« Megachurches. | Main | Zac’s Our Man! »

January 02, 2006

Oliver Kamm and Neil Clark.

Now I don’t normally blog on Oliver Kamm that much and I certainly wouldn’t, in normal times, send you there for humour.

Yet today is rather different. Here is his response to the Daily Telegraph’s review of his book. It closes with:

Apologies, this quote from Oliver Kamm’s blog has been removed at the request of Neil Clark. He feels it to be defamatory and is in the process, as he tells me, of taking legal action against Mr. Kamm.

I have a feeling that is something that the young Sam Leith (age 32 as he informed us today) would like to know, for he is indeed the Books Editor at the Telegraph.

What rather adds to the glory of this tale is what goes on at Neil Clark’s site. Yes, he posts his review, all fine and dandy. Then there is a comment appended:

Thanks for letting us post comments - very cool of you. I work online
with my own used college books
website. Check it out if you get the chance. Thanks again!

Which is then repeated. Mr. Clark responds:

Nice to hear from you Nadim.
Isn't it revealing that so many neo-conservative, pro-war blogs do NOT allow the posting of comments. (are you reading this Mr Kamm/Mr Pollard?) They make such a play of their passion for 'democracy' and 'free speech'- and of the need of 'Shock and Awe' to impose them- but when it comes to their own blogs- they are as intolerant of other people's opinions as the most fanatical Fascist.

To be followed by:

Harry's Place is a fine example of no comments allowed policy--would you not say?

(Despite the fact that the tone of the comments on a blog supporting a currently unpopular posision requires 24/7 moderation)

To which that nice Mr. Clark says:

I had in mind 'one-man band'weblogs like Oliver Kamm's and Stephen Pollard's which most definitely do not allow comments.

As you know, this is a one man band blog which does allow comments, indeed welcomes them. But it is Peter Nolan (Well Done That Man!) who really serves up the icing on the cake:

Neil, you appear to have started a conversation with a comment spam robot.

You may recall Neil Clark in this blast from the past or the piece which Oliver quotes:

I always remember my first visit to Belgrade, in the summer of 1998. As an unreconstructed socialist, completely out of step with the spirit of the age, I had spent most of the Nineties trying to escape, as best I could, to a place where it was still 1948. So imagine my delight when I arrived in Belgrade and found a city that seemed miraculously to have escaped all the horrors of global grunge.

Bookshops, self-service restaurants and state-owned department stores abounded: a walk down the city boulevards reminded one of a British high street in the late Sixties. My delight turned to ecstasy when, on entering a state-owned bookshop, I saw on prominent display in the window a copy of that classic tome Arguments for Socialism by Tony Benn. What a truly wonderful place was Belgrade! Yet here I was, in the capital city of a nation commonly regarded as the 'pariah' state of Europe and whose leader - a certain Slobodan Milosevic - was routinely dismissed in the western media as Europe's Saddam Hussein. Four years on, the same Slobodan Milosevic languishes in a cell awaiting trial on charges of war crimes and genocide.

Amazing how some people get printed really, isn’t it?

January 2, 2006 in Weblogs | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Oliver Kamm and Neil Clark.:

» Comic genius from Stephen Pollard
Forgive this self-referential post, but if one can't be thus on a blog, where can one be? And there is a wider benefit, I hope, of this post, in bringing to your attention one of the great comic figures of... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 9, 2006 4:51:49 PM

» Comic genius from Stephen Pollard
Forgive this self-referential post, but if one can't be thus on a blog, where can one be? And there is a wider benefit, I hope, of this post, in bringing to your attention one of the great comic figures of... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 10, 2006 8:35:53 AM


I dunno - there's a bit of pot and kettle here isn't there? Kamm's main complaint appears to be that someone has accused him of calling people "apologists for Islamofascism" when he actually said "apologists for Islamism" or "apologists for fascism". This is kind of like saying that the menu has spam, and it has eggs but you can't have spam and eggs. Then he embellishes his theme by, well, cutting and pasting a load of unrelated material he has already rehearsed elsewhere on the Web.

Clark is in many ways an unsavoury weirdo, but on the particular point of the KLA being a big bloody embarrassment to people who occupy the position of being against al-Qaeda but in favour of everything we did in the Balkans, he's right.

Tim adds: Most of what is up above is a set up forhis conversation with the spambot.

Posted by: dsquared | Jan 2, 2006 1:46:35 PM

I get the distinct impression that he is either not very bright, or doesn't stop and think very often. When people like this fall on the right of politics, they normally get no further than the local pub. When they fall on the left, the sky's the limit.

Posted by: Tim Newman | Jan 2, 2006 1:55:37 PM

'...when he actually said "apologists for Islamism" or "apologists for fascism".'

Just for the record: I don't say this, or any synonym, either. From memory, the word 'apologist' appears only once in the book, when I refer to the late John Platts-Mills QC, a Labour MP expelled from the party in the late 1940s, as an apologist for Stalin - a historical judgement that's difficult to argue against. Daniel has guessed what the book says and is mistaken, but at least he's not claiming a fee from the Telegraph for doing it.

Posted by: Oliver Kamm | Jan 2, 2006 3:13:01 PM

from the tenth paragraph of your blog post:

I distinguish between the mainstream critics of the war in Iraq and the SWP/Respect/Stop the War campaigners (one organisation, not three). The latter are not 'apologists for Islamofascism', but advocates of fascism, comparable to the British People's Party or the Parti Populaire Francais in the 1930s

and ...

The mainstream campaigners are not 'apologists for Islamofascism' either, and are far from the totalitarianism of the SWP/Respect/Stop the War. In my judgement they are analogous to the peace campaigners of the 1930s who saw collective security as an alternative to war, rather than perceiving that collective security required war.

so it really does seem to me that when you're making a fuss about the word "apologists" that this is semantic quibbling and you are in fact prepared to call one bunch of protestors advocates of Islamic fascism and accuse another bunch of minimising the threat of Islamic fascism. Since in general, you are happy to chuck around the accusation of "apologist" (I have included "-Chomsky" in that search as it really does help to narrow things down), I for one would not blame anyone for paraphrasing these two fairly fundamental criticisms of parts of the Left (which you have admitted you do in fact make) as "accusing people of being apologists for Islamofascism".

There is another chap who regularly writes on a lot of the same general themes as you who is also very fond of this kind of nitpicking response to critics and of trying to avoid sensible critiques by making a big deal out of supposed precise meanings of single words. He's called Noam Chomsky; I wonder if you've read much of his stuff?

Posted by: dsquared | Jan 2, 2006 3:55:48 PM

Actually, this search is much more representative, albeit that you do have to eliminate the references to Chomsky by hand; I'd forgotten that almost the entire site has at least some reference to Chomsky on it, so there are actually quite a lot of instances of someone other than Chomsky being called an apologist where there is nevertheless an unrelated mention of Chomsky (eggs, bacon, chomsky, spam, chomsky) elsewhere on the page.

Posted by: dsquared | Jan 2, 2006 4:04:01 PM


Posted by: Moonbat_One | Jan 2, 2006 4:11:08 PM

Your first search comes up with precisely seven hits, two of which are the same, and all of which are accurate. Your second search has the wrong terms, so I can't comment on it. "Chuck around" is thus as careless a use of language as your putting into quotation marks phrases that do not appear in my book.

I didn't say Respect etc. were advocates of Islamic fascism; I said they were advocates of fascism, period, and thus directly descended from political currents of the 1930s.

The analogy with Chomsky is not one that helps your case when the issue is accuracy in quotation and rendering.

Posted by: Oliver Kamm | Jan 2, 2006 4:41:34 PM

Just for clarity, the comment "Harry's Place is a fine example of no comments allowed policy--would you not say?" appears to have been from a legitimate but anonymous commenter to Clark's site, not the spam robot.

Tim adds: Oh, yes, I know. Sorry i I didn’t make that clear.

Posted by: Joshua | Jan 2, 2006 5:40:59 PM

dsquared - I take your point about spam and eggs - but it's a tangental one isn't it? Kamm's gripe is just that Clarke doesn't seem to have read his book. He was just trying to illustrate his suspicions by picking up on that word (and does himself no favours therein, as you say). Still, I don't think that amounts to trying to avoid a sensible critique by obsessing over the meaning of single words.

and when it comes to that (Chomsky versus Kamm) - do you really think that each is as bad as the other? Seems to me Kamm has Chomsky banged to rights (on the limited and specific charges that he makes, I'm not talking about the broader issues).

Posted by: Paddy Carter | Jan 3, 2006 10:40:11 AM

That is right. Chomsky is an exceptional case who does not belong in this discussion. He knowingly misrepresents the words of others and even himself if it's helpful to his argument. By contrast, Neil Clark misrepresents but unintentionally, owing to his not having read the book and having perforce to guess what's in it. Daniel does the same thing, for the same reason. Unlike Daniel, however, Clark represents that he has read the book and has accepted payment on that understanding.

It certainly strikes me as odd that Daniel would wish to persist with arguing that Clark has accurately represented a book that neither of them has read; odder that he should try his hand at quoting a book he has not read; and oddest that he should complain of nitpicking on having the inevitable and blameless resulting misquotations corrected. But these are minor peccadilloes compared with Clark's, and I am a tolerant man.

Posted by: Oliver Kamm | Jan 3, 2006 12:37:14 PM

Neil Clark, frankly, is beneath contempt. But I wasn't aware that his bizarre love affair with the Milosevic family stemmed from dictatorship as a lifestyle choice..

Posted by: Alex | Jan 3, 2006 1:21:00 PM

Mr Kamm,

I can never work out whether you are delightfully tongue in cheek or hilariously pompous.

Come to think of it, it's equally entertaining, either way.

Posted by: luis enrique | Jan 3, 2006 1:21:34 PM

I find it hard to decipher sentences with more than two semicolons in them, which is why I'm unlikely to buy this book until it is remaindered (brackets are much better than semicolons, naturally). But I think (hard to check, for obvious reasons) that Oliver is no longer claiming that he doesn't accuse people of being apologists (or various terms that appear in the thesaurus near "apologists") for Islamofascism (or various thesaurus terms etc), which was the only point I wanted to make.

I actually do believe that Oliver and Noam Chomsky are more or less on the same level; both of them have some reasonable points to make, both of them have massive blind spots when it comes to giving the benefit of the doubt to regimes who don't deserve it and both of them have an annoying squid-like tendency to generate massive clouds of quibble instead of taking an obvious and charitable interpretation of their critic's points and arguing against it on the merits. Oh yes and they both squeal like wounded fawns that people are always misquoting them. So yes, I think Oliver and Noam Chomsky are part of a biological category that also contains squid-like fawns with blind spots.

Just clearing up a couple of points because I am the master of detail; I have not claimed that Neil Clark has read the book and don't have a view on the matter. I have made two claims about Neil Clark (actually three if you count "he is an unsavoury weirdo"). They are 1) that his claim that Oliver accuses people of being apologists for Islamofascism is more right than wrong and 2) that he is correct to say that the KLA are a great big embarrassment for humanitarian interventionists. I think I'm so far looking pretty good on both claims.

Posted by: dsquared | Jan 3, 2006 3:05:22 PM

Of course you haven't got a view on whether Clark has read the book: how could you, when you haven't read it either? You shouldn't be so sensitive at the notion that you're being misquoted.

The difference (or at least the one relevant to this discussion) between me and Chomsky is that Chomsky isn't misquoted (at least not by me) whereas I am (at least by you). As a master of detail you will surely understand this distinction immediately and resolve to be a little less free with the quotation marks in future.

Posted by: Oliver Kamm | Jan 3, 2006 3:36:00 PM

Entangled in an errant double-negative: that should read "Chomsky isn't misquoted (at least by me)".

Posted by: Oliver Kamm | Jan 3, 2006 3:41:23 PM

And while we're on the details, let's do them all. "The only point you wished to make" is indeed one I reject. My reason for turning to the issue of Tim's post is merely that my appetite for debating a thesis with someone resolved not to read it is limited (except in the case of policymakers).

Posted by: Oliver Kamm | Jan 3, 2006 3:55:06 PM

To summarise:

Oliver Kamm: Clark has not read my book. I adduce* as evidence, among other things, his use of the word Islamofacist, whereas I don't use that word in my book.

Dsquared: Even if you use a different word, you do bang on about apologists for Islamofacism, by any other name. So Clark is right about that.

As indeed are you, Dsquared, as far as it goes. Which isn't very far. Oh - and about the KLA too.

* there's nothing a Kamm loves more than to adduce

Posted by: luis enrique | Jan 3, 2006 4:33:14 PM

Oh lord, this is like pulling teeth, or reading Prospect.

Oliver says that he doesn't misquote Chomsky and people misquote him. Chomsky makes exactly the opposite charge about Oliver. I daresay I could establish who is right and who is wrong if I sat down with a mug of strong tea and a stack of back issues of Prospect, but frankly it is precisely for this reason that I never pick up that magazine, not even in a dentist's waiting room; it is far too keen on printing 3500-word diatribes by Mr Pot about the iniquities of something Professor Kettle wrote in Pigeon Fancier's Gazette in 1982.

It is clear by now that there is no real misrepresentation of anyone's position here. "Accuses opponents of the Iraq War of being apologists for Islamofascism" is a perfectly sensible summary of Oliver's position, and "Is a supporter of Slobodan Milosevic" is a perfectly sensible summary of Chomsky's. I am sure that Oliver has all sorts of arguments to suport his view that political Islam is a danger and the liberal left don't take it seriously enough. I am equally sure that Prof. Chomsky has all sorts of arguments about why Milosevic has got a raw deal.

On the other hand, I'm not going to read any of them, even at a bargain bin price of 50p, because both points of view have lots of exponents who are more interested in the actual arguments than in their own amour propre and their insistence that everybody pay minute attention to their sparkling prose (it is no coincidence, I think, that both men write like a fat goose trying to fart out a dictionary). Having read Oliver's Times column and his blog, I am unconvinced that I am missing anything much by not reading the book.

The Guardian Readers' Editor apparently agrees with me on this; he seems like a good lad.

Posted by: dsquared | Jan 3, 2006 5:29:10 PM

Dsquared, you've pulled that tooth, from my mouth at least. I had thought that Oliver would have accepted that accusing "opponents of the Iraq War of being apologists for Islamofascism" is a perfectly sensible summary of his position. Because it amounts to the same thing. I thought the misquote per se wasn't really his point, hence that you'd missed it. But I've just re-read Oliver's post and see that he says that's "not his view" because he uses a slightly different term. Fair cop. Mr forensic textual analysis Kamm has got carried away.

Still think you're wrong to equate him with Chomksy, but there you go.

Posted by: luis enrique | Jan 3, 2006 5:53:56 PM

Still think you're wrong to equate him with Chomksy

I may be wrong on this, as I am not exactly a diligent reader of Chomsky.

Posted by: dsquared | Jan 3, 2006 6:16:00 PM

Oliver Kamm is a master at presenting opinion as fact. Annoyed by my review of his book, he accuses me of not having reading the book. But I can assure him that I read every single page. I would have posted this comment on Kamm's own webblog- but unlike Tim, he does not allow comments. For a man who claims to be so keen on the spread of 'democracy' and 'freedom of speech' around the globe- by B52s if necessary- this seems rather inconsistent- every bit as inconsistent as the arguments he puts
forward in his book.

Posted by: Neil Clark | Jan 3, 2006 6:56:41 PM

Neil, if you donate your review copy of Oliver's book to an Amnesty bookshop in North London, I will be able to read it and make a more informed assessment of who is right on this claim. I realise that this will involve a small sum of money going to an organisation which has views on the subject of Slobodan Milosevic which are pretty diametrically opposed to yours, but it seems a small sacrifice in context.

Posted by: dsquared | Jan 3, 2006 7:12:02 PM

Pulling teeth doesn't quite do it as a simile, I feel. Who misquotes whom between Chomsky and me is set out on my blog, with publication & page reference. The notion that "apologist for Islamofascism" approximates (or quotes, as Daniel maintains with telepathic prowess) the argument of my book may be judged (and despatched) by a reading of same. But as (a) these points are, respectively, irrelevant and tangential to Tim's post, (b) Daniel is keen to stress his uninterest in them, and (c) no one still left in this discussion has read the book, I think we can reasonably conclude that none of us has added to Tim's closing sentence.

Posted by: Oliver Kamm | Jan 4, 2006 9:35:27 AM

Oliver, another fair cop, this time on the not having read the book front.

However, if "apologists for Islamofascism" does not approximate to one of the arguments you make in your book, then it was a mistake to write this:

My depiction of opponents of the invasion of Iraq as 'apologists for Islamofascism' does not appear on the jacket, however, because - not being my view - it does not appear in the book. Of the roughly 40,000 words I wrote, none is 'Islamofascism' or 'Islamofascist'. Where I refer to the ideology of al-Qaeda, I almost always say 'Islamism' (not strictly accurate, but better than 'Islamofascist', as it stresses the theocratic character of the movement).

because that makes it sound very much like the only difference between what Clark describes you as having argued, and what you actually argued, as a fine distinction of terminology

Also, I'm not sure that dsquared maintains it was a quote, merely a reasonble summary of your argument.

Posted by: luis enrique | Jan 4, 2006 11:40:11 AM


Journalist makes a blog
Journalist gets noticed because if his discission with spammers
Journalist gets lots of hits on his site, but just for the comments.....

Journalist should write his posts in the comments section until he can stop spammers

Posted by: dave | Jan 4, 2006 11:59:25 AM