Saturday, December 19, 2015

Not Everybody Loves Raymond

There are at least five different types of pedagogy at a site, like Jihad Watch, which is involved in trying to educate the public about the dangers of Islam:

1) reporting news about Muslims and about PC MC dhimmis

2) information about Islamic ideology, law, texts and history

3) exposing flawed and/or fraudulent propaganda or argumentation by influential Islam apologists (whether they be Muslims or non-Muslims)

4) rhetorical preaching-to-the-choir inspiration

5) analysis on a theoretical level concerning broader issues, including the nature of Islam, the psychology of Muslims, the nature of PC MC, the psychology of PC MC, and constructive criticism of various anti-Islamic approaches.

It is with regard to #3 where the problem with Raymond Ibrahim comes in most pertinently.
Ibrahim, as most people familiar with Jihad Watch know, is a graduate student in fields related to Middle East studies and is, according to his bio at Jihad Watch, "currently studying toward his doctorate in medieval Islamic history at Catholic University" -- one assumes the one in Washington, D.C. He joined the staff of Jihad Watch over a year ago, if my memory serves me correctly (his bio on Jihad Watch does not provide that information).

The types of pedagogy characterized by #3 as well as #1 depend centrally and crucially on primary source citation and verification. The problem with Ibrahim with regard to #3 (which constitutes most of his contributions thus far to Jihad Watch) is that from what I can gather, most of the time he either does not provide primary source citation, or what he does provide tends to be flawed and therefore virtually worthless as primary source citation.

Without primary source citation, no single claim we make about Islamic ideology, law, texts or history can be verified. And if it remains unverified, the claim is worthless -- or, more precisely, the claim remains in a state of limbo where its effectiveness cannot be utilized, except demagogically, until such time as verification can be provided.

This is not rocket science: if the primary sources that substantiate any given claim Ibrahim makes exist out there, and if Ibrahim has read them for himself, then why does he not provide them with sufficient completeness? What is he waiting for? Some indeterminate time in the future when he will not be so busy with his other projects that he can give his work at Jihad Watch the requisite documentation its readers (including innumerable persons of varying degrees of political and social influence) have a right to expect?

As it stands, Ibrahim's reportorial/scholarly conduct tends to conflate type #3 with type #4 -- i.e., telling the typical pro-Jihad Watch reader what he or she wants to hear about how bad Islam is in varying ways, but not bothering to actually (i.e., sufficiently) substantiate any one of the claims upon which that anti-Islamic message, in its particulars at any given moment, depends. This is fine and dandy for rallying the troops and infusing them with inspiration, but what is any given Jihad Watch reader supposed to do, for example, when they want to use the information Ibrahim is providing them in order to try to persuade a wider circle of strangers, acquaintences, work colleagues, friends, family, their local newspaper editors, their local or national politicians? Is that Jihad Watch reader supposed to repeat the claim they read in one of Ibrahim's pieces on Jihad Watch, and then when asked for verification, after the reference Ibrahim provided in his article turns out to be inadequate, are they just supposed to say -- "Umm. . . well, Raymond told me so. . ." ? The problem with this is that, well, not everyone out there loves Raymond.

These days, it's bad enough to tell people outside of the anti-Islamic portion of the Blogosphere (let alone out in the "real world") that you got some piece of information from Jihad Watch at all. This unfortunate situation is only compounded by the situation we find ourselves in where Ibrahim's poor scholarship on Jihad Watch forces us, more often than not, to provide inadequately referenced claims, at best.

Some cases in point:

Ibrahim's multi-part series on Zakaria Boutros (currently up to Part V), an Egyptian Coptic priest who exposes and mocks the seamy underside of Islam on his television show. Apparently, Boutros televises his episodes in Arabic, and Ibrahim in his reports has relied upon his own translations from Arabic to English. This by itself raises concerns, but since those programs are available online, anyone who knows Arabic and who wants to check on Ibrahim's translation can do the comparison himself. This doesn't do those in the still inchoate anti-Islam movement who are not fluent in Arabic any good, however. The whole point of Ibrahim's series is to bridge this gap from Arabic to English. If Zakaria Boutros is going to be used at all in the War of Ideas, a more rigorous translation system needs to be established, and part of that would require independent verification of Ibrahim's renderings into English by at least two other Arabic speakers. Should there be any disputes, there can be thus established a medium through which such disputes can be discussed on an ongoing basis.

Furthermore, the most glaring problem with Ibrahim's Boutros series is that a veritable cornucopia of claims are reported, and virtually no documentation at all is provided. These are not claims about a book like the Koran where the reader can rather easily cross-check, or even hunt down a verse if the verse number wasn't given in the original report, since the Koran is available on-line in multiple translations into English and after all, it is only one book, with a relatively uniform numbering system (perhaps with minor variations here and there).

Most of the claims of Boutros, however, refer to the Hadiths, and the situation there quickly becomes formidably, if not intolerably, complex. Thus, compounding the problem that we have Ibrahim rendering the Arabic quotations of the Hadiths by Boutros into English -- English renderings, thus, likely to be at variance with the paltry few English translations of the Hadiths into English the reader can scare up -- we have the problem that it becomes enormously difficult for the reader to try to pinpoint the exact source of any particular Hadith quote reported by Ibrahim/Boutros. Needless to say, all that work should be done by both Boutros and Ibrahim, not their audience. The pathetic situation of Western knowledge of Islam can be gleaned from the fact that the best online source of English translations of Hadiths is on the website of the Muslim Students Association based in the University of Southern California. This source has a number of problems:

a) They only provide the three "sahih" (most reliable) collections of Hadiths: Bukhari, Muslim and Dawood. There are also four other sahih collections that should be available to the English readership, aside from numerous others besides these.

b) The reader has no way of telling whether the collections this site provides are in fact complete -- indeed, there are elusive indications that in fact they are not complete, such as apparently large lacunae between volume numbers.

c) But the preceding problem becomes dwarfed now that the site in question has morphed into a new format that apparently does not provide a presentation of the hadith text content for browsing through but only enables access to the text through exact word searches.

d) The more general problem with the Hadith collections of Islam is that they seem to suffer from that amusing problem of bewilderingly complex and irrational annotation systems (if "system" is even the appropriate word and not rather "jungle") characteristic of Oriental compilations of texts in general (afflicting the corpuses of Hinduism and Buddhism as well). This is compounded by the fact that the Hadiths are, in the West, still considered to be mostly only the province of dusty academic scholars who do their assiduously meticulous ant-colony work in their dusty old libraries and publish them in dusty journals difficult to access. Only in the last few years with the still-inchoate anti-Islam movement post-911 realizing it has to know its enemy and realizing that a prodigious source of its enemy's fanatical supremacism and murderousness grows out of the Sunna and that the major core of the Sunna are the Hadiths -- has there become available such sources at all (along with, of course, the chillingly parallel activity of Muslims providing such information on the Internet in their pursuit of Daw'a and Jihad).

Certainly our Western governments cannot be bothered to do its job in the War of Ideas and allocate funding to finance a team of scholars to make the welter of sources revolving around the Sunna available in English to analysts.

The other sources of Boutros quotes and indirect allusions are the Sira and various Tafsirs. The same problems beset these sources as do the Hadiths -- if these more abstruse and recondite writings are not even in a worse condition.

I went to the trouble of going over all five parts of Ibrahim's Boutros series and tallying up the total number of problematic claims -- dividing them into claims for which Ibrahim supplied no reference at all, claims for which he supplied insufficient references, claims with reference citations but referencing books unavailable to readers, :

Part I:

Insufficient References:
5 (example: Another curious hadith contained in Sunan Bayhaqi and which traces to Sunan Abu Dawud (one of the six canonical hadith collections), has Muhammad lifting up his shirt for a man who proceeded to kiss his entire torso, “from his bellybutton to his armpits.”)

No References at all: 2

References to unavailable works: 2

Part I had not one claim (other than references to Koran verses) that provided sufficient referencing.

Part II:

Insufficient References: 4 (example: "a hadith relayed by Abu Hurreira (deemed an extremely reliable narrator), where Muhammad sucked on the tongues of his cousin (and future caliph) Ali’s two boys, Hassan and Hussein. . .")

No references at all: 5 (example: "he moved on to a hadith depicting Muhammad lying next to a dead woman in her grave. . .") [This is a particularly vexing hadith, one I have been trying with frustrating lack of success for years to track down.]

Seemingly complete references to unavailable works: 0.

As with Part I, Part II had not one claim that provided sufficient referencing.

Part III:

Insufficient References: 8

No References at all: "several" ("no less than 32" that purport to support Boutros's claim that Mohammed had transvestite tendencies), in addition to 1

References to unavailable works:

Apparentlly sufficient reference: 3 (example: from Sahih Bukhari (2/911), which records Muhammad saying, “Revelations [i.e., the Koran] never come to me when I’m dressed in women’s clothing—except when I’m dressed in Aisha’s. . .” -- this citation number, of course, will probably lead the reader down a bewildering path of being unable to pinpoint the citation when he tries to find it at the MSA USC site of Bukhari hadiths)

Part IV:

Insufficient References: 2; 1 ("He then read a hadith, narrated by Aisha, and contained in the canonical six. . ."); 8; 1;

No References at all: 32 (Ibrahim reports that Boutros claims that no less than 34 books, including the Tafsir of al-Qurtubi and Sahih Muslim, record that Muhammad used to “fondle”—Botros scowled at the screen—“kiss and have sex while fasting, though he forbade others from doing so.” [thus I put 32 in this category and located the two insufficient references of al-Qurtubi and Sahih Muslimin their appropriate category]; 1; "He went on to quote from a number of hadiths. . ."; "He read from a number of other hadiths, all demonstrative of Muhammad’s sexual proclivities toward menstruating women. . .";

References to unavailable works:

Apparently complete references: 1 (affirming that Muhammad freely had sex with menstruating women, including from Sahih Bukhari (v.5, p. 350). . . [-- another of those references numbers that will probably lead the reader down a dead end in his attempt to verify it]); 2

Part V:

[To be continued, someday...]


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