Islamophobia in Canada

Islamophobia in Canada

by

Howard Adelman

According to Amira Elghawaby, spokesperson for the National Council of Canadian Muslims, the term “Islamophobia” as used in Canada describes the irrational fear or hatred of Muslims that leads to discrimination or acts of harassment or violence. One week after Trump’s rant, on 23 February 2017 in Ontario, Canada, the legislature passed a unanimous motion condemning Islamophobia. The motion was spurred by the shooting deaths of six worshippers and wounding 19 others in a mosque in Quebec. But it was also a response to local incidents in Ottawa (anti-Muslim graffiti, and the spitting at young women wearing hijabs). The Ontario legislature motion was introduced by Liberal backbencher Nathalie Des Rosiers from the Ottawa riding of Ottawa-Vanier. It called on the legislature to “stand against all forms of hatred, hostility, prejudice, racism and intolerance,” and to rebuke a “growing tide of anti-Muslim rhetoric and sentiments.” The motion called for a condemnation of “all forms of Islamophobia.”

Canadians across the country had rallied to demonstrate their support for besieged Muslims. Flowers and several hand-made signs were placed outside Masjid Al-Iman mosque in Victoria in the wake of the deadly shooting in Quebec on 30 January. My own rabbi was one of leaders who helped form a circle of peace around a mosque in Toronto.

The Muslim community in Canada, feeling singled out as never before, felt justified in wanting the legislatures across Canada, especially the federal parliament, to go further. Amira Elghawaby asked the federal government not only to take steps to combat Islamophobia and support M-103, a federal parliamentary motion to condemn Islamophobia, but to declare 29 January, the date of the Quebec shooting, a National Day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia.

In the federal legislature, the debate has been different than the one in Ontario. The motion was similar and the non-binding motion M-103 called on the government to “recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear,” The full private member’s motion read as follows:

In the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear; (b) condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination and take note of House of Commons’ petition e-411 and the issues raised by it; and (c) request that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage undertake a study on how the government could (i) develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia, in Canada, while ensuring a community-centered focus with a holistic response through evidence-based policy-making, [my italics – do you understand what that means? Is this addressed to the general reader? It is political gibberish.] (ii) collect data to contextualize hate crime reports and to conduct needs assessments for impacted communities, and that the Committee should present its findings and recommendations to the House no later than 240 calendar days from the adoption of this motion, provided that in its report, the Committee should make recommendations that the government may use to better reflect the enshrined rights and freedoms in the Constitution Acts, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau supported the motion, arguing that the Muslim community is currently “particularly vulnerable these days to intolerance and discrimination.” At the federal level, the Progressive Conservative party, or many of its MPs, took a different tack than their Ontario cousins and opposed the inclusion of Islamophobia in a general resolution condemning the rise of that type of speech or action. Federal Conservatives insisted that the federal motion should be opposed because it singles out one religious group over others. Many Conservative MPs opposed the inclusion of Islamophobia in a general resolution condemning the rise of that type of speech or action, fearing a suppression of free speech would result.

Some federal Conservatives supported the motion, such as South Surrey-White Rock B.C. Conservative MP Dianne Watts. Conservative leadership candidate Michael Chong also supported the motion. “In light of the mass shooting at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City suburb of Sainte-Foy last month, where six Muslims were killed and 19 injured while they prayed in their mosque, it is appropriate and important that Canadian parliamentarians study the issue of anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic prejudice and discrimination.” He denied the argument that the motion could be used to curtail freedom of speech simply because Islamophobia is not defined. After all, Section 319 of the Criminal Code goes even further and makes it an offence to wilfully promote or publicly incite hatred against any identifiable group which, incidentally, Chong would repeal because the section sets too high a standard on non-hate speech.

Other Conservatives have argued that many definitions of Islamophobia include “dislike” of Islam and its adherents as part of the definition. The motion could potentially put a damper on free speech. Kellie Leitch (Conservative, Simcoe-Gray), another leadership candidate for the opposition party, claimed that she was fighting back “against politically correct nonsense.” Maxime Bernier, Andrew Scheer, Brad Trost, Chris Alexander, Kevin O’Leary and Erin O’Toole, other candidates for the leadership of the Conservative Party, also criticized the motion condemning Islamophobia.

Barbara Kay, a national columnist, argued that there are many more anti-Semitic incidents, let alone statements, targeting, Jews. 181 hate-motivated crimes targeting the Jewish religion were reported in 2013; there were 65 crimes motivated by hatred against the Muslim religion. (There will be more on anti-Semitism in a subsequent blog.) Breitbart News went even further and noted that the motion never mentioned anti-Semitism or anti-Christian discrimination and suggested that the latter occurs far more often in Canada than victimization of Muslims, but provided no data to back up such a claim.

In the federal legislature, a Conservative motion virtually identical to Khalid’s, except that it excised the term “Islamophobia,” was defeated 165-126 as Liberals, New Democrats, Bloc Québécois and Green Party leader Elizabeth May, voted against the motion.

There have been a few indications that labeling something as motivated by Islamophobia could result in curbing free speech. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation objected to Mark Steyn’s 2006 book, America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It, precisely on such grounds. Steyn was not content to rail against Islam, or, more precisely, its radical interpretations, but expressed the fear that, because of internal weaknesses, largely attributed to bleeding heart liberals and their moral and cultural relativism promoting multiculturalism, combined with an increase in the Muslim population and demographic decline of native non-Muslim populations, as well as the economic unsustainability of the social democratic state, a day might come when the call to prayer from a muezzin on a loudspeaker would become widespread. In a much more fearsome scenario, Talibanic enforcers would cruise Greenwich Village burning books and barber shops. The Supreme Court was imagined as having decided that Sharia law did not violate the “separation of church and state.” Steyn also dismissed the fear of climate change as an imminent danger as irrational.

While many condemned the book as Islamophobic, Christopher Hitchens gave it a rave review. George W. Bush recommended it to his staff. Ironically, promoters of Islamic exceptionalism agreed with Steyn in condemning Western relativism. The movers of the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights (http://www.fmreview.org/sites/fmr/files/FMRdownloads/en/FMRpdfs/Human-Rights/cairo.pdf), the member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, could be included. That human rights doctrine criticized the Western tradition of human rights as sometimes conflicting with Sharia law. This Islamic iteration of human rights included the usual litany that required protection and actions to be condemned – “discrimination on the basis of race, colour, language, belief, gender, political affiliation, social status and even religion.”

The defence of the freedom of speech in Article 22(a), however, was conditional not absolute. Expression cannot be “contrary to the practices of Shariah,” “the sole source of human rights,” not human nature. Article 24 states: “All the rights and freedoms stipulated in this Declaration are subject to the Islamic Sharia.”
Conflicts arose over the definition of gender rights since women have specific duties to perform and men are given primary responsibility for the social and financial protection of the family. Equality is only guaranteed to men. Women do not have the right to marry a non-Muslim or to have more than one spouse and cannot initiate divorce without the consent of their husbands. In Iran, a Muslim woman can only marry a non-Muslim man if he can produce evidence that he had converted to Islam. Most specifically, Article 10 of the Declaration calls Islam “the religion of unspoiled nature” and prohibits conversion to another religion or atheism if compulsion or economic incentives and exploitation or even ignorance is allegedly used, leaving the barn door wide open for condemning virtually any conversion from Islam as an abuse of human rights.

This is not simply an abstract principle. As a 2014 U.S. State Department report documented, societal discrimination against non-Muslims is rampant in Muslim-majority countries. In 2013, in Iran, though the sentence of death as provided in law is no longer used, converts have been sentenced to an average of over three years of served time, lashes and fines for “apostasy.”

For someone committed to the Western tradition of human rights, the Cairo declaration on human rights not only has many lacunae, but provides a rationale for the abuse of human rights under the guise of protecting human rights and explicitly states that the Declaration is intended to limit the application of the UN universal declaration of human rights. There is, therefore, a difference between criticisms of Islam, dislike of Islam and discrimination against individual Muslims. The latter is forbidden in the Western human rights tradition. The former two are clearly not forbidden, and, further, are protected. You have a right to criticize Islam. You have a right to dislike Islam. You have no right to discriminate against Muslims.

Since the term Islamophobic is not restricted to discriminatory behaviour, but includes attitudes such as “dislike,” there is a real and not just a rhetorical problem. However, there is also a problem in cases where criticisms and dislike of Islam are used as justification for discrimination against Muslims.

On the other hand, there is a difference between condemning Steyn’s book as Islamophobic and banning the book. The Cairo Declaration of Human Rights defined Islamophobia as a rights violation without ensuring that the criticism of Islam was guaranteed as a right. It is clearly possible, especially given the record of Islamic states, that individuals educated as Muslims might be more prone not only to condemn a book like that of Steyn, but ban it.

In Canada, we can be proud that many Muslims occupy important political positions and are excellent representatives of all their constituents with no indication that they confuse “dislike” and “criticisms” with their condemnation of Islamophobia. In addition to former members of parliament – Rahim Jaffer, Wajid Khan – these include Ontario Liberal MPPs: Shafiq Qaadri, Etobicoke, Omar Alghabra, Mississauga Centre, Khalil Ramat, London-Fanshawe, as well as the Attorney General of Ontario, Yasir Naqvi. In the federal parliament, we find Yasmin Ratansi, Liberal Don Valley East, and Maryam Monsef, Liberal, Peterborough, who is Minister of Status of Women in the Justin Trudeau government. Perhaps most notable of all, and with a reputation as possibly the best mayor in all of Canada, is Naheed Nenshi, Mayor of Calgary. Not one can be justly accused of subordinating Canadian law and the Western human rights tradition to the Cairo Declaration of human rights and Sharia law.

But there are also Muslim citizens of Canada who are not terrorists or supporters of terrorism, but who believe that Canadian law should be subordinated to Sharia law. I am critical of them just as I am critical of Jews and Christians with whom I disagree. I am critical of some Jewish and Christian religious practices and some expressions of each of those faiths. But it is also true that some aspects of Islam pose a much greater challenge to the Western liberal tradition than twenty-first century Christianity and Judaism. It is my right as a Canadian to offer well-intentioned and constructive critiques of religious practices or ideologies. However, I see no core inconsistency between a defense of the right to criticize and a suspicion of some Islamic beliefs and practices and a condemnation of Islamophobia.

There is a real problem that when Islamophobia also includes a dislike of Islam as well as an irrational fear of and prejudice against Muslims. There is a danger that the term can be misused. Irwin Cotler may be correct in stating that the term anti-Muslim prejudice might be preferable to Islamophobia. But a term and phrase is best understood in terms of current practices and real life situations that threaten the lives and well-being of Muslims. Also, although I too might have quibbles about a motion opposing Islamophobia and even harsher criticisms of some aspects of Islam, which should not be interpreted as resentment of Islam, I strongly support a motion condemning Islamophobia for I radically disagree with the contention that some Conservatives made that, “there no phobia of Islam in Canada.”

When federal Conservatives opposed the motion because it singles out one religious group over others and feared a suppression of free speech would result, it is important to recognize that the motion singles out one religious group precisely because this religious group was singled out. Also, the fear of suppressing free speech is rubbish. If you are rigorous enough, there will be no suppression. Only those who are drawn to slippery slopes may have to face the consequences. Bensoussan is but one example. He could have easily extricated himself from his predicament.

As far as Islamophobia goes, its practical acceptance as anti-Muslim sentiment is equivalent to the acceptance of anti-Semitism as anti-Jewish prejudice, in spite of the fact that Arabs are also Semites, inviting the facetious argument that anti-Semitism should be extended to cover Arabs as well. Is the term anti-Jewish prejudice preferable to anti-Semitism?

I see no evidence that the support for a motion condemning Islamophobia in any way puts the slightest dent in our belief in freedom of speech. Further, when a man is president of the United States who offers repeated evidence of being Islamophobic, it is all the more important to condemn Islamophobic expressions. I believe that the Canadian Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) opposing the federal motion on Islamophobia on grounds that the motion, “requires us to silence legitimate concerns or suppress a public conversation about those strains of Islam that pose a real and imminent threat to Jews around the world” is not only unjustified but irrational. The motion in context has no such requirement.

The motion M-103 is not the source of “alienation and dissonance” as CIJA is wont to believe. In my estimation, CIJA’s opposition has its roots in understandable Jewish fears. I can understand where CIJA is coming from as I explore the new face of anti-Semitism in my next blog.

With the help of Alex Zisman

U.S. and International Background to Islamophobia in Canada

U.S. and International Background to Islamophobia in Canada

by

Howard Adelman

Three weeks ago, on 6 February 2017, Donald Trump issued a list of 78 terror attacks that had allegedly been under or not reported by the media. He left off that list numerous and almost daily terrorist attacks against Muslim targets. Not one terrorist attack in Israel was included. The attack against a mosque in a Quebec City suburb on 29 January 2017 by an Islamophobe was omitted. Most on the list – the Paris Bataclan attack, the Nice truck killings, the Pulse nightclub slaughter in Orlando, Florida, the mass shooting in San Bernardino, received massive worldwide coverage. When Sean Spicer was specifically asked for names of attacks that were not reported by “the very, very dishonest press,” he promised to provide a list later, insisting there were “several instances,” “a lot of instances,” but no list was ever produced.

Two weeks ago, on 16 February 2017, two particularly heinous and destructive terrorist attacks took place. In Baghdad, at a very popular used automobile market in the southwest corner of the city, a car packed with explosives blew up killing at least 45 and wounding hundreds of others. In Pakistan, in a relatively small city in Sindh Province, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the very famous Sufi shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar and killed at least 88, including many women and children, and wounded many more. The victims were virtually all Muslims. The perpetrator in both cases was the Islamic State.

On that same day of these two attacks, Trump held his first sole, and spontaneous, one hour plus bizarre press conference as president. Rant is probably a more accurate description of what took place. Sometimes Islamophobia is best revealed by silences and omissions rather than overt hate speech. While Trump once again berated the “dishonest press,” in a discussion of terrorism, Trump failed to mention either the Iraq or the Pakistan attack. He offered no condolences to the victims’ families or the nations in which these large number of victims died at the hands of terrorists. Nor did he tweet about it later. For, in his view of terrorism, Islamicist terrorists only target Western – i.e. non-Islamic Judeo-Christian civilization – when, in fact, the vast majority of targets of these terrorist extremists are themselves followers of Islam.

Donald Trump had cited the Center for Security Policy to justify his migration ban in his 27 January Executive Order, the same centre that honoured Zuhdi Jasser, head of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD), as a “defender of the home front.” Jasser is a doctor of internal medicine and nuclear cardiology in Phoenix, Arizona and a former lieutenant commander in the U.S. navy. He served two years (2012 and 2013) on the Congressional U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. He is a strong advocate for the separation of mosque and state and opponent of both political and radical Islam. His focus has been radicalization in the Islamic community in America. He narrated a notorious PBS film Islam v Islamists: Voices from the Muslim Center, which PBS banned from the air following pressure from Muslim organizations which widely interpreted the film as anti-Islamic, even though its focus is radicalization. Jasser is a poster boy for Trump’s contention that he is not anti-Islam.

Within the U.S., attacks from the far right far outnumber any Islamicist terrorism. One example occurred just two weeks ago. Adan Purinton, in the Austins Bar and Grill in Olathe, Kansas, after calling for the men he assaulted to return to their home country, shot and killed an Indian man, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, and seriously wounded an American bystander, Ian Grillot, who tried to intervene. Alok Madasani, who also had been attacked, survived his wounds as well. The attack took place just prior to the sentencing of two Kansas men for an attack on three Somalis.

Nonie (originally Nahid) Darwish, an Egyptian-American human rights advocate, a former Muslim and convert to Christianity, founder of Arabs for Israel even though her father as an Egyptian military officer was a victim of a targeted killing by allegedly Israeli agents, has been another leading voice. She is president of AIFD, wrote several books:  Now They Call Me Infidel; Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel and the War on Terror and Cruel and Usual Punishment: The Terrifying Global Implications of Islamic Law. She has led the effort to broaden what has been dubbed the U.S. Islamophobia network and called for the defeat and annihilation of Islam. Mosques, she declared, are the sources for initiating the war against America. In such cases, how do you separate the right to free speech and the right to be critical of Islam from Islamophobia?

This trope of Islam and not just Islamism as a clear and present danger is complemented by a depiction of Islamic countries and Muslims as hypocrites. Muslims, critics contend, argue for freedom when they are a minority but repress the freedom to practice Christianity when Muslims are the majority. Muslim countries love and admire non-Muslims who champion freedom for Muslims in non-Muslim countries, but either actively or by turning a blind eye discriminate against non-Muslims in their own countries. Muslim countries condemn discrimination against Muslims while they perpetuate not just discrimination but oppression of minorities.

The Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey, Numan Kurtulmuș, insisted that, “rising Islamophobia, xenophobia and anti-immigrant feelings” lay behind Trump’s travel ban against seven countries. Yasin Aktay, the chair of Turkey’s ruling party called the ban “racist” and a violation of human rights. Both ignored the rising tide of persecution of individual Christians and Christian institutions, particularly Protestant ones within Turkey. (See the report of the Association of Protestant Churches in Turkey which documents the increasing persecution of Christians in 2015 in its Human Rights Violations Report.) Over 100 Evangelical Christian pastors have been expelled from Turkey.

Christians have been cleansed in huge numbers from the Middle East where those communities have existed for two thousand years. Saudi Arabia has a travel ban limiting where non-Muslims can travel in the country. The public practice of non-Muslim religions is prohibited.

Islamophobia is not simply the disagreement with or dislike of Islam as a religion, though that is specified in the dictionary, but prejudice against that religion and its adherents that is expressed in the public arena in a myriad of negative ways. It includes an irrational fear of Islam. Donald Trump does not explicitly and unequivocally express his Islamophobia in this way, but in his actions and his policies, he certainly acts as the “new sheriff in town” with the objective of cleaning up the hombres that has been interpreted as signalling to Muslims that they are unwelcome. Trump associates with groups who would not only ban hijab-wearing women from working in any government position, but would insist that all Muslim government employees sign a loyalty document that they reject Sharia law. For them, Sharia is not a set of legal texts and religious practices subject to interpretation, but the foundational code for converting America to the Muslim faith.

Stephen K. Bannon, perhaps his closest political adviser and the former executive chairman of Breitbart, described Muslim American groups as “cultural jihadists.” He contended that their intention is to destroy American society from within. He wrote a documentary film script ten years ago with this theme; it was called Destroying the Great Satan.

This depiction of Islam as an insidious agency assaulting the American way of life is a sentiment echoed by organizations such as ACT for America which argues that the “jihadists wearing suits” are more insidious and dangerous than radical Islamicists. The organization, with 17 full time staff and a half million members, depicts Islam has having a mission of Islamicizing America. ACT claims that the Council on American-Islamic Affairs (CAIA) is “working to infiltrate the U.S. government and destroy American society from within,” a domestic extension of a very active and determined international conspiracy. (See Trevor Loudon’s documentary, Enemies Within.) ACT volunteers train local communities on how to object to mosques being built in their neighbourhoods and to push for banning existing ones unless they denounce Sharia.

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who was fired after only a few weeks as Donald Trump’s security adviser, sits on ACT’s board of directors. When he was fired, ACT dubbed it the work of “rogue weasels” and “shadow warriors” within the depths of the government. ACT vigorously campaigned to defend Trump’s executive order banning entry to individuals from seven predominantly Muslim countries. One cannot hear Donald Trump’s slogan, “America First” but recall, if you have ever looked at it, ACTs website that claims, “we are the greatest nation on earth” and “if you are an American you must be an American first.” ACT, of course, ardently supported Trump’s ban against travelers from seven Muslim majority countries, but also opposed the resettlement of any Muslim refugees in the U.S.

ACT labels supporters of the resettlement of Syrian refugees into the U.S. as fanatics. The concept of “Islamophobia” is “fake news” and part of the international conspiracy’s propaganda campaign that uses liberals as fronts. The push for combating Islamophobia by these apologists for Islam is but a front for the perpetrators of evil against which good Christians in the name of the good must fight back.

In Europe, political parties have built their central base in the fight against Muslims. On 15 March, there will be parliamentary elections in The Netherlands. In Holland, 6% of the population is Muslim – mainly Turks and Moroccans. Geert Wilders’s populist Freedom Party (PVV) has made migration and Islamisation the core of his campaign. The PVV is expected to increase its number of seats from 10% to at least 20% and is currently the frontrunner among the many competing Dutch political parties, though it will not likely be included in any coalition. Wilders denounced the number of Moroccans in the country, whom he has referred to as “scum,” and has been convicted by Dutch courts of inciting discrimination against Dutch Moroccans. Wilders vowed to appeal and denounced the court’s decision as suppressing free speech. Wilders has stated that Islam is potentially more dangerous than Nazism, especially since the Koran includes more anti-Semitic hatred than Mein Kampf.  Wilders supports closing all mosques and Islamic schools and banning the sale of the Koran (Qur’an).  Recall that two far right Dutch activists have been assassinated in recent years – Pim Fortuyn and then filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Muslim radical, Mohammed Bouyeri.

In recent local elections in Germany, the far-right party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), captured almost 14% of the vote in recent local elections. Stories of a mob of Arab men rampaging through the streets of Frankfurt and assaulting women were widely reported worldwide, but the stories turned out to be “fake news.” Local police subsequently determined that the stories were “baseless.” But the story spread like wildfire because an old refrain of the “foreign sexual offender” is a deep part of German as well as Dutch culture.

“False news” is pervasive in Europe, some originating in the U.S. Breitbart news reported that a mob of 1,000 chanting “Allahu Akhbar,” this past New Year’s Eve, had attacked police in Dortmund and set fire to what Breitbart reported was the oldest church. It never happened. Further, St. Reinold is not Europe’s oldest church; the Cathedral of Trier is and this was where fireworks from a celebrating crowd accidentally set off a small roof fire. Racism is once again on the rise in Germany with a multitude of assaults by neo-Nazis against foreigners who looked Arabic – a passenger getting out of a taxi and an attack against a biracial boy in the safe Berlin suburb of Prenzlauer Berg by four neo-Nazis. These take place in spite of strong laws and vigorous enforcement by the German state against neo-Nazis and the racism they espouse. That racism runs contrary to the born-again sense of tolerance now pervasive among Germans which allowed Angela Merkel to admit over a million Middle East refugees into Germany.

Marine Le Pen in France is a strong competitor to Wilders’s Islamophobic messages. For Le Pen, France must choose between being French and continuing its self-destructive trip as a multiculturalist country. Since the infamous Paris and Nice radical jihadist attacks, the fear of Islam and migrants as central mainstays of her National Front party have become more mainstream. Like Trump’s supporters, like Wilders, Le Pen insists that France is threatened both from within and from without by Islam and not just radical Islam. Trump’s ban barring migrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries was applauded, but did not go far enough since the ban was only temporary for only six Muslim countries; the ban should have been applied much wider.

Islamicism is bred among Muslim immigrants as well as brought to France from the outside. And its source is Islam itself, though Le Pen, like Trump, initially adopted a far more limited focus on “foreigners who preach hatred” and advocated stripping Islamicists, not Muslims, of their citizenship.

Canada has established itself as an exception to a more general tide of rising Islamophobia, but is not immune from the virus.

With the help of Alex Zisman

e Principles of Persuasion

The Principles of Persuasion
by
Howard Adelman

Reason (and history as I argued in my thesis) begins not with explaining events or actions, but with incongruencies, with different and incompatible ways of interpreting events. That means that in persuasion we must set up procedures to offset a confirmation bias, the propensity to simply use and even twist information to reinforce strong beliefs. And it can be a matter of life or death. I just watched part of a television show on Pearl Harbour and, in part, it dealt with the question of why the information Washington had in advance of the attack on Pearl Harbour wasn’t sent to the naval base there, if only to take precautions. One major suspicion is that there was a propensity to disbelieve such information because it contradicted previous analyses of what the Japanese in 1941 would and would not do.

One heuristic technique to get around confirmation bias is to have the two sides conduct the discussion with each party arguing the other’s position. The argument can be about a complex but still rather specific problem, such as the efficaciousness of voucher school programs on costs and results. Or it can be about whether evidence pointing to a Trump campaign-Russian link was a real problem or one concocted by the Democrats. Advice: avoid such complex or even intermediate problems and begin by sticking to ones that are reasonably easy to solve – such as massive voter fraud in the presidential election. Does the data support such a claim or refute it, or does the claim have very different meanings?

However, as soon as one tries to do this, one recognizes the merit of Gorgias’s second goal of rhetoric – but not expressed as a positive aim of acquiring power, but as a negative one of preventing being taken advantage of by the other with whom one is in discussion. Socrates was a whiz at this, pleading ignorance and then leading the other down well-trod paths to contradicting himself. This is a central problem and why, perhaps because of evolution, winning arguments and, therefore, status and power, becomes more important than reasoning together towards the best resolution of a problem.

Further, that propensity can be correlated with another – the more we have a vested interest in an issue, the more we are likely to dig in our heels and insist we are correct. The more intense one feels, the less willing one is to put one’s own views under a microscope. The following guidelines are about inverting inclinations.

Topic      Inclination         Guideline

Goal   Necessary truth     Freedom to choose
Power over others Prevent being                                                      disempowered
Explain Clear and Distinct Equivocation                         Ideas
Action/Events      Incongruencies
Standard Indubitability     Analytic truth is not
persuasion
Confirmation (Bias) Falsifiability
Conditions More we know More we know                        better off               less we can trust
Group thought      Group thought                     reinforces belief   undermines belief

I have already clarified the first four inclinations and the suggested guidelines to override them. Let me expand on the last four. Plato over the archway entrance to his academy had the slogan, “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter.” It was important for he used analogies – such as the metaphor of the divided line – to convey different degrees of conviction or knowledge. Further, the highest form of knowledge was viewed as mathematics for its conclusions were certain. This was a modern trope from Descartes onward who sought knowledge that was certain and indubitable.

As I explained in my last blog, mathematics is not a model for persuasion for it leads, not to making choices, but to only one true answer. Persuasion is intended to establish the better choice when there are at least two real options. Rhetoric is based on dialectic and not deduction and deals with the skills of persuasion on any subject of debate – excluding mathematics and pure physics. The art applies to virtually all other subjects.

Torture is not an art of persuasion but a means of intimidation which sometimes extracts knowledge, but perhaps as often or even more often merely extracts what the torturer wants to hear. Evidence given under oath or verified by science are also not part of rhetoric itself, but merely methods of providing material for the art of persuasion. External factors may be used to assess the quality of evidence offered or the integrity of the person offering the evidence based on his or her character, but these are not guidelines on how to persuade, but about the conditions that will make the art of persuasion more likely to lead to assent.

In that regard, the character of the person offering the evidence may be critical. But it is also true, as can be seen in the relationship between Trump and his followers that believers in Trump will simply disqualify evidence offered by critics who insist he is not telling the truth, and then use the criticisms to reinforce their beliefs. What is intended to falsify is inverted to become evidence to verify prior beliefs.

Therefore, contrary to what Aristotle believed, credibility may not be, and most often is not, a factor in enhancing persuasion. It may be a consequence of what we already believe rather than a condition of forming a belief. Thus, if the liberal press is considered an enemy of the people, the columnists will lack credibility in the eyes of Trump supporters whatever their stellar records as journalists and interpreters of events.  That is why cited examples, just as in the case of the character of the speaker, can be used to reinforce confirmation bias rather than undermine it. We argue by offering examples. However, we should argue by questioning the examples on offer. It is best if arguments are not used to confirm what we already believe, but as a tool to try to falsify what we think is true.

There is another very different conviction that leads us into error. Socrates believed we should start with the premise of our ignorance. René Descartes urged us to begin an inquiry by initially doubting anything that we could not immediately believe to be certain. But the process of developing false convictions is not undermined by scepticism, but reinforced by knowledge. The more knowledge we have and the more knowledge seemingly at our disposal, the less we are inclined to question what we know. We must reverse the starting point – not starting with a tabula rasa, but by acknowledging that the more we know, the less we can trust. Further, contrary to Aristotle’s belief that we should start with self-evident truths, we must start with the conviction that no proposition entailing choice is self-evident. That is a characteristic only of the analytic propositions.

Ask yourself how a toilet works. Ask yourself why sleep is beneficial. Most persons will offer an opinion and many with considerable certainty. There are a myriad of questions about day to day knowledge of working and operating something – especially if the activity in question is direct and rather simple and very familiar operations – where an assured answer will come forth which, on further inquiry, can be shown to be totally erroneous. The take away: the more we know, the more we must distrust that we know. Familiarity should breed scepticism.

Finally, the more our friends and associates agree with us, the firmer we hold to such beliefs. Hence the expression: different groups live in different bubbles and only listen to what confirms previous biases. What we must do is use groups to question, not reinforce, our beliefs and to use a network of thinking to develop sounder grounds for a conviction.

Let me end with a story. It appeared in the latest Tablet in Mark Weitzmann’s essay, “Is the Shoah Memorial in Paris Home to a Racist? The troubling case of Holocaust historian Georges Bensoussan, on trial for ‘incitement to racial hatred,’ pits French anti-racists against anti-Semites.” As will be discussed in a subsequent blog, the latter conclusion after the depiction of the case, that it “pits French racists against anti-Semites,” is a mistaken description.

The essay begins: “This is a story about permissible and impermissible ways to use words in post-terror France.” The premise of Georges’ editorial work at the Shoah Memorial in Paris was that the genocide of the Jews was a result of collective cultural history rather than an anomaly. The book that brought him to notoriety was called, Les Territoires perdus de la république. In it, principals and teachers testified that anti-Semitism, sexism and racism were rife in the banlieues of Paris among students from North African Muslim countries. Was this an exercise in Islamophobia or a revelation of a new cultural source for anti-Semitism? Jews and Muslims lined up to defend Georges, but political correctness produced a whole host of accusers. Events outstripped the debate as anti-Semitic incidents mounted in both frequency and severity.

As Georges publicly denounced this new source of atavistic anti-Semitism, quoting a source described as an Algerian sociologist to reinforce his position, he insisted that, anti-Semitism among North African Muslims “is suckled along with mother’s milk.” The expression became a plain for fierce intellectual battles and eventually for charges being laid against Georges for what we in Canada term “Islamophobia,” especially when the very sociologist he cited, Laacher, denied he had said or implied that there was any “biological” system of transferring anti-Semitism from one generation to another. Further, he resented the use of a metaphor to summarize his findings which were about the persistence of anti-Semitism passed on from parents to children by using the term “Jew” as an insult.

Let me quote from Weitzmann: “in French the same word – la langue
designates both language and the physical organ.” “Language,” Laacher told me, “is the collective component through which the individual expresses himself. It speaks us as much as we speak it. And it never speaks randomly; it is always meaningful. As we are spoken by the tongue, collective values and feelings, what we call a culture, is being passed on. Of course, this includes the passing on of negative feelings and passions such as hate.”

If the metaphor is at all accurate, then what is passed on through a mother’s milk cannot be expelled; it is part of your very being. If, however, it is part of a language code, human beings are capable of altering that code. Further, Laacher resented being called an Algerian since he was born in France and even needed a visa to do his research in Algeria. The irony was that Georges, a Jew, was born in Morocco. So Laacher filed a libel suit against Georges.

Only in France one might say, only in the land that worships clear and distinct ideas, only in the land where intellectuals are mostly wedded to a world of Truth versus Falsehood, to status in the intellectual world, to explaining events rather than puzzles, a country where indubitability is the holy grail, a country plagued by the disease of French intellectuals of confirmation bias, a country where intellectuals glory in displaying how much they know rather than the greater ignorance that accompanies greater knowledge, a country that celebrates intellectuals as stars and celebrities instead of recognizing that all good thought as well as bad is reinforced by a collective enterprise.

In other words, in the use of words, in the display of rhetoric, whether about words themselves or about wearing a headscarf, France is culturally disposed to oppositional intellectualism rather than dialogue and conversation. There are, of course, many exceptions. Emmanuel Levinas stands out as a prominent example. But the condition is deeply rooted in the French cultural fabric.

This may help explain why two scholars, who are 99% on the same side, would come to intellectual and legal blows. Or it may not. For they smoked a peace pipe over their differences, only to see the matter taken up by a Muslim institution, CCIF, the Collectif Contre l’Islamophobie en France.

Empirical investigation may point to a totally non-intellectual and non-cultural cause of the dispute. But the controversy hopefully both takes us away from the land of Trump while revealing the destructive work of rhetoric and the tools of persuasion while, paradoxically, extolling the positive value of rhetoric. Further, it will serve to introduce two forthcoming blogs, one on Islamophobia, where I will return to the Georges versus CCIF legal dispute when the government took up CCIF’s complaint and charged Georges with “incitement to racial hatred.” I will also write a second blog on anti-Semitism to understand how rhetoric can both confound as well as clear up gross misunderstandings, and how anti-Islamophobia may possibly be connected with anti-Semitism as the League Against Anti-Semitism and Racism. France’s B’nai Brith, joined the battle, initially backing Georges, but eventually joining CCIF in the suit. Only in France!

I cannot apologize enough on behalf of all philosophers and intellectuals for how absurd the world really is.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Persuasion: Who and Whom

Who Persuades and Who Should be Persuaded? Gorgias and Socrates

by

Howard Adelman

Socrates, Plato and Aristotle in different ways undermined the importance of sophists because the latter concentrated more on argumentative technique and less slavish subservience to what they considered an elusive goal, tying those techniques to virtue. In the contemporary world, ironically, in the teaching of humanities, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle are far more revered as stars in the stellar universe of the Athenian intellectual world than Protagoras or Gorgias, Thrasymachus or Cratylus, even though the premises of the sophists dominate in the contemporary world. Excellence is now attached primarily to the methods used to advance knowledge rather than to a general ideal of how to develop virtuous souls.

The sophists fell into disrepute for many reasons, but perhaps the most important one was the war waged by their philosopher allies to undermine them. Further, a number of sophists had, in turn, used their techniques to teach how a public could be manipulated and not just influenced. They were ancient precursors to our current set of psychometric gurus who employ mass data and feedback loops. Teachers like Socrates used this reality to paint all sophists with the brush of corruption, with catering to populism rather than the pursuit of truth, as if those two were the only dichotomous options.

The reverse was more descriptive of reality. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, all apologists for an aristocratic political system from different perspectives, used rhetoric to turn the term “sophist” into an epithet of abuse, to heap contempt upon these teachers. They accused the sophists of being servants to false facts in service and subservience to undercutting ideals and traditional values. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, in their turn, became apologists for what we would now call the resurgent right.

Look at the case of Protagoras, perhaps the greatest of the sophists who taught relativism in opposition to a search for absolute Truth, Beauty and Justice. Reality was a matter of interpretation. Each person experiences the world in a different way and understands that world differently because of the frame brought to understanding the world. What we know are constructs. “Man is the measure of all things,” was the distillation of his most famous aphorism. More fully, he claimed that, “Of all things, the measure is Man, of the things that are, that they are, and of the things that are not, that they are not.” The rules of determining what is true and what is not true are constructed and made by humans. So, one might conclude, there is no Truth.

In fact, sophists were generally agnostic on that question. The more important issue was not whether the standards for establishing Truth were absolute, but that both the Constructivists and the Realists by and large generally adhered to a common body of rules. The methods for establishing truths as distinct from falsehoods were shared. In the end of days, whether knowledge was a matter relative to experience, judgment and interpretation, or about absolute values, did not have to be determined.

In Plato’s dialogue, Gorgias, like the dialogue Protagoras, there is a conversation between Socrates and his sophist rivals. The topic of Gorgias is rhetoric itself. It is about the art of persuasion. Gorgias himself happened to be a foreigner who had immigrated to Athens, attracted by its intellectual and artistic reputation as well as its political solidity. The nub of the debate was Socrates’ contention that rhetoric had to be subservient to philosophy; without the guidance of philosophy, rhetoric disaggregated into techniques of flattery and manipulation. Proper persuasion can only exist within a moral frame, Socrates argued. Otherwise rhetoric only serves the making of money and the acquisition of power and not a higher purpose.

Sounds familiar? In Plato’s telling, Socrates traps Gorgias and the sophists by insisting they first provide a definition of rhetoric. If Plato had not been telling the tale, they would have replied, “Look at our practices.” You cannot define hockey or baseball or basketball with a simple definition. Each sport is a set of practices and rules. The same is true of rhetoric. But Plato’s Socrates in the dialogue Gorgias reveals his true colours. He no longer professes his ignorance as a technique for sucking his opponents into self-contradictions and incoherence. Socrates reveals himself as an evangelist for Truth. In his discussions with three sophists, first Gorgias, then Polus and finally Callicles, Socrates ends up preaching and exhorting rather than arguing and persuading.

However, that is not how he starts out. Speaking of Gorgias, Socrates states, “I want to learn from him what is the scope of his art and just what he professes and teaches.” (447c) So the conversation begins with Socrates asking Gorgias to introduce himself, to say who he is and what he does. And when reading the answer, we immediately sense a set-up. For Gorgias comes across as an arrogant know-it-all, as someone who can answer any question posed, and do so concisely; further, Gorgias insists, that he has not been asked a new question in years.

Socrates begins with an argument very familiar from other dialogues – the analogue of expertise. A doctor is called a doctor because he has an expertise in medicine, in treating and healing patients. A shoemaker is designated as such because he has an expertise in making and repairing shoes. Polus agrees and says, “There are many arts…experimentally devised by experience, for experience guides our life along the path of art, inexperience along the path of chance.” (448c) We know then and there that we are into a rip-roaring discussion, for Socrates was the last to allow experience to serve as the arbiter of Truth, Beauty and Justice.

Socrates then makes a vital distinction, one between dialogue and rhetoric with the clear implication that he, Socrates, is wedded to dialogue in contrast to the Sophist reverence for rhetoric. At the same time, Socrates uses the distinction to put down Polus before Gorgias, his teacher, and to use irony and sarcasm to put down Gorgias. Socrates is clearly not fazed by dissing his opponents.

The path to logical ruin for the sophists begins with the admission that many arts have to do with words, not just rhetoric, but medicine does not have to do with just words, the skill previously ascribed by Gorgias as characteristic of rhetoric. Therefore, the mastery of the use of words is not specific to rhetoric. Thus, Socrates concludes, “rhetoric is not concerned with every kind of words.” (449e) The difference, Gorgias claims, is that rhetoric deals exclusively with words. But then he commits hara-kiri when he asserts, compatible with the character Plato gives him, that the subject matter of rhetoric is “the greatest and noblest of human affairs. (451d) Once Socrates has moved Gorgias from the safe ground of technique to a claim to serve the highest values, Gorgias is finished and Socrates metaphorically murders him with his own words deliberately, systematically and without mercy.

There is a major lesson here. In discussing how to deal with the phenomenon of Trumpism, stick to technique and do not get into debates about the highest and most important values. Stick to falsifying and establishing facts. Stick to the formal and informal rules of argument. Do not get into a debate over values. And the reason is rather simple. If you debate values, one party in Camp B holds the ones they esteem with far more dedication and commitment than you do. For you consider values to be debateable; they do not. They are mostly unbudgeable on those values, especially in dealing with those who have such a weak dedication to ultimate values. Stick to arguments about civility and process, values which many of them share.

In sum, if the persuaders spend their time undercutting one another, the true opposition will move in to occupy the territory left in the vacuum.

In the case of the other party in Camp B, our contemporary cynics, note the following. They can be subdivided into four groups – Tom Friedman in the NYT 22 February 2017 suggested five, but two were the same group looked at from different angles – Trump as entertainer and monopolist of the news day and the essential Trump who holds loyalty to himself as an absolute, exclusive and highest value. These are but two sides of his malignant narcissism.

The second group led by Stephen Bannon, the Rasputin of the White house, along with Stephen Miller and others, represents what Friedman calls Trump crazy. We are not certain to what degree they are part of the backdrop to make Trump look like a relative moderate, or whether they have Trump under their spell with their combination of cynicism and apocalyptic vision or the degree to which Trump is an integral member of that group – a position I tend to take. I believe it is important to make the distinction, but it is one irrelevant to the discussion of persuasion. For Trump and his acolytes and Bannon and his fellow crazies, all are unreachable.

There is another group, not really separable from the Trump narcissistic ideological camp, the incompetents – Betsy DeVos, Trump’s Education Secretary, Scott Pruitt, Trump’s head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Tom Price, an ex-orthopedic surgeon, head of the Department of Health and Human Services, and Ben Carson, another retired surgeon, Secretary of Housing. They are different members of the crazies in the Trump camp, milder, not so mad, and not as bent on general mayhem and destruction, but more focused in the service they are willing and eager to perform. A few of them possibly could be reached, but it is questionable whether it is worth the effort.

It is the other two groups that are of greatest interest. Friedman conflates two different mismatched groups. There is the clean-up crew, who appear on television, bask in the shared limelight and manage to share extensively in Trump’s lying and deception, who are Trump’s acolytes. They ae but appendages to Trump’s malignant narcissism. They should not be conflated with the Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, and Nikki Haley, his Ambassador to the UN. The latter two are NOT clean-up crew. They are independent voices who serve as correctors – a very different function – to Trump’s statements, often overtly contradicting his policy preferences. The Secretary of State, Rex W. Tillerson, and The National Security Adviser, Lt. General H.R. McMaster, belong in the camp of correctors and offsetters to the madness and chaos of the Trump enterprise. They will all listen to reason and conduct policy with the same attention to facts and logic as the members of Camp A.  They have strong convictions, but are open to communication. This suggests that foreign affairs and defense may be the least to suffer least, at least on the ground, from Trump’s rambling, inchoate and dangerous musings.

The other group that is more difficult to make cognitive contact with are members of the traditional Republican Party, including the Tea Party members, who supinely bowed to Trump both before and after his unwanted takeover. Reince Priebus represents this group in the White House and it is questionable how long he can last among the chaos of the competing groups since his greatest quality, his willingness to be a supplicant, is the last one needed to bring discipline and order to the White House. But that is a matter strictly to the benefit of the opposition. For the real centre of power for the party members in the takeover are in Congress. Their pact with the devil to get their favourite priorities through Congress – tax cuts, dismantling Obamacare, appointing right-wingers to the Supreme Court, deregulation – will mean that most of them, except for the bravest such as John McCain, will stay loyal to Trump as long as he advances their domestic agenda.

The bottom line – foreign affairs and defense seem to be in safer hands than the domestic agenda. But the two are conflated when it comes to immigration and refugee policy. Does John F. Kelly belong to the cluster of incompetents in the Trump camp eager and willing to serve as his surrogate in his main enterprise of bashing aliens? Or, given his military record as a Marine Corps General and former commander of the U.S. Southern Command, there is every indication that he is both a loyal and obedient soldier to his Commander-in-Chief and an independent individual, like Mattis and Tillerson. He also has considerable political experience having served as the Commandant’s Liaison Officer to the U.S. House of Representatives starting in 1995. However, he has little respect for the “chattering classes” and those who push a softer approach to ISIS. But he does know and understand Islam.

The real danger is that these independent thinkers and doers will be alienated by the opposition if they are regarded simply as Trump supplicants. They are not and will not be. Further, they have their independent and various definitions of what is greatest and noblest in human affairs – from courage and service to country to the ex-Goldman Sachs boys in the Trump entourage who I have not discussed who “judge wealth to be the greatest blessing for man.”

Recognizing all of this, how and who can be persuaded to deviate from the mad Trump enterprise if rhetoric is indeed in its sum and substance, the art of persuasion? (452e and 453a) As mentioned above, the constituencies discussed and analyzed above are divided in accordance with whether, and to what degree, they can be appealed to through persuasion. But I must return to the prior issue – the persuaders, for they too are a motley crew and some of them are as likely to undercut the enterprise of persuasion as advance it. I mention here only those who disrupted the meetings of members of congress when they returned to their home constituencies and proved they were more devotees of chaos in their commitment to resistance than to victory for reason and civility.

On the other hand, I listened to the debate among the candidates vying to be chair of the Democratic National Committee. The debate made clear that the issue of how to confront Trump and his supporters and how to develop a unified strategy in Camp A will require much more work. I was very encouraged by the civility, the reasonableness, the understanding of the various candidates and their comprehension from different perspectives of the challenges they face. I did not choose a favourite, though I had my inclinations (they tended to come from the second level rather than the first or third level candidates), but I would be happy with any one of them as leader of the Democratic Party.

I did agree with Pete Buttigieg, the mayor from South Bend, Indiana, that it would be a mistake if too much focus was placed on Trump, which the tactics of the two leading contenders, Labor Secretary Tom Perez, and Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison, seemed to stress. I found the Executive Director of the Idaho Democratic Party to be very winning. Generally, they all recognized the need to peel away support from Republicans in general at the grass roots level through hard work and dialogue in areas that the Democratic Party had neglected. The defence of democracy seems to be in good hands.

If the liberals concentrate on expanding their base rather than fighting among themselves, peeling away support from Trump and Republicans rather than insisting on total and absolute resistance and non-cooperation, they can rebuild the opposition into a victory machine. At the same time, they must enter into dialogue in areas and with persons who are reasonable even when they are not Democrats. The commitment to reason, the commitment to civility, the commitment to institutions, all must take priority over partisanship.

With the help of Alex Zisman