Across the Bay

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Red Herring Alert

The Oklahoma-based academic, Joshua Landis, tries to respond to the devastating take-down by Michael Young.

It's clear that Young hit a nerve, as Landis' defensiveness and inability to properly respond shows. In fact, Landis' entire post, from top to bottom, can be described as one giant red herring or straw man.

The part where Landis' guilt is transparent -- and the part that very clearly constituted the most damaging charge by Michael -- is the part on Michel Kilo. Landis was exposed, and all he did was to dig himself deeper, vindicating Young's claim that Landis is a slapdash scholar.

But before we address that, let us once again review the actual charge leveled by Young.

Michael said that Landis puts "harmful words into the mouths of others" and that the most serious example is his article on the opposition. This is Michael's key charge, one that Landis completely evades, only highlighting its truthfulness and accuracy:

Where did Landis get this information? In reading the article you see that the authors have footnoted an article by Andrew Tabler, which I happen to have read. But as an astute reader reminded me, Tabler only wrote that "two unnamed members" of the Syrian civil society movement had met with Bayanouni. There is no mention of Kilo at all in the piece, because Tabler could not confirm his presence in Morocco. One of two things happened: Either Landis read Tabler as carelessly as he reads everything else he quotes, which still doesn't explain how Kilo's name slipped in; or, knowing the impact of what he was saying, Landis mentioned Kilo intentionally, effectively justifying his arrest, then dishonestly attributed this to Tabler.

In other words, Landis put words into another person's article. He made a deliberate false reference. It's both unacademic and, in this case, unethical. That's the issue.

Now, let's see how Landis tried to wiggle around that charge (Landis is in italics):

Why was Michel Kilo arrested and what is he charged with?

Kilo's arrested and the charges brought against him by the Syrian government have nothing to do with the Damascus Declaration or the trip to Morocco that prepared the way for the Damascus Declaration of 16 October 2005, about which I wrote. My article, entitled "The Syrian Opposition," which I coauthored with Joe Pace, a Harvard researcher, was published in the December 2007 issue of the Washington Quarterly. Kilo was arrested with other opposition members following the publication of the "Beirut-Damascus Declaration," which they signed in May 2006, more than half a year after he helped prepare the Damascus Declaration. The charges brought against him have nothing to do with the Damascus Declaration. On March 6, 2007, the last time he was brought before the military prosecutor in Damascus, Kilo was accused, according to Reporters Without Borders, "of inciting fellow inmates in Adra prison, near Damascus, to sign the 'Beirut-Damascus, Damascus-Beirut' joint statement, which he himself signed in May 2006 and for which he is being prosecuted by a criminal court."

This is beside the point. Young never says that the article was the cause of the arrest, and didn't touch on any of this. This is a meaningless straw man, which is the method used throughout the post.

The notion that Joe Pace's and my article had anything to do with his arrest or persecution is nonsense. Young writes that my article "was quite damaging to Kilo." He invents this. It is not true.

This is typical Landis. Young didn't say the article had anything to do with his arrest. What he did say is that, in retrospect, the claim Landis made ends up "effectively justifying" the arrest. And by claiming that an imprisoned dissident met with Bayanouni, Landis did jeopardize Kilo. Young isn't inventing this. What Landis says is not true.

Did I tell the Syrian government something it did not already know?

The Syrian authorities knew whether Michel Kilo was one of the two opposition members who traveled to Morocco long before I wrote my article.

First of all, the question itself is as much dishonest as it is irrelevant. Young never said that Landis told the government anything. But this begs the question. How does Landis know that the regime knows what he says they know? Who told him this? What is the evidence? Or is this more of his typical slipshod practice?

If it was so well-known, how come Kilo never made this claim to anyone? If the regime knew, why didn't they charge him with this very serious crime, as they had done with others? Bashar (and the regime's hit-men, including Maria Maalouf) had already falsely accused Kilo of meeting and taking money from "Syria's enemies." What better charge than meeting with Bayanouni to add to this?

Andrew Tabler, an excellent reporter and good friend, wrote in March 2006 that two unnamed opposition members traveled to Morocco, where they met counterparts in the Muslim Brotherhood to hammer out the rudiments of the Damascus Declaration.

Finally we come to the real issue, the one that Landis never addresses because he knows it is the principle and most damaging charge. Tabler, as Young noted, never wrote that Kilo went to Morocco. Yet Landis quotes Tabler's article implying that he did. This is the point Michael raised, that Landis is a slapdash academic who puts words in people's mouths (and articles). This is bad scholarship. This is a false, and unethical, reference.

Kilo and other leading opposition members were arrested in May. If the Syrian authorities did not already know who had travelled to Morocco, they would simply have looked in their passports to ascertain which of them had. Opposition members can not hide where they travel. Any effort to do so would be useless and self-destructive. Young knows this. He also knows that Syrian military courts act pretty much as they wish. Blaming me for Kilo's predicament is petty and wrong.

It is one thing for anyone to travel somewhere, and quite another to do so in order to meet with the head of the Muslim Brotherhood. Once again, a dishonest point. And again, if hiding the meeting was so "useless and self-destructive," was it then common knowledge that it was Kilo who went to Morocco? Hardly, and Landis knows this full well. He's just trying to cover his back side. More dishonesty is on the way, however. Young never blames Landis for Kilo's predicament. But, since Landis knows that military courts in Syria (which he gave an "A for security") are brutal, his academic shoddiness takes on an ethical dimension too when he peddles that Kilo (who was never charged with meeting Bayanouni) met with the head of the MB. Landis knows full well what he did, and that's why he's evading the issue with such defensiveness.

Did I make up the claim that Kilo travelled to Morocco?

No, I did not. Several members of the opposition said he was one of the two members who went in February 2005. I checked this as thoroughly as I could. I communicated with reporters. I asked a friend to confirm what I had been told. I will send the record of what I learned about this to Michael Young. He did not ask for it before making his allegations even though we were in communication by email.

Again, red herring after red herring. Let's go back to the issue. The point made by Young is that the article by Tabler that Landis quotes did not make that claim, because Tabler couldn't confirm it. Yet somehow, Landis wants to also portray it as rather obvious and that everyone knew, only highlighting his poor scholarship, and only then to say that he checked it "thoroughly."

However, he inserted that claim into Tabler's article when it was not there. That's the issue, not Landis' red herrings.

But let's entertain his disingenuous acrobatics. Did Landis or any of his "reporter" friends get a confirmation from Kilo himself? The answer is no (and that certainly never appeared in his article). The people who made the claim (and only two people made it, not "several") are both questionable, given the nature of their relationship to Kilo, the Damascus Declaration, and the MB. That's precisely why Tabler couldn't confirm it, and (because he's more responsible than Landis) why he left it out of his article. This is precisely why what Landis did was so unacademic and unethical, in that he inserted a pernicious, unsubstantiated claim into someone else's article, and attributed a very dangerous and malicious thing to the author of that article, absolving himself of responsibility (so he thought), just as he lamely tries to absolve himself in this post with red herring after red herring.

Before his arrest Kilo told an excellent reporter that "he wrote the first draft of the Damascus Declaration," which then went through several permutations as it was worked over by the various opposition parties who were asked to sign it. Michel Kilo did not try to hide his role as one of the central architects of the Damascus Declaration.

Is anyone counting the red herrings and the straw men?! This is totally beside the point. No one disputed Kilo's role in drafting the Damascus Declaration. This has nothing to do with anything. Landis' defensiveness and incoherence, and his continuous resort to infinite red herrings only highlights his guilt, and that he knows he's guilty.

On the contrary, like most other brave and daring reformers, he was proud of his role and tried to get as much coverage for the opposition as he could. Talking to foreign reporters and researchers was part of that campaign. As a reporter, Kilo knew that getting his and the opposition's story out was as important as signing agreements, maybe even more important. That was how I could help him.

But Kilo never claimed to anyone that he went to meet Bayanouni. Landis alone made that claim. Indeed, this is how he "helped" Kilo. Almost like how Maria Maalouf "helped" him in al-Thawra.

This pathetic post (and I am deliberately leaving the other laughable, dishonest parts aside), with its lameness and defensiveness and disingenuity, only confirms Michael's charge that Landis is a slapdash academic who has abandoned any academic, or, in this case, even moral integrity.