Friday, September 21, 2007

HOLY LAND FOUNDATION TRIAL: Nathan Garrett and vulgarity

According to Bill Zeeble of KERA Radio news (PBS in Dallas), Prosecutor Nathan Garrett built his closing rant against former US Consul General Edward Abington and Professor Nathan Brown of George Washington University to a climax saying, “they don’t know squat about Hamas.”

That the defense had to resort to vulgarity to make its point is telling.

[If you don’t know what “squat” means, think about the human position of “squatting” (Cassalls Dictionary of Slang).]

Nathan Garrett’s vulgarity may demonstrate at least one of the following: the government’s case itself has been vulgar from the beginning; at least one of the prosecutors is vulgar; the President’s act of designating HLF and other Muslim charities as “terrorist” organizations is an overwhelming vulgarity.

Untruth, innuendo, “guilt by association,” and slander (the substance of the government’s case) are at least vulgar, if not something far worse, among civilized persons. That the government’s case was, from start to finish, based on the vulgarity of untruth, innuendo, and “guilt by association” is most evident in its reliance on the “expert testimony” of Matthew Levitt.

In the academic community, arriving at the status of “expert” in a given field means that one has researched, written, and published peer-reviewed articles (that is, articles that have been studied, corrected, commented on, and approved for accuracy by other authorities) in the field, one has been recognized by other scholars in the field for her expertise, and one has presented papers at scholarly conferences that are received with acclaim.

Matthew Levitt fails as “expert” on all counts.

An “author” search on the online data bases at the library of the university where I teach produces only four articles by Matthew Levitt:

"Hamas's Muddied Waters." Levitt, Matthew. Chronicle of Higher Education, 5/12/2006, Vol. 52 Issue 36 (an essay with NO documentation; several hundred words of speculation).
"Hamas from Cradle to Gravce." Levitt, Matthew. Middle East Quarterly, Winter2004, Vol. 11 Issue 1 (an article published in the 100% pro-Israel journal of the Middle East Forum, founded by Daniel Pipes. No academic sources are cited; citations are from newspapers and such pop-culture shows as CBS’ 60 Minutes. He does cite the “Watson Memo,” a classified document of the State Department which purports to explain the US response to Hamas).
"War on Terrorims Scorecard." Levitt, Matthew. Middle East Quarterly, Summer2002, Vol. 9 Issue 3 (the same as the above MEQ article).
"Academic Book Review."Levitt, Matthew. Journal of International Affairs, Summer96, Vol. 50 Issue 1 (Levitt’s negative review of a book that does not agree with his assessment of the evils of Islam).

If one persists in searching for Levitt’s work, one can find a listing of the 153 postings in the Middle East Forum (online) for which he is at least partly responsible in the. NOT ONE of these works is peer-reviewed. They are Op-Ed pieces, summaries of events at which Levitt has spoken, “Policy Watch” reports or “Peace Watch” reports. Even Levitt’s recent book on Hamas, which was entered in its entirety as evidence in the Holy Land Foundation trial, was not vetted closely by Yale University Press. Yale agreed to settle out of court in one lawsuit for libel against it for falsehoods in the book. If Yale had done its job as a scholarly press, the book most likely would never have been published.

What does Matthew Levitt’s charlatanism (“charlatan,” from the Italian ciarlatano “a quack,” from ciarlare “to prate, babble”) have to do with Nathan Garrett’s vulgarity? The word “vulgar,” of course, comes from the Latin vulgaris “of or pertaining to the common people, common, vulgar.” "Vulgar" in the sense of being of the “common people” is perfectly respectable. However, since 1774, its accepted meaning has been “coarseness, crudeness.”

I am not in the practice of making ad hominem attacks, that is, attacks “on the person.” Rhetoric is the attempt to show that one’s own ideas are more plausible than another’s ideas—not to attack persons. That should be what justice hangs on. However, the prosecution in the HLF trial opened itself to criticism by relying on the “expert testimony” of a person who has never defended his writings in the marketplace of ideas, and by the prosecuting attorney’s use of vulgarity in attacking witnesses who have defended their ideas in the marketplace. It is all of a piece—coarse and crude.

Vulgarity (that is, “coarseness, crudeness”) has spilled over into the public perception of the trial. None other than the lofty New York Times, in its coverage of the closing of testimony, said, “The defense has argued that the defendants are being prosecuted in part because some have relatives who are Hamas leaders, and in part because they oppose what they see as Israel’s occupation of their land.” (Leslie Eaton, New York Times, September 20, 2007)

The vulgarity (crudeness, coarseness) of that statement should be obvious to anyone. “What they see as” implies that the defendants and a million Palestinian refugees have a mis-perception. Obviously their land is not “occupied.” That’s only their perception. And the United Nations, the World Court, The World Lutheran Federation, The World Council of Churches, and the Presbyterian Church in the United States—to name a very few of the overwhelming majority of justice and religious organization in the world who agree with the Palestinians—have the same mis-perception.

Nathan Barrett, Matthew Levitt, and Leslie Eaton are representative of all of those who, to paraphrase Nathan Barrett, “don’t know injustice”—or justice.