Thursday, September 22, 2005

Separation of Concerns

In this post at OxBlog I noticed an infuriating rhetorical twitch that's all too common in our political discourse. It's so common on the right wing that it wouldn't be noteworthy except that it's coming from a blog which purports to be "moderate". The twitch is this: Take someone's statement of fact, pretend it's a moral statement, and become huffy, outraged, and cry "appeaser" or somesuch. David Adesnik engages in it by quoting from an article with an admittedly inflamatory title and thesis. But he still gets it wrong:

Last week, Dr. Mohamedou published an op-ed in the Boston Globe entitled "Time to Talk to Al Qaeda?" (Hat tip: Power Line) Here is a typical passage from the column:

Sept. 11 was not an unprovoked, gratuitous act. It was a military operation researched and planned since at least 1996 and conducted by a trained commando in the context of a war that had twice been declared officially and publicly.

There you have it folks. An expert on the payroll of the world's greatest university telling us that hijacking airplanes and flying them into skyscrapers really isn't all that bad as long as you tell everyone in advance what you're going to do. But don't forget, this rule only applies to "trained commando". If you're an amateur terrorist, forget about it!

ARE YOU EFFIN' KIDDING ME? Mohamedou was making a statment of fact, not a moral judgment. Nowhere in the article does he make any explicit (or implicit) claims that blowing up buildings is a good thing. I expect this sort of phony attribution from Powerline and LGF and Limbaugh, because without the phony outrage they have nothing to say. But Rhodes Scholars really ought to know better. What's most depressing about this twitch is it makes actual debates about actual policy nearly impossible. If "talking to Al Queda" is an illegitimate or intolerable course of action, there ought to be ways to say so without making stuff up or falsely claiming that your opponent is being "relativist".

For what it's worth, I totally disagree with the conclusions that Mohamedou draws from his analysis. Adesnik could probably take the article apart on strictly the quality of the arguments, but he doesn't bother, which is a shame.

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