Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Problem with Saudi Terrorism: Rhetorical Discretion Advised, or, Who Made Up All of this Stuff, Anyway? Was it Dore Gold?

I. Inventing Saudi Arabian “terrorism”

The first step, * as all college rhetoric students know, is “Inventio,” the “invention” of the topic (the claim, the assertion). That is, the first step in making an argument is the intellectual process of discovering enough facts (and understanding facts) about a given topic to make an assertion (invent an idea or opinion) and support it with valid reasons (not with fallacies of logic, or with untruths).

What has happened vis-à-vis the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia over the decades, as nearly as I can tell, is that someone somewhere (whether in Saudi Arabia or in the CIA or in the KGB or in Tel Aviv, or ...) went through a process of flawed discovery of facts, jumped to unsupportable conclusions about the flawed facts, and “invented” (sardonic pun intended) an assertion about Islam in Saudi Arabia and its relationship to the Royal Family, and its "terrorist" leanings, based on fallacious “facts.” The word got out to the vast “free press” in the Western world, and took on a life of its own as the logical fallacy of the “biased sample,” 1 that is, the fallacy that occurs when a person draws a conclusion about a group based on a sample that is biased or prejudiced in some manner.

Discovering facts to support a “biased or prejudiced” pre-conception is easy enough. Take, for example, a Middle Eastern religion that demands of its adherents that:

One who blasphemes the name of [God] shall be put to death; the whole congregation shall stone the blasphemer. Aliens as well as citizens, when they blaspheme the Name, shall be put to death. 2

A researcher using the “biased sample” approach would draw the conclusion that all of the adherents of this religion, if they discover someone making a statement that adherents of that religion find “blasphemous,” will execute that unfortunate person.

Or, consider these injunctions of that same Middle Eastern religion:

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them. 3
If a man has two wives, one of them loved and the other disliked, and if both the loved and the disliked have borne him sons, the firstborn being the son of the one who is disliked, then on the day when he wills his possessions to his sons, he is not permitted to treat the son of the loved as the firstborn in preference to the son of the disliked, who is the firstborn. 4
If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father and mother, who does not heed them when they discipline him, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the gate of that place. They shall say to the elders of his town, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death. So you shall purge the evil from your midst...5

This religion calls not only for the restriction of rights for GLBT persons, but their execution; it allows for polygamy and unequal treatment of the sons (daughters are apparently irrelevant) of one’s various wives; and it allows not merely for “child endangerment,” but actual infanticide.

If one were to publish an essay (and, my guess is that someone who reads this will say that I am publishing such an essay, even though I have said, if ) denouncing this religion as one that murders non-believers, executes gays, allows for polygamy, and instructs its followers to practice infanticide, I would be immediately denounced as being “anti-Semitic” because this Middle Eastern religion is, of course, Judaism.

Knowing that my example of a Judaism that puts to death non-believers, homosexuals, and insubordinate sons is a logically fallacious invention of my having presented a “sample [that] is biased or loaded [because] the method used to take the sample [results] in a sample that does not adequately represent the population from which it is drawn....(see note 1), consider, if you will, the following statement:

Q: Tell me about the origins of Wahhabism
A: That came as a form of reform out of Saudi Arabia, what then was the Arabian peninsula, from the inner territories which is now the Naj plateau, as it is called, the interior of Saudi Arabia. The Saudi coast was always much more cosmopolitan, an area where trade happened, where pilgrims went. But the interior was inhabited by nomads, and the form of Islam that was practiced there had a lot of non-Islamic elements in it. Wahhabism emerged as a puritanical movement of reform, to clean Islam from what it saw to be un-Islamic. But in practice, it is very much of a bedouin, desert, black-and-white view of Islam. It does not leave much room for interpretations. It is highly legalistic. It does not believe there is any intermediary between man and God. It is about “thou shalt” and “thou shalt nots” of Islam, but interpreted very narrowly. It is highly intolerant of any kind of deviation from what it sees to be the correct path. Wahhabis don’t even accept other Sunnis as practicing religion properly, and then they view Sufis or Shiites as completely outside the pale. 6

In this “interview” which is all too representative of readily available material on Saudi Islam, Vali Nasr bases his statement on logical fallacies. The first is a kind of ad hominem attack against the Bedouin peoples: “a bedouin, desert, black-and-white view of Islam.” We are to understand that the Bedouins are “puritanical’ and “legalistic;” that they interpret Islam “very narrowly;” and that they are “highly intolerant.” These are listings of (for most Americans, I would guess) highly unflattering characteristics, not any kind of “evidence” from sources. Besides attacking the Bedouins personally rather than any of their ideas (if he were disagreeing with ideas rather than attacking persons, his piece would have quotations from representative Bedouins' writings or speeches giving evidence that his statements are true) even less rhetorically sound is his Appeal to Ridicule, the fallacy in which ridicule or mockery is substituted for evidence in an “argument.”

Of course, Nasr's contention at the outset that the Bedouins’ form of Islam had “a lot of non-Islamic elements in it,” might be demonstrable by quoting Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab, or some scholarly essay investigating his work; Nasr, however, chooses not to support his assertion but. rather, simply to Appeal to Ridicule in order to let his audience draw their own conclusions about the un-cosmopolitan and no-doubt-ignorant "legalism" of the (obviously uncivilized) nomads. I am willing to grant that he may have offered support in other places (such as his book) and did not feel it necessary here. However, no reader of the NPR website will know that, and his purposefully derogatory language—his “rhetorical project”—seems to intend the degradation of Saudi Arabian nomads in order to prepare to perpetuate the myth that “Wahhabis” are somehow inferior people.

That, then, makes possible the conclusion that all (or at least most) Muslims of the interior of the Arabian Peninsula practice a form of Islam that is puritanical, and (by extension) must perforce be radical, extremist, and probably the stuff of which “terrorism” is made.

[To be continued.]

* The first step, that is, in making a clear argument—finding “all the available means of persuasion in a given situation.”

1. a person draws a conclusion about a population based on a sample that is biased or prejudiced in some manner. Its form is:
Sample S, which is biased, is taken from [a small segment of] population P.
Conclusion C is drawn about [all of] Population P based on S.
The fallacy is committed when the sample of A’s is likely to be biased in some manner. A sample is biased or loaded when the method used to take the sample is likely to result in a sample that does not adequately represent the population from which it is drawn... People often commit Biased Sample because of bias or prejudice. For example, a person might intentionally or unintentionally seek out people or events that support his bias. As an example, a person who is pushing a particular [political] theory might tend to gather samples that are biased in favor of that theory... People also commonly commit this fallacy because of laziness or sloppiness. It is very easy to simply take a sample from what happens to be easily available rather than taking the time and effort to generate an adequate sample and draw a justified conclusion.
(All definitions of “logical fallacies” in this writing are from the website:
http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/, which I use in my Rhetoric classes because they are clear and demonstrated with examples.)
2. Leviticus 24.16.
3. Leviticus 20.13
4. Deuteronomy 21.15-16
5. Deuteronomy 21.18-21
6. Lucky Severson interview of Vali Nasr. Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, NPR. August 7, 2006.