Research methodology 101

Shorter Jerry Coyne: Whence moderate Islam?:i-ff8edce66dd45ee9dcec5a63c62e8a7a-Coyneportrait.jpg

You’d think MEMRI’s archives would be a great place to find the ?moderate? form of Islam in the Middle East, but all I get from the right-wing propaganda shop dedicated to putting “emphasis on the continuing relevance of Zionism to the Jewish people and to the state of Israel” are stories about how Muslims hate Jews and Israel.


If you are looking for moderate forms of Islam, perhaps it’s wisest not to turn to MEMRI, a group known for selectively quoting and translating their sources. As Laila Lalami wrote in The Nation:

MEMRI?consistently picks the most violent, hateful rubbish it can find, translates it and distributes it in e-mail newsletters to media and members of Congress in Washington.

Or if that’s too lefty a source, perhaps you’ll listen to former CIA counterterrorism chief Vincent Cannistraro:

They are selective and act as propagandists for their political point of view, which is the extreme-right of Likud. They simply don’t present the whole picture.

Guardian reporter Brian Whittaker notes:

The second thing that makes me uneasy is that the stories selected by Memri for translation follow a familiar pattern: either they reflect badly on the character of Arabs or they in some way further the political agenda of Israel. I am not alone in this unease.

Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations told the Washington Times: “Memri’s intent is to find the worst possible quotes from the Muslim world and disseminate them as widely as possible.”

For instance, they famously mistranslated a caller on a Palestinian TV show as saying, “We will annihilate the Jews.” The caller actually said, “The Jews are killing us.”

Anti-Muslim hate groups in the US regularly praise and draw on MEMRI’s work, quoting it as indiscriminately uncritically as Coyne.

Comments

  1. #1 Anthony McCarthy
    December 13, 2011

    Why would anyone expect Jerry Coyne to really look for, never mind look hard, for anything other than something he can use to get a post hatin’ on religion? The man is emotionally incapable of doing anything else on the topic.

    Though it is mildly interesting as confirmation of the wildly variable quality of the new atheists’ research. Coyne on his academic subject is quite superior to even many of his ideological confreres in that compartment.

  2. #2 DocAtheist
    December 13, 2011

    Would this, the picking and choosing by MEMRI of what to translate and how, be comparable to any Muslim source using FoxNews videos and stories to translate, in order to show their public how Americans think and behave? Considering how few people read, listen to, watch, or are otherwise affected by FoxNews, that would be totally unfair and inappropriate of them, then, wouldn’t it? After all, FoxNews creationists are far from putting any of their special form of extremism and religious bias into our textbooks.

  3. #3 DocAtheist
    December 13, 2011

    Would this, the picking and choosing by MEMRI of what to translate and how, be comparable to any Muslim source using FoxNews videos and stories to translate, in order to show their public how Americans think and behave? Considering how few people read, listen to, watch, or are otherwise affected by FoxNews, that would be totally unfair and inappropriate of them, then, wouldn’t it? After all, FoxNews creationists, just for one example, are far from ever even trying to put any of their special form of extremism and religious bias into our textbooks, aren’t they?

  4. #4 J. J. Ramsey
    December 13, 2011

    DocAtheist:

    Would this, the picking and choosing by MEMRI of what to translate and how, be comparable to any Muslim source using FoxNews videos and stories to translate, in order to show their public how Americans think and behave?

    Sure. Heck, it would be comparable even if the source weren’t Muslim. Fox Noise is nearly the Republican propaganda arm, so using it as representative of Americans in general would be a mistake at best and dishonest at worst.

  5. #5 Matti K.
    December 14, 2011

    There are at least two issues here:

    a) the general agenda of the messenger
    b) the truth value of the message

    An analogy: if the Templeton foundation publishes an interesting point regarding the compatibility of science and religion, should it be ignored due to the biased agenda of the organization?

    Personally, I don’t think a message becomes haram only because it was delivered by an ideological opponent.

    The cases Dr. Coyne referred to (via Memri) might be extreme and far from the norm even in Middle East. But is that a valid reason to ignore them? Incidents of creationist teachers pushing their ideology to school kids are exceptional, as well. Yet even most accommodationists agree that these cases can be discussed in relatively short blog articles, without deep analyses and statistics of general school education. Not everyone has the will to write or even read Rosenauescue blog lectures.

  6. #6 Josh Rosenau
    December 14, 2011

    Matti: My issue is that Coyne opens by saying he’s looking for moderate Islam in the Middle East, then cites a bunch of stuff from MEMRI. That source is known to select out the most extreme content possible, then to translate it in the most extreme way possible, sometimes dramatically mistranslating along the way (changing “Zionism” to “Judaism,” for instance, or the inversion of the sentence’s meaning cited above).

    If Coyne wants evidence of moderate Islam, he should not be looking at MEMRI at all.

    And if he wants to write about Islamic extremism, he should gussy it up as a search for moderates. Your comment assumes his goal was to catalog Islamic extremism, which is a fair enough goal, I suppose, but it isn’t how he set the post up.

  7. #7 Anthony McCarthy
    December 14, 2011

    I wonder what a survey of atheist themed blogs would reveal about “the nature of atheists”. My experience of them is that they are prone to far more extreme expressions than the Islamic blogs I’ve read. Especially the clearly accepted comment content. How about James Randi’s “educational” site?

  8. #8 Wow
    December 14, 2011

    “I wonder what a survey of atheist themed blogs would reveal about “the nature of atheists”.”

    Since we’re not bound by common cause, naff all.

    And, ginve the content of the post, WTF does that have to do with anything other than your absolute need to slag off atheists because they’re not a True Believer like you?

  9. #9 Wow
    December 14, 2011

    PS look at the definition of “trolling”.

  10. #10 Matti K.
    December 14, 2011

    Mr. Rosenau seems to think that Dr. Coyne wrote a research paper about the nature of islam in the Middle East and that he needs a referee to judge its scientific value. I think Mr. Rosenau is misguided.

    To me the article of Dr. Coyne is a polemic article written by a blogger who has many other things to do beyond blogging. A polemic touch tends to stimulate discussion, which is good. Unless, of course, the discussion deteriorates into meta-discussion, like in this thread.

  11. #11 Josh Rosenau
    December 14, 2011

    Matti, that isn’t what I said, and it doesn’t accurately reflect what Coyne said. He opened his piece: “I keep looking for the ‘moderate’ form of Islam in the Middle East, but have trouble finding it.” That suggests that what follows will in some sense reflect a search for moderate Islam in the Middle East. What actually follows is a troll through the archives of a group dedicated to highlighting extremist Islam in the Middle East.

    I like polemics, and write my share of them. Coyne’s piece is just misleading.

  12. #12 Matti K.
    December 15, 2011

    “Coyne’s piece is just misleading.”

    Really? I think Dr. Coyne presents his agenda very clearly and unambiguously. He is clearly very skeptical about the influence of moderate Islam in Middle East. Even someone not familar with WEIT does not have to read very far to notice that the references to “moderate islam” represent sarcasm.

    I’d rather see counterarguments than meta-discussion.

  13. #13 Marion Delgado
    December 15, 2011

    Between their neoconservatism and their market fundamentalsm, this is why the skeptic movement interests me not at all. Very happy to have the distance they create launching their jihads on accommodationists.

  14. #14 Wow
    December 15, 2011

    “Between their neoconservatism and their market fundamentalsm”

    Those are equally found amongst the xtian fundie belt.

    This would therefore indicate that they are orthogonal to religious belief, as would be expected. Both those things are economic, not religious, memes.

    On the whole “I haven’t found any moderate Muslims”, how many times do you find people talking about how bad the WBC is (for example), compared to how great God is?

    A trawl through the archives would have difficulty in picking out any moderate christians, depending on how you’d define the markings of one.

  15. #15 Josh Rosenau
    December 15, 2011

    Matti: My counterargument is that he’s relying on a source that’s well-known to be highly biased, and therefore his source and his analysis are not credible, and indeed misleading.

  16. #16 Matti K..
    December 15, 2011

    Well, Mr. Rosenau, we seem to go in circles. I refer back to #7.

    I don’t think we are progressing, so I’ll leave the merry-go-around here.

  17. #17 Josh Rosenau
    December 15, 2011

    Indeed, since you didn’t really reply to comment 8.

  18. #18 Wow
    December 16, 2011

    “Really? I think Dr. Coyne presents his agenda very clearly and unambiguously.”

    Well, I think you’re both in agreement there.

    It would seem to be clear that someone who looks for moderate extremism on a single site that intends to show how dangerous militant islam is is pretty clearly someone with an agenda to find that islam is dangerously militant.

    Then tie that to a title that proposes to see if islam is moderate or militant and the inference of the agenda is pretty damning.

    It would be a bit like using the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible to find out whether the Bible is sensible.

  19. #19 Mike from Ottawa
    December 16, 2011

    Looking for evidence of moderate Islam on MEMRI is, in a word, Luskinesque.

  20. #20 Marion Delgado
    December 16, 2011

    Wow:

    Since you obviously don’t “get” what’s nutty about what you said, it turns out there are other choices besides right-wing fundamentalist Christianity and market fundamentalist and/or warmongering politicized atheism (whether residually Cold War or Zionist variety). Our choices are not between bankrupt right-wing ideologies! Or between competing theocracies, like Market God, Invisible Sky God, God the Realtor keeping the Master Race happy in Zion, etc. etc.

    And no, it’s not orthogonal. The same idiots who came up with “Brights” have made skeptic a kind of soiled brand. Take a good, hard look at people like Penn Jilette or Michael Shermer in terms of market fundamentalism to the point of religiosity.

    Or look at Abbie Smith all over the internets attacking people who oppose animal testing. The implication being that “Science” supports animals being, essentially, garbage. Used tissue paper. And only an idiot would ever object to any animal testing no matter how useless or horrific. Just because. But in fact, science teaches us that we are not that different from whole classes of animals. It’s the Old Testament that teaches the “animals are made for us to destroy as we like” mentality. It’s also the Old Testament that said, to quote Ann Coulter, “God gave us the earth. We have dominion over the plants, the animals, the trees. God said, ‘Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It’s yours.’ ”

    That attitude is typical for skeptics of the market fundie sort, who, as I said, DOMINATE the so-called skeptical movement now, which has become, in its public face, a fairly regimented atheism crusade movement. People like PZ Meyers are actually rare, simply because he disdains libertarian bullshit as much as religious bullshit, and he doesn’t particularly single out Islam for abuse.

  21. #21 Wow
    December 20, 2011

    Marion, since you obviously don’t get what “orthogonal” means, it means that two factors are independent of each other.

    It does NOT mean there are only two factors.

    Just that two are not bound together.

    If the most strident xtian fundamentalist supports neoconservatism then neoconservatism cannot be ascribed as indication of atheist tendencies.

    And passion is not religion. When I’m banging my GF, it takes a serious minded atheist to refrain from crying out “Oh God!”.

    People who are passionate about the free market (either as a force for good or evil) are passionate about it.

    People who are passionate about organised religion (either as a force for good or evil) are passionate about it.

    Pointing out that the first case is about the free market therefore that they have people as pasionate as religious fundies DOES NOT make the free market principle a religious thing and DOES NOT make it an atheist thing.

    It means that free market fundamentalism arouses the same passion as xtian fundamentalism.

    You’re absolutely wrong in making the connection between neo conservatism and atheists OR christians.

    They are ORTHOGONAL.

  22. #22 Wow
    December 20, 2011

    PS You seem to be arguing a completely different thread.

  23. #23 Wow
    December 20, 2011

    Marion, two things being orthogonal does NOT mean there are only two things.

    M’kay?

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