A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

A Look At The Intractable Facts

I am really beginning to be appalled at the unbelievable Islamophobia over on Conservative blogs. It is taking on both epic and delusional proportions. The vision of hordes of Jihadis seems to be an endless nightmare that my friends cannot wake up from.

The real situation is bad enough. We are making and training a whole new generation of enemies over in Iraq to replace Al Queda and Osama Bin Laden. And, no matter how our involvement there finally shakes out, whether the place becomes a showpiece of democracy, a whirlpool of civil and ethnic war, or an endless dripping of American blood for years, maybe decades to come, that new generation, angry at us beyond measure, well trained in the use of explosives, and convinced that Islam sanctions their violence, will be there to haunt us, perhaps for the rest of my life.

But this is still an infinitesimal fraction of the Muslim world. Even among the Palestinians, who have lived with grievance, draconian rule, and casual revenge for almost 40 years now, the active terrorists are still a minority.

But the Conservative fantasy world deepens. The members of it even do things like invite weighty Professors of Classical Islam from Israel onto their blogs to republish dense and footnoted articles about the persistence of Jihad as an Islamic religious theme. The professors then come to conclusions such as these:
One of the great cultural tendencies of the Islamic world is to view the world through the prism of the paradigms of classical Islam, much in the same way that someone raised in a strict Protestant tradition views people or events through Biblical archetypes, and speaks of contemporary figures as being second Jezebels, Herods, Judases and so forth. Thus, for the devout Muslim viewing the world through the prism of the classical tradition, America becomes the second 'Ad of the Qur'an, an arrogant and godless people doomed to destruction; the Western forces in 'Iraq become the Crusaders; and so forth. Any state peopled largely by Christians, therefore, however secular the state and however nominal the Christians, corresponds to the "Rome" of the classical Sunni tradition in the eyes of the volunteer Jihadist drawing his inspiration from the early Sunni sources.

This professor's academic pedigree is impeccable, his knowledge of Classical Islam quite deep and broad, his tone is weighty, and his diligence self-evident. But when he claims to know what are the exclusive views of "the devout Muslim" of our time, he is simply talking through his hat.

Nobody knows this. And nobody can know this. There are simply too many devout Muslims to ask them all.

And the professor draws these blanket conclusions from conditions in the Muslim world ca. 722 CE, barely one hundred years after Muhammed's revelation!

The Muslim world, even when it lives with us in the same country, is foreign and inscrutable, many of the women wear unusual clothes, at which we stare, their holy book is penned in an exotic language which we cannot read, and the social constraints of belonging to the religion make many of its members shy about sharing their vision of the inner life. This is what makes blanket statements like the above look plausible.

But all we have to do is transfer the logic to our Christian history to see how absurd it is. Martin Luther nailed up his 95 theses in 1517. Despite the schism of Henry VIII of England, which was earlier, Luther's act is essentially the start of modern Protestantism. One hundred years later came the start of the Thirty Years War, which cemented the alignment of political states to dominant conflicting religious beliefs in Europe.

We do not hear most of the devout Protestants among us rending the air with cries of, "No Popery!" Theological differences remain, and even some overt hostility to Rome among the more farouche of our Evangelicals, but conditions here are hardly those of 1618.

Nor do conditions or attitudes of Christians toward the world 100 years after the nominal birth of Christ bear a great deal of resemblance to their attitudes toward our contemporary world. Emperor Domitian had ordered Christian persecutions seven years earlier, Rome had recently banned human sacrifice throughout the Empire, the earliest gospel manuscript [John] was still seventeen years away, and Christmas would not be declared a religious holiday until thirty-five years later.

There are a few Christians who claim that there is a persecution in the United States which is equivalent to the persecution of Rome, but no one with any sense, Christian or not, takes them seriously. Persecution is not the same thing as verbal disagreement or social discomfort, which is the maximum any Christian has to face in the Land of Free and Home of the Brave.

And even if we look at the matter from the vantage point of where Christianity stood in 722, the foolishness of the professor's statement becomes manifest. The authority of the Pope was acknowledged and was sheltered under the wing of the Byzantine Emperor, there were recent evangelical ministries to the wild pagan lands of Holland, Denmark, Frisia, and Saxony. Moravia, Norway, Sweden, Russia, Hungary, and Serbia were still ruled by pagan kings and would not be converted until far in the future, and the Great Schism between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church was 300 years ahead.

So how does the professor view our own day? Thus:
There is no question that Islamic triumphalism is the greatest danger to civilization in the world today, and I can well understand your worries and fear, which are, alas! all too prescient. Unfortunately, it would take a radical change in European outlook and mentality to keep Europe from falling within the next 50 years or so...Until the West begins to pay attention to what Muslims are saying in Arabic, Persian and Urdu, rather than what their apologists spout forth for foreign consumption, we will continue to be in the situation of England under Chamberlain. Let us hope that our political leadership wakes up before it is too late...

Good Grief! Undoubtedly there is stuff being written in Arabic, Persian, and Urdu which I would not like, but I'm not too enthused about James Dobson, Pat Robertson, and David Limbaugh either. You pays your money, you takes your choice.

Moreover the flaccid and tired analogy to Chamberlian and Munich is becoming annoying and disgusting in its repetitiveness. No one is "appeasing" terrorism and there is no particular individual to appease. There is no Furher with a nation state and armies at his command.

The situation as we have it is totally unprecedented. The numbers of terrorists [or Islamofascist Jihadis, if you prefer it] is inevitably quite small, widely diversified, and non-hierarchical--large conspiracies simply cannot be undertaken under the nose of modern security and police forces, and they were darn difficult even under the old ones, as the European Resistance proved in World War II.

In terms of numbers and incidents, our situation is no different than in the past, such as the anarchist bombings of early 20th century Europe. What is different is that the growing interconnection of the world, which gives a small group of conspirators far greater reach, and the capacity to do far more damage.

So, professor, if the devout are all Jihadis, you want world leaders to wake up and do what? Forbid Muslims to worship? Ban the construction of Mosques? Force convert them to Christianity? Force convert them to secularism?

I really do wonder where my good friends put the part of themselves that balances their checkbooks, gets the oil changed in their auto, or buys a new winter coat when they discuss this issue. All it takes to form a realistic attitude is a little dose of that kind of common sense confronting the actual facts of this world rather than the world in 722 CE--a little common sense and a willingness not to toy with self-induced Islamophobia. So let's look at some facts.

The nearest thing we can get a glimpse of a collective sense of devout Islam, would roughly correspond to this:

The overwhelming majority of Muslim students unequivocally condemn the [July 7th] London attacks, with only 4% failing to do so. On suspecting someone is going to carry out a terrorist attack, almost three-quarters of our respondents said they would immediately go to the police, and of the remainder, 48% said they would do so after trying to first talk the person out of it. 9% of those who would not inform the police, felt they could not go to the police because they couldn't trust them or they feared them.
This is from the recent British publication, The Muslim Student Survey, Voice of Muslim Students. But I doubt my good Conservative friends are listening. They are mostly drunk with their own rhetoric about Muslims in Europe and the United States being The Enemy Within.

Now my Islamophobic friends would not be that important but for one thing. If we are going to manage our terrorism problem, we will need the cooperation of the 96% that don't approve of these things.

Calling them The Enemy Within does not help. Islamophobia does not help. These statistics are malleable facts. Depending on how the British government treats the 96% who do condemn the attacks that percentage could fall dramatically. If mere Islamophobia drives that treatment, the percentage will fall dramatically. As will the trust in and cooperation with authorities who are trying to prevent terrorist attack. No amount of "waking up" will repair that trust and regain that cooperation if they are lost.

From the malleable facts we can now turn to the intractable facts:

This is the Muslim world. Everywhere that is colored green, Islam either predominates or is a significant plurality. Iraq is a small postage stamp in that large Muslim world. The territory patrolled by American troops there is far smaller. And the "Green Zone" of relative safety from insurgent attack is even smaller yet.

But this is how my conservative friends feel about it:

This is why we're trying to drain the swamp of terrorism at the source - because there is just too much risk to ourselves here at home if we don't. We must, and I believe we will, clean up our own society - rediscover moral truth and start instructing our young in it, but that will not happen over night and meanwhile we've got millions of pieces of tinder here at home which can go right up in flames if we don't take away the matches...in this case, Islamo-fascists who prey upon hopeless youths from affluent backgrounds who want a mission in life.

I kid you not. Not only do some of them appear to believe in some nebulous "central headquarters" of terrorism in the little postage stamp of Iraq on the map above, they actually entertain the real possibility that "millions" of our youth are likely to convert to Islam and then become Jihadis!

This level of Islamophobic paranoia simply takes my breath away.

So what are we going to "wake up" and do about that big green chunk of the world, professor? Occupy all of it with an army? Occupy only the relevant parts [i.e. the oil fields] and stay under siege. Terminate airline service to all countries with a significant patch of green on them? Refuse to trade with them? What?

We not only need the cooperation of the 96% of Muslims who condemn terrorism at home, we need the cooperation, directly or indirectly, of a like percentage of the Islamics throughout that entire green zone. Are we likely to get it by making up fairy stories that all followers of the Prophet are inherently dangerous Jihadis? I don't think so.

Now let's consider some more intractable facts, closer to home.

There are 44 million Muslims in Europe as a whole, 1 million in Spain, 1.5 million in the UK, just less than 1 million in Italy, just less than 1 million in the Netherlands, 350 thousand in Belgium, 3 million in Germany, and 4.5 million in France . There are also 656 thousand in Canada, 300 thousand in Australia, and 4.1 million in the United States.

So, somewhere around 50 million Muslims and all The Enemy Within? all Jihadis? So now what do we do? There is only one logical answer to that question and it has never been tried on a scale of 50 million people. The general drift of this solution is not without precedent in European history. Stalin's re-arrangement of Eastern European populations after World War II comes immediately to mind. As do several far uglier ones. I don't need to name them. But the precedents are not comfortable ones and certainly following them to any length would be a tremendous inconvenience.

But this is the logical extention of the Conservative Islamofascist nightmare.

They are the ones who need to wake up.


Anonymous the anchoress said...

I don't think it's all "islamophobia."

I mean, heck, we're quite happy with the millions of Islamists who have been freed in the past couple years from oppression and tyranny...we're encouraging more Muslims to break free of their tyrants and foment democracy.

We just don't like the islamofascists - the ones who want us to be them or die...and they ARE out there. Even avowed leftists like Hitchens and Fallaci acknowledge it!

12:39 AM  
Blogger Joseph Marshall said...

All true. And there are even large segments of Muslim thought in places like Saudi and Iran that give a religious basis for hostility to the West.

But if you read the stuff over at Alexandra's, including the erudite Professor, its clear purpose is to establish that dynamic aggression toward other beliefs is something inherent in the doctrine itself. The conclusion of this is quite clear Muslim = Islamofascist.

The members of our government, whatever I may think about them or their policies, cannot sustain such a view, because they are in intimate contact with the genuine human beings who are Muslim and get to see the variety of attitudes personally. But many of our Internet friends can.

Generally speaking, we do not know them personally. The Muslims in our midst are quite shy. Under the circumstances, wouldn't you be? We forget how used we are to freedom. They also come from cultures that do not have our Anglo/American social forwardness and aggression, which is precisely the wrong approach to get to know them.

I personally have found that this requires gentle ceremony, an absolute lack of a single hint of brusqueness or haste, and an openness to listening about a broad range of things before the things you personally are interested in emerge.

When you look at the gentleman I have quoted from Blogs For Bush you can easily see that this is hardly the spirit in which he approaches the problem. And this fact is leading him to patently ridiculous fears. Mass Muslim conversions of American young? Give me a break!

Moreover, the Muslim = Islamofascist equasion is an easy way to avoid the issue of how much American policies over the past 50 years have been percieved by even the Muslims least inclined to fight anybody as being hostile to the Muslim world.

It is not to my purpose to question these policies for their correctness, but it is ludicrous to suppose that the things we have done, and the actions of the countries we have supported, have made us no quite rational enemies, annoyed at us for real reasons beyond what they may read in, or into, the Koran.

I would point out that the Professor is Israeli, and, whether consciously or not, that influences his willingness to look to policies and actions outside the Muslim world as at least a partial cause for Muslim anger.

Muslim = Islamofascist is a very easy way to avoid looking there.

6:39 AM  
Blogger Michael B said...

I read this with some interest because, variously and at different times, have thought along the same lines, at least in the sense of searching for warranted cautions or correctives vis-a-vis some of the prevailing analyses. However, in the end, I view your post as a generalized, warranted caution, one to keep in mind, but nonetheless insufficiently anchored imo.

For one, it's far too reliant upon assumptions, umbrage, even some harangue and putative statements of fact. You're "appalled," the "epic and delusional proportions," the too confident assertion that "We are making and training a whole new generation of enemies," the current situation is "totally unprecedented" (some factors are unprecedented, but by no means the totality). Also allusions to the "conservative fantasy world," and the far too facile analogy with the history of Christianity. (I.e., they're both religions and have both reflected variously motivated periods of violence within their histories, ergo they're equivalent or virtually so? Perhaps, but it's a sweeping generalization and assertion and not terribly convincing as such.) Or this statement: "There are a few Christians who claim that there is a persecution in the United States which is equivalent to the persecution of Rome ...". There are? Who? There are certainly anti-Christian interests and initiatives of various degrees and variously debated, but serious comparisons to the Rome of antiquity?

Further still, immediately prior to: "... the flaccid and tired analogy to Chamberlian and Munich ...", the following tired analogy or equivocation is asserted: "Good Grief! Undoubtedly there is stuff being written in Arabic, Persian, and Urdu which I would not like, but I'm not too enthused about James Dobson, Pat Robertson, and David Limbaugh either." and dismissed with "You pays your money, you takes your choice." This too is a sweeping generalization, along with being a flaccid and tired analogy.

An additional simplifying look at those who fit the critique is likewise unconvincing: "The Muslim world, even when it lives with us in the same country, is foreign and inscrutable, many of the women wear unusual clothes, at which we stare, their holy book is penned in an exotic language which we cannot read, and the social constraints of belonging to the religion make many of its members shy about sharing their vision of the inner life. This is what makes blanket statements like the above look plausible." I don't believe it's anywhere close to being that simple, there are other far more salient realities people are concerned with, realities very much unrelated to what a Dobson or Robertson might, by analogy, promulgate.

Strong intuitions and convictions are present, but if they are more substantial it's not apparent. If better worked out and better anchored in historical/empirical references I suspect warranted cautions and even fuller correctives are worthy of review, but I don't see the details worked out here. I see a yellow flag of caution which - perhaps - supports some intuitions, but no definitive or ultimately convincing red flags.

4:42 PM  
Blogger Joseph Marshall said...

Well, assumptions, umbrage, harangue and putative statements of fact 'r' us. I make no claim to evenhanded treatment, first and foremost because I don't think it exists, and I also think that attempts to create it say very little in a very judicious way. I write to be read, not to achieve consensus.

Much of what you point out is quite true. But this is a political blog post and not an attempt at olympian comprehensiveness of analysis.

I frankly write long because I think in sentences. So I trim the logical development of some assertions which are not part of my main thread of argument, but do give contest. For example:

"We are making and training a whole new generation of enemies,"

I think there is perfectly sufficient evidence of this out there if you connect the dots. Osama cut his teeth fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan.

About a third of the fighters in Iraq are from elsewhere--they have no business there but to kill Americans. Their tactics are precisely the time tested means of ordinary, unspectacular terrorism--variations on using explosives.

They are getting lots of practice, mostly because we have given them lots of targets, and, sooner or later, a good many of them will leave Iraq very well experienced in blowing people up.

They are the people we really need to worry about and they are names we do not know. You might quibble over whether they are a "generation" or not, but it is a quibble.

However, would my post have made my central point any more clearly with following this out as I have done above? I don't think so.

I write in declarative sentences and I usually don't bother to qualify them with "I think" merely to cultivate an appearance of judicious evenhandednes. This bothers some people: How dare he say such things without qualification!

But if you consider it a moment, if I didn't think it, I wouldn't write it. Why bother with the reduncancy?

Finally, a good starting point for the "persecution" nonsense is David Limbaugh's book, Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War Against Christianity. Or you can go check out his website.

I think he takes his own hyperbole seriously and means what he says when he writes "persecution" and "war". But I don't take it seriously. And I am perfectly willing to lampoon the point of view, without having to exhaustively catalog who holds it.

Oh, and by the way, thanks for stopping by.

7:01 PM  
Blogger Michael B said...

Well, don't be offended. I took the time to read it a couple of times and respond at length because, intuitively I have been thinking along the same lines myself. So accept it as an earnest appreciation on an intuitive level and critique on a more specific level.

9:46 PM  
Blogger Joseph Marshall said...

My dear fellow, I am not offended in the least. And I am sorry I give that impression. Please always feel free to stop by and comment. Check out the Anchoress' blog, too.

She and I are great friends, despite the fact that we disagree totally on 9 of every 10 political issues, and sometimes disagree quite sharply.

And I do appreciate the substance of your previous comment, however sharp my response may have appeared.

12:09 AM  
Blogger Michael B said...

Final post in this thread. Yes, I've been an occasional reader of The Anchoress already and have added your blog to my bookmarks. Please understand, I was not patronizing in the least, was only unsure how I communicated (subtleties of meaning and expression often don't communicate well on the page, at least in my own case) and was attempting to clarify my intent, so perhaps I was merely conveying my own insecurities in that vein. Thanks.

1:32 PM  

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