Tuesday, January 24, 2006

More Floundering in the Myers' Column


The 'Irishman's Diary' column of the Irish Times featured another wonderful performance from Kevin Myers today. Once again he displayed his mastery over the art of the incoherent diatribe. Today the object of his ire was Noam Chomsky, and Islamic culture in general, a favourite theme of his (for more on Chomsky’s lecture see the previous post).

Chomsky had some difficulties with his passport when entering Ireland. Minister Dermot Ahern waived the normal procedures and allowed him to enter the country.

Myers begins his attack by asking would the same exception have been made if it had been 'the great' Mark Steyn who had been due to speak in Ireland. For anyone familiar with journalist Mark Steyn’s contribution to the debate on American foriegn policy, the answer seems pretty obvious. A definate no. Myers seems to have chosen Steyn as an example of a polar opposite to Chomsky, as though he were in some way an intellectual of the right, a man who could bring intelligent argument to a debate on the war on terror (the subject of Chomsky's lecture), but from the neo-conservative perspective.

Steyn has described himself as an “armchair war-monger”, and this is perhaps the best way to sum up his controversial but ultimately vacuous tirades. There are similarites between both the style of journalism employed by Myers and Steyn and their politics. It may be unfair of me to speculate that in choosing Steyn as an example Myers is grasping for some kind of intellectual approval for his own reactionary ideas, but perhaps not. Whatever about his motives, eliciting Steyn as some kind of counter balance to Chomsky (in the second paragraph) is a sure way for Myers to lose his argument before he has even started.

The next paragraph begins by comparing Chomsky to an autistic child genius inhabiting a fantasy world.

“Chomsky is a chump - a brilliant and dysfunctional genius, like the autistic child who knows the day of every date in 2001 BC, but can't explain why we have a calendar. He inhabits a fantastic world, in which cabbalistic covens in Washington ruthlessly control the world, conducting genocides here and massacres there, diverting rivers to cause drought, felling rain forests and driving entire species into extinction.”

Surely it would be better for Myers to provide some kind of argument based on reason or facts rather than this kind of childish name calling. While there are many who may disagree with Chomsky, it can’t be denied that he is very careful to provide a sound factual backing for his arguments, something that Myers cannot claim for his own assertions. He selects facts at random, as though he just plucked them out of some internet search engine, and then uses them as a basis for sweeping generalizations which teeter uneasily on their feeble foundations.

Ill give just one example, from the same article. After his initial ham-fisted mockery of Chomsky’s grasp of reality, he goes on to claim that ‘we’ (the West) are engaged in the sixth world war, a war which he implies has been waged against the Islamic world since 1979. I won't bore you with the ridiculous summary of world history he uses to arrive at the number six (Myers often throws in a bit of historical revisionism to back up his arguments-it would be giving him the benefit of the doubt to describe his outlook on history as blinkered.)

“This sixth world war is moreover made infinitely more trying by the backward nature of Arab culture. Spain translates more foreign books into Spanish every year than the entire Arab world has translated into Arabic over the past thousand years. There are millions of pious Arabs who know nothing whatever about the non-Arab world, and for whom the intellectual processes of enquiry, analysis, scepticism and logic are utterly alien.

To such people, education consists of the endless repetition of sacred scripts, Shariah law and recitations of the jihadist loathing of the infidel enemy. Their brains are thus shaped and warped by the blunt instruments of rote and hate. And far from this backwardness being enlightened by the far more sophisticated Islamic countries of Asia, the reverse is happening.

Pakistani, Afghan, Bangladeshi and Indonesian Islam are being Arabised, though two agencies. One is the madrasahs, the Saudi-backed religious schools which are effectively embassies promoting the foreign policy of the fundamentalist Salafiyya/Wabbahi movements.

The other is Al Jazeera, the satellite network which promotes jihad and "martyrdom operations" and whose viewers mostly live within a medieval religious culture which has experienced the equivalent of neither the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Counter Reformation nor the Enlightenment.”

To begin with, the overwhelming majority of the books translated into Spanish are written in other European languages. The Spanish speaking population of the US alone is topping 35 million, never mind the huge Latin American market. And it is misleading to take this as a clear indication of cultural sophistication. The marketing power of popular bestsellers in English, for example the Harry Potter series and the Da Vinci Code, mean that sales of these imported bestsellers dwarf those of far better written books by Spanish authors. Myer’s argument would perhaps ring truer if there were a massive translation of Asian, African and Arabian literature into Spanish, which I seriously doubt.

In the passage I quoted above, he refers to Al-Jazeera as a “satellite network which promotes jihad and "martyrdom operations" and whose viewers mostly live within a medieval religious culture which has experienced the equivalent of neither the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Counter Reformation nor the Enlightenment.”

Yet the first paragraph of his piece runs like this,

“This is a free country, and Kevin Myers is glad to see that thousands of people were able to listen to Noam Chomsky denouncing our Government's policies on American flights through Shannon as possible war crimes.”

If this is his view, then it stands to reason that he believes that while a ‘chump’ like Chomsky (Meyers’ words, not mine) has the right to freedom of expression and to debate issues surrounding American foreign policy in the middle-east, news organizations like Al-Jazeera within the Arab world should not be trusted with the same opportunity, because its viewers are too ignorant, too ‘backward’, to think rationally about these subjects. Once again, Myers acts as a standard bearer for the old imperialistic notion that the Arab world is incapable of handling the kind of freedoms he takes for granted as a journalist in the West, a stance made all the more hypocritical when we look back at how he applauds western freedom of expression in the first paragraph.

1 comment:

Donagh Brennan said...

Brilliant article, there. I'm constantly baffled by Myers illogic almost anytime I read him, which I rarely do. However, his Thursday David Irving rant was quoted on What the Papers Say on Morning Ireland so I read it. My response to it can be found at www.dublinopinion.com. Steyn is published by the Irish Times isn't he? Like Myers he can only make an arguement by leaving things out. Curious though Chomsky has claimed that Srebencia wasn't nearly as bad as everyone says and his essay on freedom of speech was used with his blessing as the intro to a book by a holocaust denier.