where people are entitled to denounce religion if they wish, the Foreign Office has bent over backwards to placate the mullahs.

Reuters quoted the British embassy in Tehran as saying: "The British government does not share Mr Fouladvand's views. We deplore any attacks on Islam... We condemn those who stir up division."

A harsher condemnation awaits Fouladvand too. In 2007, he visited Turkey and was lured, to the border with Iran on the promise of meeting members of the underground opposition. No one in the west has seen him since, and his colleagues' told the Eye they were sure he was being held in Iran and faced imminent execution.

If the regime does kill him, Press TV is unlikely to broadcast protests.


From: Tim Wilkinson []
Sent: 01 July 2008 10:53
To: Strobes
Subject: Ratbiter, issue 1213, 27 Jun


Ratbiter calls for Iran-funded Press TV to be shut down, citing a spurious 'cold war' and guilt by association with Holocaust-deniers. He contrasts the UK government's 'indulgence' of Press TV with its 2004 censure of Your TV's Iranian founder Foud Fouladvand. In fact the government, invoking the rule of law, repudiated Fouladvand's views while asserting its readiness to protect him: a Voltairean sentiment not so very 'far from saying that Britain is a free country where people are entitled to criticise religion if they wish', and certainly no attack on free speech.

Ratbiter mutters darkly of the 'coincidence' of Fouladvand's 2005 arrest with the Iranian election. As any Eye-reader no, all governments sometimes continue politics by corrupt or clandestine means. But on the face of it, this was just another arrest made under recent 'terror' legislation and based on insubstantial intelligence. The station continued to broadcast from London.

Ratbiter sees in diplomatic verbiage a double standard favouring the Iranian enemy, while his own bias is to be backed by a political crackdown. He takes a gratuitous sideswipe at 'Northwoods-sans-Kennedy' theories which, if overblown, are not entirely irrational given the climate of hawkish deceit and the post-7/7 evidence vacuum. He glosses over the abuse, and the abusiveness, of terror laws. He announces Cold War II. With investigative reporters like this, who needs propagandists?

Now that the Eye is cheerleading for? the Orwellian 'War on Terror' I don't have much hope that this letter will be printed in full.

Yours in renewed mourning for Paul Foot,

Tim Wilkinson

2008/7/4 Strobes :

Dear Mr Wilkinson

Ratbiter replies:

"1. We don't call for Press TV to be shut down.
2. It is not Voltarian to say of a theocratic dictatorship 'The British government does not share Mr Fouladvand's views. We deplore any attacks on Islam.' It is Voltarian to say ecrassez l'infame.
3. It is not gratuitous to take a sideswipe at Islamists and neo-Nazis who say that MI5 planted the London bombs, it would be negligent not to.
4. We do not gloss over 'the abuse, and the abusiveness, of terror laws' they are not mentioned in the piece as they are entirely irrelevant to it.
5. We are not cheer leading the war on terror merely announcing that a journalist has in all probability been murdered by a reactionary regime."

Thank you for your letter.


From: Tim Wilkinson []
Sent: 05 July 2008 07:10
To: Strobes
Subject: Re: Ratbiter, issue 1213, 27 Jun

Sir, thank you very much for your response. Though you presumably do not wish to enter into a correspondence, I feel it worth supplying the following brief rejoinders.

1. I think you do, de facto: you call for the government to cut off its funding - and agree that such a measure appears in conflict with free speech rights.

2. Agreed, of course not all of the Deputy Head of Mission's remarks were Voltairean.

3. Nazis deserve to be sideswept. The gratuitousness of a swipe (or the non-negligence of its omission) depends on context. 7/7 conspiracy theories a) were thought obscure enough to need a gloss - in parody I might add, b) were falsely associated with Holocaust denial (no mention of Kollerstrom's interest in crop circles) and c) are just about the last kind of thing one should be happy about the government suppressing, even if unlike parliament you want certain opinions about the Holocaust banned.

4 The abuse of terror laws, in contrast, is relevant - you allege that it has been the instrument of clandestine political action. The 'anti-terror' legal apparatus makes this kind of corruption much easier and its investigation, criticism or challenge more difficult.

5. Not 'merely' by any stretch - 1/2 of the piece is nothing to do with FF; a thin 1/3 is about his murder and relevant background. The intro is all about Press TV, the new cold war and the percieved bias of the FCO and Met.

From: Strobes
Date: 2008/7/8
Subject: RE: Ratbiter, issue 1213, 27 Jun
To: Tim Wilkinson

Thanks for letter.