To misquote Samuel Butler: the truest character of ignorance is arrogance. Paul Tripp in conflating both characteristics labels it ‘foolishness’ – which, he says, is ‘more than being stupid’. I am not going to attribute this to Azad Essa, because I don’t really want to get personal. But he would do well to heed the advice he so freely dispenses to Essa Hlongwane, and get himself a dictionary – where if he looked up the meaning of debate he would come up with something akin to a ‘formal discussion on a particular matter in a public forum in which opposing arguments are put forward. In other words it is a dialectical process where one’s ideas are challenged and where one has the opportunity to challenge the ideas of others. More importantly however, this dialectic of open debate allows the protagonists to sharpen their arguments, if not question their previously held assumptions. This method of argumentation is neither predictable nor controllable, where one is forced to defend his/her position through reasoned argumentation based on fundamental principles, historical antecedents, theory or praxis. It also forces discussants out of their comfort zone by forcing them into unknown territory. It is within this crucible where ideas are best tested – as it was by the Greeks and Indians since antiquity. Of course those who thrive in a sea of mediocrity lack the intelligence or confidence to defend their positions in such a forum, eschewing such opportunities lest their charlatanism be exposed. So it is that Essa’s defence in ducking out of a live radio debate with me, with this meek excuse, just does not cut it:

I accepted two invitations to discuss this matter (one for TV and one radio). Both were canceled at the last moment (once by me for work-related reasons and once by the radio station for running out of time i think)…

Since then I have written around 15 pieces (for Vox/and others) – so while fans of BDS-SA might want to talk about this issue till Kingdom (sic), the rest of us have moved on to more important things.

Essa’s allusion that his solo interviews count as robust debate is both untenable and laughable, even if one credits the interviewer as an intelligent proxy. Writing an article is also far from being a debate. Of course characterizing Essa’s writing as an ‘article’ would be a complement; it is more an assemblage of random, half-baked thoughts masquerading as critique. It would be far more appropriate to characterize it as a troll – lacking any meaningful engagement with the subject, but rather intended for shock and inflammatory value, or to elicit a reaction. In fact the response he refers to with such pride outdoes his original article in puerility.

These trolls allow Essa to hide behind his screeds and screens like a coward – sniping behind cover – allowing him to operate within his own comfort zone and attempting to control, direct and dominate the discourse – too scared to subject his ideas to public scrutiny. Most cowards hide behind a false mask of arrogance. But unlike us all who lead a lumpen existence, Essa has ‘moved on to more important things’ – just like a sniper who does the necessary damage and moves on to a new target. But unlike Essa we take our struggles for human rights seriously and don’t allow hacks to escape so easily. We expect the responsibility that comes with being a critic to publicly defend his/her criticism. At a minimum we expect the responsibility of journalism. How is this quote from the Essa Manual of Journalism:

If BDS-SA want to meet and help us understand their position, we are available to talk. They have a direct line to our staff and they have also been offered right of reply

I would imagine the responsibility of a writer is to ensure accuracy, fairness and an understanding or appreciation of alternate viewpoints, particular of those who are the subject of your writing – and to express them. This would entail getting the alternate viewpoint prior to publication. To put the onus on the subject, rather than the writer to present an accurate picture is a perversion of journalistic principles. But then I do not claim to be a journalist.

More importantly for me however is that Essa’s attack does not only target BDS-SA, but bears reference to other activists involved in other human rights work – who have had to fend off criticism not dissimilar to Essa’s. The labels of ‘career-activists’ and/or ‘middle-class activists’ have been attached to many of them by no less unsavory characters as Rhoda Kadalie. Essa find himself in good company.

Essa’s foolishness, it seems, knows no bounds as it manifests in this delusionary statement:

But knowing there were many questions: I then went on to write a response to the comments/criticism/questions…

As far as I am concerned, I have already addressed most of the points that Shuaib brought up in his piece – even before he brought them up – because they were issues raised by others already. So to have a debate now will only be an attempt to satiate the trolls – who are hardly interested in real debate – as evidenced above. It is not something I will amend my schedule for.

Essa of course is interested ‘in real debate’ and credits himself to answering most of my points even before I brought them up. This of course is a claim to superior intelligence. The truth is that my response to him was written precisely because his follow up troll was more inane and silly than his original piece. For the record he did not adequately address a single point that I had raised.

I have often wondered whether comedy and serious writing can mix; Essa is good at neither and even worse when he mixes them up. It is time to expose the emperor’s nudity as a public service based on that famous quote:

‘When you are dead, you do not know you are dead. It’s only painful and difficult for others. The same applies when you are stupid’.

In curtailing his other annoying characteristic he should remember that telling Arabic proverb: ‘arrogance is a weed that grows mostly on a dunghill’.

Shuaib Manjra

6 September 2015