Friday, June 12, 2009

The strategy of dissimulation

I said that Obama's speech in Cairo was excellent, because he said to Muslims what it was right to say to them, whatever their historical and doctrinal accuracy.

It's a question, I tried to explain, of rhetoric. But rhetoric becomes quizzical when we are all aware of it. And what I said requires further analysis of the complexities of the game.

An American friend of mine simply said that that speech was full of shit. More elegantly, in the face of the president's claim to be a student of history, Victor Davies Hanson pointed out all the historical mestakes his speach contained. Equally Ann Coulter had easy game to joke about the absurdity of some of the president's statements, like his trying to assuage his audience on the question of their treatment of women, by saying that even in American life the struggle to warrant them equality is in many ways still going on.

I could say, incidentally, that there are indeed enduring problems, in America as well in Europe, in men-women relations, but that they don't come from not enough equality, but rather from the opposite: that we don't recognize enough how different men and women are. Still when I was young we were taught to be courteus with women. Which was also a way to keep hold of out male animal spirits. Now we are told that women are equal, and as such we treat them, with all our testosteroneous aggressiveness.

But this is beside the point. The silliness of positions echoed by the president in his statements is not what concerns me here.

What concerns me here, is what happens to what he says when it is received by a Muslim audience.

If I were a Muslim with enough knowledge of western things, I would recognize that the blunders in the president's speech are so great that they could be easily regarded as an effort at dissimulation. Unless I took from ganted the lip service the president paid to Muslims, but in that case I wouln't be very astute.

Now, you have to know that in Islam dissimulation has been explicitly theorized as a way to deal with non Muslims, if not simply with people foreign to one's own tribe or clan or whatever.

What happens then when one recognizes the other's dissimulation? That's the question raised by the president's speech in the light of that theorizing.

I suppose that among Muslims dissimulation is taken as a rhetorical devise admitted by the rules of a game, which consists then in outwitting each other: like in a hide and seek game, one has to be able to make the other uncover himself, and so pin him to his word.

It is early to say who is wittier: whether the president, or the Muslims gathering for his speech.

He tried to pin them to the acceptance of certain "human rights". Try to negate that they are really such, and then you'll bely the noble tradition I grant to be yours - he seems to be challenging them.

Will this rhetorical strategy sort the intended effects? There are reasons to doubt it.

Keep in mind that the game takes place in the presence of a larger audience: a mixed audience. How the challenge is taken depends then on the regard in which are kept the different components of that larger audience.

Before silly Europeans and Obama's American supporters, the Muslims he addressed might again resort to dissimulation, feigning to accept his description of themselves, with all the challenge implied.

But before other Muslims, less of a minoriy than Obama feigns to think, probably they couln't care less of that challenge.

Luckily the president also reminded everybody, Muslims and non, that if need be, he won't shy away from using military force. And that is perhaps the only argument that defeats dissimulation.

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