Saturday, May 10, 2008

Citation Needed

We've heard the arguments over and over again: Hezbollah is social service agency; Hezbollah wants to join the Lebanese political process; Hezbollah is not in fact dominated by murderous Jew-haters. And so on.

Jeffrey Goldberg is at it again. The post contains two links. The first is to a recent news story. The second link leads to a post by Michael Young which criticizes alleged apologists for Hezbollah.

I think there should be a rule that if you criticize an argument allegedly made by a vague group of people, your links should be plural (as "people" is) and point to those arguments and (if necessary which it isn't in this case) proof that they are wrong. The intellectual soulmate who got the goods on them can be credited with a "via x" link afterwards, but claims should be supported by evidence not other claims allegedly supported by other evidence.

Young's post has links of its own. The first links to Tony Bey who also criticizes alleged apologists for Hezbollah.

Thus to get to actual evidence I have to click on Goldberg's link to Young and then on Young's link to Bey. Bey links to and quotes Michael Kramer who wrote

"Assassinations of terrorists can boomerang, and so might this one. But it’s already had the one merit of exposing the core of Hezbollah that lies deep beneath the schools, the hospitals, and all the other gimmicks the party uses to get support and pass in polite company."

Ah so Kramer is one of those who notes that Hezbollah provides social services. But wait he is one of the critics of alleged apologists for Hezbollah. Obviously everyone who knows anything about Hezbollah agrees that Hezbollah provides social services. Goldberg's claim is that some say they are a "social service agency," that is that they do nothing other than provide social services. I don't think anyone has ever written or said that. Goldberg's claim made without evidence lead me (foolish me) to look to see if there is any evidence. I am in the garden of forking paths.

Bey goes on to quote various people noting that Hezbollah denies links to a know terrorist, Imad Mughniyeh, that this or that expert or journalist notes the denials and the absence of solid proof that it is false etc etc etc. Young links to Bey's post soon after with the observation that, when the terrorist was killed, Hezbollah "Aplaced him in a trinity of party heroes "martyred" at Israeli hands." In the linked post by Bey, I find no alleged apologists of whom I have ever heard and (honestly) no claims which are embarrassing given this event. Hezbollah denied that Mughniyeh was a member of Hezbollah. Various people noted the denials and noted that there wasn't categorical proof that it was false. I don't see the problem. The first alleged apologist quoted and denounced by Bey, Augustus Richard Norton, is also quoted *by Bey* in the **same** post as writing "there is no question that Hezbollah has engaged in acts that do, indeed, constitute terrorism in its more precise and generally understood sense." Yep sounds like a social service agency.

Back to Young. He writes "You know something has gone horribly wrong when the writer and academic Norman Finkelstein". I clicked the link and found that Finkelstein is currently an unemployed former academic. Why did you provide the link which demonstrates that his characterization is false ? Finkelstein age 54 is a former assistant professor who was denied tenure at DePaul University. An interesting case if one were aiming to prove that apologizing for Hezbollah is absolutely unaceptable in US academia, but hardly a case one would want to mention when attempting to prove that it is widespread.

Young also notes Noam Chomsky (of course). His contribution was to argue "Hizbullah's insistence on keeping its arms is justified," so, sure, he claimed that it was a social service agency (you wouldn't want to take away the Salvation Army's guns would you ?). The link is to a memri post. The link supporting the quote is dead. I assume the quotation was accurate, but no evidence on its accuracy is available on the memri site.

and he notes a post at Engage which describes and denounces an alleged petition signed by intellectuals in support of Hezbollah. He doesn't note that they almost all have arabic names. A few are alleged by Engage to be well known "Alex Callinicos, a leading academic in the British Socialist Workers Party, has signed this statement and is sending it around by e-mail. Tariq Ali, Virginia Tilley, Mona Baker, Omar Barghouti, Haim Breesheeth, Norman Finkelstein are other well known name on the list." I've heard Tariq Ali. The link provided by Engage is dead so there is no available evidence other than the claim on Engage that the petition actually was signed by anyone. I trust Engage (of which I had never heard before) but there is no proof.

I have found, of course, no cases of anyone claiming that Hezbollah is a social service agency (or anyone denying that they provide social services in addition to making war and committing acts of terrorism).

Time wasted confirming that Goldberg's writings are totally detached from reality.

I planned to write a post which consisted entirely of "citation needed" as the label of a link to Goldberg. I didn't feel confident enough to do that until I had followed every link. The links didn't lead to proof of Goldberg's claims but to other broad claims with other links and so on.

In the future I will write "citation needed" unless there is proof one link away, proof that someone said something being a link to something written by that person or a quotation in the MSM and not an alleged quotation on another blog.

The whole bunch Goldberg, Young and Bey seem to link only to people with whom they agree. The raw evidence is evidence because someone typed quotation marks, not because I have reason to trust the quote (as in quoted by a not clearly partisan source or something on the web actually written by the person in question). I trusted Bey and Memri and Engage because I had no choice.

I think that there should be a word for people who pretend they have proven claims of fact with links to other people who argue for the same conclusion instead of links to evidence. I will call it echochambering. It is a fact that I have not been able to get out of the group of denouncers of alleged Hezbollah apologists to independent evidence (except on the point that Dr Finkelstein is not, at the moment, an academic).

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