24 Apr 2019

Bob Murphy Show ep. 29: No, Ilhan Omar Wasn’t Taken Out of Context

Bob Murphy Show 15 Comments

My latest episode.

As I mention in the beginning, this Friday (April 26) I’ll be at Connecticut College talking about the economics of climate change.

On Monday (April 29) I’ll be at Lock Haven University talking about free-market health care. (That link will have my details after they have their Nigel Farage event.)

Both are open to the public.

15 Responses to “Bob Murphy Show ep. 29: No, Ilhan Omar Wasn’t Taken Out of Context”

  1. Harold says:

    You say “I’m not going to document every single time he says it, but to justify my use of the phrase “out of context.” In fact the phrase “out of context” does not appear in the article at all, so it is not surprising you do not document every single time he says it.

    About 19 minutes you define taking out of context as “did not mean what the person is leading you to believe he meant”

    Collin’s dictionary agrees, saying “If a statement or remark is quoted out of context, the circumstances in which it was said are not correctly reported, so that it seems to mean something different from the meaning that was intended.”

    The article says the quote in the Imam’s tweet was “stripped if its context”, which is a different thing. Clearly her comments were stripped of their context as they were quoted in isolation. Stripped of context is a factual claim, “out of context” requires intent to give a wrong impression. The imam also claimed she denied it was a terrorist attack, which is a lie and clearly the term “out of context” applies also.

    Then Senator Crenshaw retweets the imam’s remarks in full – complete with the false allegations. Without the context of the speech and given the context of the imam’s tweet, her words seem to mean something very different from what they were intended to mean. Trump tweeting a film of the twin towers collapsing with a very short audio of her saying “some people did something” also leads one to think her words meant something very different than they were intended to mean. It is a textbook case of taking out of context by the definition you give because the out of context quote seems to means something different from the meaning that was intended.

    As you say, the point people are concerned about is not the “some people” but the “did something.” Without context we don’t know what point she was trying to make. Her entire speech was about how the majority were blamed (or perceived they were) for the actions of a minority. The speech was about the “some people”. By quoting out of context whilst showing pictures of the twin towers or claims that she denies it was terrorism it implies that the subject was the “did something.”

    Without context, it would be reasonable to think that she was making a speech about 9/11 and the point was to belittle the events. Seeing trump’s tweet it would be very hard to conclude anything else. Given the context, we can see that this was not the point at all, hence the quotes are taken out of context.

    Taken literally, her words are absolutely true. The condemnation arises not because she expressed approval, but because she failed to condemn sufficiently.

    This is in contrast with Trump, who went out of his way to find some elements of the rally to praise when there was very little if any evidence of these people.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Harold, let me just make sure innocent bystanders understand that Friedersdorf is saying “she was taken out of context” even though I agree with you, the exact order of those words doesn’t occur in his column. But here’s one of three times he used the word “context”:

      [Trump] is callout culture’s most prominent cry-bully. This particular callout is deeply irresponsible, especially coming from a president. It is certain to incite upset, anger, and animosity, at the very least, as the majority of people who see it will never take time to watch the whole of Omar’s speech and appreciate the totally different impression one gets watching the words in context.

      That is exactly what people mean when they say “She was taken out of context.” So I stand behind my framing.

      • Harold says:

        Yes, you say “I think he says it at least three times”. I could just quote that and say you are wrong, but perhaps that is quoting you out of context?

        You explain that the context means not that you think he said those exact words, but that he meant those sentiments.

        However, from your example it seems to me he is using the same definition as you. He does not just claim she is taken out of context, he explains why in much the same terms you use.

        Do you think someone reading Crenshaw’s tweet would get the same impression of what she meant as someone hearing her speech? If you think they wouldn’t, then it is “out of context” by your definition. If you think they would – well, how could you reasonably think that?

    • Dan says:

      “In fact the phrase “out of context” does not appear in the article at all, so it is not surprising you do not document every single time he says it.”

      Of all the douchey comments you’ve made on this blog this one might be the douchiest. Here are the three times he discusses her comments being taken out of context in that article:

      “These folks strip inartfully phrased remarks of context…”

      “Then, this month, an Australian imam stripped one of her remarks from its context and tweeted…”

      “These folks strip inartfully phrased remarks of context…”

      • Harold says:

        There are three mentions of the word “context” – you seem to have missed one and duplicated one. In the order they appear.

        “an Australian imam stripped one of her remarks from its context and tweeted, “Ilhan Omar mentions 9/11 and does not consider it a terrorist attack on the USA by terrorists…”

        “Stripping of context” could just mean the removal of context with no intent to mislead. We could argue about that, but in either case, the example is a pretty clear case of taking someone out of context, so the distinction (if it exists) is moot. He takes the quote and gives an interpretation that is clearly not there in the original context, but seems reasonable from the out of context quote.

        The second one is the one Bob quotes above. It describes why the quote is “taken out of context” using the normal definition.

        The third (“these folks…”) is not referring to Omar in particular, but describing the general state of civic conversation in the USA. This can be seen by quoting it in context:

        “Civic conversation in America is dysfunctional in part because we have so many such outrage exhibitionists. These folks strip inartfully phrased remarks of context, ignoring the speaker’s intentions and imputing the least charitable possible meaning.”

        I ask:
        1. Do you think the imam was taking her out of context?
        2. Do you think Crenshaw was in his tweet?
        3. Do you think Trump was in his tweet?

        Then at least we will understand where we disagree.

        • Tel says:

          Stripped of context, and taken out of context don’t mean precisely the same thing … but they are pretty darn close. Here’s the full quote:

          Her speech was covered live. It generated no blowback upon delivery. Then, this month, an Australian imam stripped one of her remarks from its context and tweeted, “Ilhan Omar mentions 9/11 and does not consider it a terrorist attack on the USA by terrorists, instead she refers to it as ‘Some people did something,’ then she goes on to justify the establishment of a terrorist organization (CAIR) on US soil.”

          CAIR is not, in fact, a terrorist organization. Anyone with third-grade reading comprehension can review Omar’s clumsy words and see that they do not, in fact, assert that 9/11 wasn’t a terrorist attack, nor that its perpetrators were not terrorists. Arriving at the opposite conclusion requires interpreting Omar’s words in a manner that is both implausible and willfully optimized for offense-taking.

          Clearly, Conor Friedersdorf is claiming that Imam Mohamad Tawhidi had attempted to create controversy where none existed to begin with. Anyone with a third-grade reading comprehension can recognize that Tawhidi was reacting to the implicit callousness of Omar’s phrasing rather than an outright assertion.

          Interesting fine points though: use of the term “blowback” in this context is kind of unusual. More the sort of thing you might say when invading Iraq for example, or after telling lies about chemical weapons. Even more fascinating that Neocons at The Atlantic ranks Representative Ilhan Omar ahead of the Imam of Peace, and you have to remember that The Atlantic are mostly NATO warmongers so that opens up a tiny potential that the Imam of Peace might manage to create some peace in the world (or at least, someone at NATO is a little bit worried by the possibility). Forgive my joining too many dots perhaps, but something to think about.

          Let’s suppose someone like Breitbart were publishing an article trashing Hillary Clinton, or Bernie Sanders … not news, right? That’s what Breitbart are always doing. We might still read the article out of enjoyment … but none of us would be surprised by it. Just confirms existing prejudice, and nothing wrong with that provided you remember why you were prejudice to begin with.

          When you read John Notle taking down Conor Friedersdorf it’s a little bit more exciting because you have the radical right taking down the big government establishment Neocons.


          Read closely, he names names and draws red lines right there.

          • Harold says:

            “Anyone with a third-grade reading comprehension can recognize that Tawhidi was reacting to the implicit callousness of Omar’s phrasing rather than an outright assertion.”

            I am not sure what you mean here.
            First, do you think she was taken out of context?

            Second, I don’t agree with your third grade reading comprehension analysis. He may have used the word “assert” but that is not necessary – it works just as well for “consider.”

            Third grade may be a bit young, but a basic analysis of her words is relatively easy.

            “For far too long we have lived with the discomfort of being a second-class citizen. Frankly, I’m tired of it. And every single Muslim in this country should be tired of it. CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.”

            Ok, who is it about – who are “we”? Muslims as she says every single Muslim should be tired of it.

            What is the problem? Being treated as second class citizens and losing civil liberties.

            What was done? CAIR was founded.

            Why? Because they recognised that all Muslims were getting targeted for what some Muslims did on 9/11.

            Listen to the words at 15:00

            The emphasis is on “*all* of us started to lose…

            The context makes it clear that she is contrasting the “some” with the “all.”

            Without that context it may sound like she is saying her opinion of the 9/11 attack was that it was just that “some people did something.”

        • guest says:

          “Civic conversation in America is dysfunctional in part because we have so many such outrage exhibitionists. These folks strip inartfully phrased remarks of context, ignoring the speaker’s intentions and imputing the least charitable possible meaning.”

          I remember when the Left was agitating all up and down about how we needed to be super careful about using language like “shoot” or “target”, et al, even when it wasn’t literal.

          Reporters were apologizing for so many stupid things. And it was so obvious, at the time, that they were just trying to shame the Right into silence – because the Left doesn’t have reason on their side.

          “Be careful what you say, or there might be another school shooting!” (Paraphrase) Yeah, don’t forget to ignore the tens of millions who were slaughtered and starved *under* gun control as part of the socialist agenda to make the world a better place.

          Hahaha! Talk about “outrage exhibitionists”.

  2. Tel says:

    Here’s background on the Australian Imam who said something … he’s an oddball character.


    Not quite sure what to make of him … I’m not qualified to identify which Muslim religious leader is legitimate, nor do I make any claim in that direction. We have had some trouble in Australia with cases like Man Haron Monis claiming to be an Iranian spiritual reformer, also claimed all sorts of religious qualifications before ending in a rather unfortunate cafe incident with a sawn-off shotgun and lots of police.

    Not in any way claiming that these guys are equivalent, other than they are both oddballs coming out of hardline Muslim backgrounds and ending up in Australia touting religious qualifications. You can understand that it’s confusing for us knuckledraggers who want everything nice and simple.

    • Harold says:

      “I’m not qualified to identify which Muslim religious leader is legitimate…”

      It is difficult to know in any religion. What does “legitimate” mean here?

      Apparently “Tawhidi is not recognised as an Imam or Sheikh by either the Australian National Imams Council or its South Australian equivalent, nor is he affiliated with any Australian mosque or prayer centre. ” [from ABC]

      So if legitimate means accepted by the recognised bodies of a particular religion he is not legitimate. He also has little evidence of “scholarship.”

      He seems at first look to be a self publicist who is very anti -Sunni. he also says very inflammatory stuff about boiling and eating heads and happily signed up to a Korean publicity stunt calling for world peace under the Unification Church, which would involve the end of Islam. I would say he is a fake, since there seems to be no body, following or organisation that can legitimise him.

      • Tel says:

        His religious credentials, in the formal sense, are easily available.


        Membership of a specific organization has never been a requirement of Islam … although the Iranians have created a structured hierarchy with significant overlap between religious institutions and government, so in that Iranian context religious power and political power are linked to positions within their hierarchy.

        Clearly Tawhidi has chosen to step outside the Iranian system, and is adapting to Western society in his own way. He readily admits that his beliefs have changed and are no longer in line with his teacher the Grand Ayatollah Sayid Sadiq Shirazi. There’s plenty of history within Islam of breakaway sects and disagreement on points of religion. No shortage of infighting either for that matter. There’s nothing un-Islamic about what Tawhidi is doing there … but there’s nothing un-Islamic about people disagreeing with him either. Tawhidi has heaps of Twitter followers, so there are people listening to him … not a traditional way to call the faithful, but whatever works.

        As for being anti-Sunni, my understanding is that several of his family members were murdered during sectarian violence in Iraq, so he has some personal history on which to base his perspective. Whether you believe that keeping a grudge is the right approach to world peace … I guess that’s up to each of us to decide.

        Violent people tend to get greater publicity than peaceful people, so unfortunately the Sunnis are now associated with Wahhabism, Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram and the various offshoots of jihadist-Salafism that sell plenty of newspapers. As a pragmatist and an atheist, I strongly doubt that such people will ever be my friends, but I’m aware they don’t represent all of Sunni Islam, merely the most active and visible part of it. Countries like Indonesia are gradually turning from moderate to hard line as the fundamentalists get traction. IMHO that’s bad for everyone, but they seem to think they are doing the right thing. The way things are going the Salafists might end up representing a much bigger share of Sunni Islam than they do today … and you can’t blame that on Imam Tawhidi.

        There has been some pushback, such as the Grozny fatwa. Hasn’t had much effect so far though.

        • Harold says:

          There is reason to doubt his credentials, see here:

          He may have credentials, he may not, he is obviously very interested in making controversial statements for publicity, particularly if they make Sunni Islam look bad. Rational Wiki describes him as a “useful idiot” for islamophobes and racists. He is certainly popular in right wing circles.

          I don’t know enough about him to draw firm conclusions, but from what I have read I have strong doubts.

          Given the context of what he generally says and how he attracts publicity to himself, I would say it is very much in his normal operating procedure to stir up controversy where none existed before in order to generate publicity for himself. It certainly worked in this case. By providing an out of context quote he got re-tweeted by a Senator and picked up by POTUS, so a big win for Tawhidi.

          • Tel says:

            I doubt that any of us are experts in Muslim philosophy but a very quick check on the Australian National Imams Council tells you that it’s a Sunni organization while the Iranian system that trained Tawhidi is thoroughly Shiite. That’s one of the most fundamental denominational splits within Islam … even rank beginners are supposed to understand that much.

            CJ Werleman is doing something equivalent to acting shocked that the Archbishop of Canterbury has not been awarded credentials by the Catholic Church.

            If you follow the link to the ABC (very left wing, government funded media) then to New Matilda (even more left wing) then to One Path Network you finally get to another article containing some research here.


            I think this might be the actual source article. Although One Path Network are not explicitly denominational, my searching indicates they are mostly Sunni as well. They get support from Dubai Islamic Economy Development Centre which suggests a Sunni connection.

            The ABC would be happy to take the Sunni leaders as representative of all Muslims in Australia, as long as it suits their narrative. They generally enjoy streamlining the story down to a single point of view … namely their own. If Tawhidi says anything even slightly conservative, the ABC automatically hate him for that.

            Given that we know Tawhidi has something of a grudge against the Sunnis from Iraq and Syria … not surprising that the Australian Sunni community don’t make him feel particularly welcome either. As I already pointed out, there’s nowhere in Islam that *requires* any organizational membership. There’s no Muslim equivalent of the Pope. It’s simply an incompatible concept for their religion.

  3. Transformer says:

    The write up for Bob’s show says:

    “Bob critiques an article by Conor Friedersdorf, in which he mocks the right-wing outrage over Rep. Ilhan Omar’s 9/11 remarks as a tempest in a teapot. Why, if someone on the right made a similar slip of the tongue, Friedersdorf would expect the right-winger to be forgiven. This is of course ludicrous nonsense, as Bob explains.”

    I think that misrepresents Friedersdorf piece. The key passage (in my opinion) is:

    ‘Civic conversation in America is dysfunctional in part because we have so many such outrage exhibitionists. These folks strip inartfully phrased remarks of context, ignoring the speaker’s intentions and imputing the least charitable possible meaning. This sets them up to display umbrage with the ostentation of a peacock.’

    This seems to capture very well the outraged reaction of the New York Post, President Trump , Daniel Crenshaw and all the and others who got involved in response to the Omar speech.

    His comments about right wingers being forgiven for similar offences is that (in his view) right wingers would forgive a fellow right winger who made a similar gaffe but I am sure (in context) he would expect left-wingers to be as equally outraged in such a situation as right-wingers are at Omar. Could anyone disagree with this analysis ?

    FWIW: I do not think you have to be all that charitable to interpret Omar’s remarks as being merely a bit insensitive. It would be way out of context to conclude she thinks that 9/11 was not a terrorist act, or even that she thinks it was not a very serious event.

    • Transformer says:

      In fact Friedersdorf doesn’t talk about ‘expect[ing] the right-winger to be forgiven’ at all.

      This is what he says:

      ‘Indeed, it is easy to imagine a populist-right commentator declaring: Donald Trump supporters are right to mistrust the media. After Charlottesville, we realized that whenever some people somewhere in America do something, we’re going to be considered guilty by association.’ There would be clearer, more eloquent ways to convey the intended sentiment, but its meaning would nevertheless be easy to discern. Most on the right would understandably suspect bad faith if that mildly clumsy statement was cast by an opinion journalist as an attempt to minimize the odiousness of neo-Nazis or to diminish the horror of Heather Heyer’s murder.

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