So, let’s return today to considering the rhetorical tropes of Decency. This time around I want to postulate that the Decents’ characteristic rhetorical style is closely linked to their group psychology. You see this demonstrated clearly in the methods of argumentation they use.
Guilt by association is a prominent one, and sometimes the associations are pretty tenuous. As in: the Socialist Workers Party, via the Stop the War Coalition, has a relationship with the Muslim Association of Britain; the MAB is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood; the Brotherhood reveres the obscurantist theologian Yusuf al-Qaradawi; therefore the SWP must endorse the teachings of Qaradawi, especially the more outré ones about gays and women. Now, the SWP may be opportunistic in their alliances, but I’m fairly sure they don’t endorse stoning gays. It’s a bit like saying that, because Marko Attila Hoare endorses Chechen separatism and so does Osama bin Laden, therefore the Decent Left are fellow travellers of al-Qaeda.
Another one is “if you’re not with us you’re against us”. This draws not only on the rhetoric of GW Bush, but also on many of the Decent cadre’s background in far-left sectarian groups. A basic part of the sectarian’s psychological makeup is that anyone not entirely enamoured of his sect is on the side of the enemy. A sort of reductio ad absurdum of this appears below, with the assumption of SWP comrades that if I’m cynical about their little campaign around the Glen Road barracks site, then I must want West Belfast to be overrun by the Greedy Developers, who seem to be doing a pretty good job without my support. A considerably more annoying version is the tendency of the Decents to throw epithets like “appeaser”, “apologist” and “pro-fascist” at anyone dissenting from their agenda.
But, beyond this basic sort of rhetorical dishonesty, we have to consider the possibility that many of the Decents believe what they’re saying. This is where the concept of psychological projection comes in. There is a Decent Left equivalent of this, which I term “Chomsky in your head syndrome”, because, thanks in no small part to Oliver Kampf, poor old Chomsky seems to get the rough end of this more than anyone else. You found this with the Grauniad’s infamous hoax interview with Chomsky, and the Francis Kammovitch letter urging the Graun to retract its retraction. To the average rational mind, the idea that Chomsky had “denied Srebrenica” could be easily disproved by the multiplicity of quotes in Chomsky’s writings and interviews explicitly saying that there was a massacre at Srebrenica. This, however, did not deter the likes of Nick, Francis, Ollie and Attila from blowing lots of smoke about how Chomsky was an “all intents and purposes denier”. They seemed to be suffering a form of cognitive dissonance quite common on the Decent Left – so Chomsky must have denied the Srebrenica massacre because that’s just the sort of thing a reprobate like Chomsky would do, in the same way that the Decents don’t need a quote from Socialist Worker to “prove” that the SWP supports stoning gays – you just need the Decent equivalent of mystical intuition.
This sort of thing happes all the time. Let’s do a compare and contrast between Tariq Ramadan and the late Alija Izetbegović. Ramadan is an outspoken modernist who frequently speaks and writes on how European and North American Muslims will not only have to adapt their religion to their environment, but in doing so will transform Islam on an international scale. Izetbegović, on the other hand, was a conservative adherent of political Islam – not a mad fundie by any means, but someone with a distinct Islamist ideology not a million miles away from the politics of the Muslim Brotherhood. You would expect, then, that the Decent Left would embrace Ramadan in preference to Izetbegović. Wrong! They simply take the subject’s position on issues dear to the Decent worldview, and extrapolate a whole set of politics based on that. Therefore Tariq Ramadan, because he has said somewhat Indecent things about Israel and the War on Terror, must be a mad fundie. And, because Bosnia was the Good War, Izetbegović must have been a liberal multiculturalist who definitely had nothing to do with political Islam.
There are further things flowing from this, not least the increasingly hysterical tone as it becomes ever clearer that Iraq and Afghanistan are disaster areas. It’s a worldview that is both Manichaean and Antinomian, positing that, because we are Good and Decent, therefore anything that contradicts our position doesn’t exist, and because our opponents are Indecent, their villainy is boundless indeed. It’s deliciously ironic, isn’t it, to watch people who have built up reputations as scourges of postmodernism – without, mind you, bothering to find out what postmodernism is – themselves becoming ever more detached from empirical reality. This might be classed as the revenge of the simulacrum.