Thursday, November 18, 2010

Concern Trolling - A Bluffer's Guide

An entertaining row is blowing up around the al-Awlaki case in the US, one that I think serves as a brilliant introduction to the arcane art of concern trolling.  Examples follow...

A bit of history here: al-Awlaki is a fugitive Al-Qaeda propagandist, cited by numerous fucking idiots as an inspiration towards their own deranged worldviews and for various extremely violent crimes.  The Obama administration has declared that it intends to assassinate him at the first available opportunity.

So what, you might say?  After all, it's not like the US hasn't spent the last decade rubbing out thousands of people across a variety of countries, and if there's a more deserving recipient of a hellfire missile up the jacksie than al-Awlaki, I certainly can't think of one at the moment.

The problem arises because al-Awlaki is a US citizen.  Even though he's declared war on his homeland, his assassination would set a legal precedent that the President can order the extrajudicial murder of American citizens, an idea that would've caused exploding foreheads in Washington from 1774 on, right through the Civil and Cold Wars and right up until the dawn of the deranged era in which we now live. 

Unsurprisingly, this has caused various constitutional law groups to sit up and take notice, particularly the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights.  These have organised a defence of citizens' right not to be exploded... And as if by magic, numerous groups have sprung forth to declare that, while they - of course! - disagree with extrajudicial state murder, they have concerns about the manner of the defence.

Readers will be blown away by shocking news that primary concerns include alleged terrorist-snuggling and accusations of spitting on the struggles of the suffering peoples of the globe. 

First up was ever-reliable bullshit-vacuum Andrew Sulllivan...

"The decision of the ACLU and CCR to represent Anwar al-Awlaki, even as he continues to emit clear death threats to writers and cartoonists, seems to me to cross a line..."

This, friends, is a clear example of how failing to prepare is preparing to fail.  By merely stating that al-Awlaki is an awful human being, Sullivan left himself wide open to the response that it doesn't matter whether the bloke is Satan himself - Americans are legally protected from assassination by their own government by laws that were established for damn good reasons. 

No, painting the rights groups as terrorist sympathisers was going to take more than a bald assertion that terrorists are evil, dude.  Step forward, ex-Amnesty martyr Gita Saghal, to accuse the CCR of sexual relations with Al Qaeda. 

The problem wasn't that the CCR was defending citizens' protections from their own government - oh no, not at all.  The problem was that CCR had consorted with a whiffy Islamic human rights group, thus rendering their behaviour suspect enough to merit a long chin-stroke on the arse-extracted topic of "anti-imperialism".  One opinion from an American law professor later, CCR were suddenly al-Awlaki's "criminal defence lawyers", "representing his interests", committed to "sanitising" his reputation.  Perhaps we'll soon hear that he loves his mum, or something.

Evidence for CCR's fellatial embrace of terror is thin on the ground, but evidence isn't necessary with the power of concernMeredith Tax was on hand to berate the CCR for endangering human rights themselves...

"Is there some reason not to pursue a legal or political strategy explicitly calling for him to be captured and brought to the US to stand trial... rather than just not killed?" she asked, articulating a question that was no doubt uppermost in many US citizens' minds when their government announced that they were rewriting the law to allow the President to kill Americans. 

"By what means will the CCR distance itself from al-Awlaki's opinions while defending his right not to be assassinated?" she continued, raising the prospect that trial lawyers are often suspected of just adoring rape, child abuse and murder.  "Most importantly, if the CCR becomes identified as defenders of al-Awlaki, will women who are victims of salafi-jihadists feel they can trust you with their own cases?" 

Unsurprisingly, these questions went unanswered by CCR, presumably because an eighteen-year-old law student could answer them after five minutes of their compulsory legal ethics course, or even after five minutes in front of an episode of Law & Order. 

Finding her pisspoor ethical gambits falling on stony ground, there was only one thing for it - to join with Gita Saghal in accusing CCR of joyously pissing into the pleading, upturned faces of the victims of terror.  Prominent among the betrayed and outraged were a group of Algerian NGOs, no strangers to the horrors of Islamist terror themselves, who repeated the "Why don't you spend half your defence of your case pointing out what a violent psycho al-Awlaki is" line before adding...

"At no time did CCR indicate its intention to support the innumerable victims of al-Awlaki, with at least as much publicity as the Center now gives to his case.  The double standards you employ in these circumstances are unacceptable to us".

Emotive stuff, but you'll notice that nobody watching the Scopes monkey case accused Clarence Darrow of hypocrisy because he didn't give equal amounts of publicity to the possibility that Adam once wrestled a dinosaur.  Plus, you do have to wonder why, exactly, it's outrageous that a group of Americans might bring a case against the United States Government in an American court to defend the rights of Americans under the laws of the United States of America, without simultaneously issuing a number of press releases reassuring the world that they aren't in favour of blowing up women and kids with nail bombs.

(Tax then goes off on a mad tangent about some lefty who met Ahmadinejad and, like Saghal, starts waffling some bafflingly irrelevant bollocks about anti-Imperialism, but it's such an entirely childish attempt at guilt by non-association that we'll let it lie there).

These arguments are so transparently poor, so clearly mendacious, that I can't avoid accusing the people making them of being bullshitters.  I don't think it's possible to make this many bad faith arguments accidentally.  Nonetheless, they are an excellent lesson in the basics of the art of concern trolling, namely...

1) If you can't disagree with your opponents' position overtly because they're basically correct, cast about for reasons to object to their conduct

2) Express concerns about various unrelated aspects; for instance, Why do lawyers defend murderers?  Is it because they think murderers are cool? Why haven't they issued a series of statements denouncing murder? and so on and so forth.

3) Pretend not to understand key points of the argument; for instance, in a discussion on the rights of Americans, be sure to discuss absolutely any topic except the Constitution and the Bill of Rights;

4) Issue variations on Won't somebody think of the children? and Vote for us, or the kitten gets it! in the form of angry victims and finally, the coup de grace...

5) Diagnose some wide-ranging sociopathy on the part of the political tendency you are pretending to represent, no matter how tenuous your evidence.

Take these simple rules into rhetorical combat and you won't land any punches, but you'll certainly make such an impressive display of flailing ineffectively at your opponent's defence that unwary observers might think you've scored a lot of points.

Update!  Further larks with CCR trustee Karima Bennoune here

Noticeable in her piece - Link to Who the fuck are they, then? mentalist website presented as some kind of evidence for something or other; 

Lots and lots of talk about what CCR don't say;  " “the organisation has been quiet about..."  "CCR risks seeming to side with the extreme right..."  "this is tantamount to representing..."  In short, plenty of We should be very suspicious of the things people do not say. 

Thick implication that taking on this case is identical to giving victims of terrorism the finger and laughing.

Notably not present in her piece - Any fair consideration of why a group called the Center for Constitutional Rights might consider a test case on the Rights of all Americans - not just Islamist psychopaths - to be within their remit; 

Any quotes or links to the supposedly intolerable things that the CCR are supposed to have said;

The words "Constitution"; "Bill of Rights"; "Habeus corpus" and so on;

Unasked: How the United States has managed to survive for centuries, from George Washington to Bush the Second, without the President claiming the right to assassinate citizens; why the Obama admin considers it essential to claim that right now, all of a sudden; why constitutional law groups might consider this a worrying development…

To be fair, this article asks some fairly urgent questions about human rights activists, questions such as – when, exactly, did human rights activists decide it was fine to start pretending that they don’t understand the difference between “human rights” and “the law of the United States”? When did they decide to start pretending that “taking on cases” is identical to “cheerleading for criminals”?

It also makes me wonder how much charity we should grant to people who make terrible arguments, arguments so ridiculously bad that it seems impossible that their uselessness could be accidental.  I'm going for "None at all", and I don't regard the self-applied titles of "feminist" and "human rights defender" as being a viable defence for bullshit.

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