Divided We Fall

The worst case scenario is upon us. The unthinkable has happened. The event that was scoffed at and dismissed and barely entertained by the media and the political establishment alike has come to pass.

But the world hasn’t ended, at least not yet. A lot of damage is going to be done to the world and the country in the next few years, but so long as the left in general and the Democratic party in particular take the right steps in resisting the new administration, much of this debacle can be halted and in time, reversed.

This is my seven point plan to resist the Trump administration on every front, and lay the groundwork for a counter attack that will stop something like this from happening again.

Step 1Learn from the blunders of 2016. The year leading up to Trump’s election was characterized by catastrophic strategic mistakes on the part of the Democrats. 2016 should have been the year that the Republicans and their shrinking voter base were buried for good. instead, the exact opposite happened. The Democrats, rather than voting for a candidate who ran an issues based campaign and who had massive populist appeal, decided to nominate a candidate with no populist appeal, who ran an identity based campaign that alienated huge swaths of americans, including key elements of the the demographic (women) that her campaign was designed to secure.

That absolutely cannot happen again. The old democratic leaders of the Obama years need to be left behind in favor of candidates who speak to the issues americans actually care about, and have records as advocates on those issues. We can afford no more compromised, establishment candidates in elections to come. We must answer right wing populism with left wing populism.

Step 2Focus on concrete, definable issues, not ideological or imagined ones. As we speak, Donald Trump is loudly and proudly violating the Constitution of United States. Police have arrested reporters purely because they reported on anti Trump demonstrations. The White House issued declarations making it illegal for government agencies to share their findings with the very tax payers who are funding those agencies. Green card and dual citizenship holding people are being barred from entering the country. His administration is engaging boldly and openly in illegal activity that is already, and will undoubtedly continue to be, laying the groundwork for his impeachment.

These are the things Democratic leaders need to focus on in their criticisms of Trump. We don’t need to decry the involvement of Russian hackers in the 2016 election. We don’t need to lament Trump’s antics on Twitter. We don’t need to make the political resistance to Trump center around his sexism, or his racism, or his unsettlingly public attraction to his own daughter. Troubling though all of those things are, they are not measurable, legal, political sticking points that can be used to stop his plans from moving forward. They are esoteric, ideological, moral issues that are clearly not capable of compelling voters to stand up to this man, as the 2016 election made starkly clear.

Step 3Drop the feel good platitudes, and get angry. If there is one thing that this past election proved beyond a shadow of a doubt, it is that love does not, in fact, trump hate. Hate and fear are extremely effective motivators both for driving people to vote and for spreading awareness of key issues, and the data proves this. If we are going to stop Trump and the Republicans, we need to stop telling ourselves that everything is going to be okay. Everything is absolutely not going to be okay, unless we fight tooth and nail to make it so. Unless we get angry. Unless we allow ourselves to truly hate the people that are trampling on our democracy, that are dismantling everything that made this country great. We need to motivate ourselves to get involved in the most consistent, realest way possible, and we need to give no quarter now that the fight has begun.

Step 4: When they go low, we need to go even lower. Refusal to lower ourselves to the moral and tactical level of our enemies is the central reason that President Obama failed so severely in getting a progress agenda moving during his eight years in office. He had the same majority that Trump now shares for his first two years, and in one week Trump has already done more damage to progressivism than Obama did to conservatism in his entire eight year term as president.

That’s because Obama didn’t want to damage conservatism. Obama, bless his heart, wanted to work with conservatives and meet them halfway. He wanted to genuinely heal this country’s cultural and philosophical divide. He refused to accept the fact that these people had no interest at all in working with him. These people are the kind of people who will deny health insurance to millions of their own constituents rather than lose any political face or give up an ounce of their power.

Democratic legislators need to take a leaf out of their opponent’s tactical book. They need to obstruct Trump on every single issue they can, just as the republicans did to Obama. They need to stop concerning themselves with the moral or ethical cost of such behavior. They need to dig in, and in two years when the Senate (god willing) returns to the democrats, they need to do everything they can to bring Trump’s machine to a grinding halt. By giving even a little bit of ground, by allowing anything palatable that Trump proposes through the legislature, they run the risk of this man winning re election, which is an outcome too dire to even contemplate.

Step 5: Speaking of midterms, we need to start voting in them. Americans have embarrassingly low voter turnout when compared to other democratic countries, and turnout drops to lower and lower numbers every rung down towards local government you go. Congressional elections have comparatively low turnout despite the fact that they are arguably the most important elections that occur in this country, and in two years when a huge swath of our legislature is up for grabs, we absolutely need to show up and vote out our incumbents. The only way that there is even a sliver of hope to reverse the damage Trump will inevitably do is if we vote out the Republican legislature. This is arguably the most important step on this list.

Step 6: Don’t just sign that petition. Don’t just go to to that march. Call. Calling legislators is far and away the most effective way for constituents to actually get the attention of their representatives, and the best way that we can get our legislators to follow step 4 on this list is to call them and tell them to do so. It’s as simple as that.

Step 7: Avoid infighting. Unity is absolutely essential in going forward. The only way we can stop Trump is if we spend our energy standing together fighting him, rather than breaking into factions and fighting amongst each other. This problem has plagued the Left since time immemorial, and it’s one of the major contributing factors in why Hillary Clinton lost.

Sanders voters can blame people who voted for a candidate as unprecedentedly unpopular as Clinton in the primary. Clinton voters can blame Sanders voters who didn’t show up for her in the general. People of color can blame white people for allowing privilege to dictate their vote. Women can blame men for the same thing. The list goes on.

All of these points are valid, and all of them are completely counterproductive right now. Everyone who has something to lose in Trump’s america needs to stop arguing over who has the most to lose, and start preventing that loss in its entirety. We need to stand up for each other, and protect one another from the loss of our rights, no matter what intersection we might meet at.

Black, white, Muslim, secular, female, male, gay, trans. This country belongs to all of us, and only by standing firmly together and fighting as one can we take it back from the fascists who, even as I type this, are enacting a political agenda designed to take away the rights of millions of American citizens.

United we stand, divided we fall.

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The Dangerous and Divisive Identity Politics of Hillary Rodham Clinton

The 2016 Democratic presidential primaries have been characterized by an uncommonly stringent level of partisan politicking. While the candidates themselves have been nothing but civil with one another and have not resorted to the kind of childish antics and blatant dishonesty that define their republican counterparts (excepting, perhaps, the ludicrous moment in which Clinton referred to her very well documented corporate ties as an “artful slur” by the Sanders campaign), their supporters have not maintained such civility. Whether its the condescending characterization of Sander’s base as a horde of ignorant, sexist “Bernie Bros,” or the repeated characterization of Clinton’s base as a group of gullible sheep dancing eagerly to the tune of the washington establishment, Democrats are at each other’s throats to an unprecedented degree.

To understand why this has happened, one need look no further than the campaigns themselves. The Sanders campaign and the Clinton campaign have been running a hugely different race from the very beginning of the election season. Sanders, at the time of his run announcement, was the textbook definition of an unknown, while Clinton has been looked upon for at least the last two years as the inevitable nominee. As a result, Sanders has been running a vocal and prolific campaign based on matching his nigh unimpeachably liberal record up against Clinton’s more questionable one, whereas the Clinton campaign has relied on name recognition and the overt endorsement of the Democratic party establishment.

From the start, Clinton has had a stranglehold on certain demographics (such as voters over the age of 50), while Sanders has held similar primacy in others (such as voters under the age of 30). And if there’s one lesson that Clinton learned from her loss to Barack Obama, it’s that one shouldn’t underestimate the youth vote, especially when the candidate they support is one with an unprecedented level of populist enthusiasm.

And so the Clinton camp has, in the wake of the upsets in Iowa and New Hampshire, embarked on an embarrassingly transparent campaign of identity politics aimed at dividing younger, more socially conscious voters along lines of race, sexual orientation, and most of all, gender.

It began with the controversial endorsement of the Human Rights Campaign, a move that garnered skepticism, disbelief, and scrutiny in light of the fact that Clinton was an on-the-record opponent of gay marriage until very late in the game.

Then came the Planned Parenthood endorsement. Clinton’s endorsement by PP was more appropriate, given that reproductive rights is one of the only issues that Clinton has been consistent on, but it was no less calculated than the HRC.

And finally, shortly before the South Carolina primary (which Clinton won in a landslide to nobody’s surprise), the Congressional Black Caucus came out in support of Clinton even as former NAACP leaders and the family members of police brutality victims were coming endorsing Sanders.

If we lived in a world where people and organizations endorsed who ever they wanted because of what they truly believed, these endorsements would have never occurred. One doesn’t have to think too hard to see how nonsensical it is for  the foremost gay rights organization in America to endorse a candidate who was once a vocal opponent of gay rights, or for the congressional Black Caucus to endorse a candidate who was funded by the prison industrial complex until extremely recently.

But we don’t live in that world. And in our current political system, one that is so transparently corrupt that said corruption has been by far the central issue of this election, these endorsements can be seen for what they really are.

The simple fact is that in every demographic under 50, Clinton has either been trailing from the start, or has begun to lose serious ground since Sanders walked into the spotlight. And these endorsements are the first wave in a round of razor sharp identity politics aimed at snatching some of those demographics back.

And so far, the results have been mixed. The clumsy attempts by Clinton mouthpieces such as Gloria Steinem and Lena Dunham to appeal to female millenials by co opting feminism have been met with skepticism and derision. Push polling of hispanic voters (among other so called “dirty tricks”) in Nevada by using immigration based scare tactics have been identified and called out. Perhaps the transparency of these tactics is what led her to barely eek out a victory in a state she once held by double digits.

In the lead up to South Carolina, in a bid to simultaneously shore up the black vote and win the social media war that she has been losing with embarrassing regularity, she hired acclaimed news personality Zerlina Maxwell, a woman who personifies the perfect intersection of all the demographics that Clinton is failing to win, or failing to maintain her grip on. The social media war is still being lost, but she enjoyed a devastating win in South Carolina.

So why are these tactics so dangerous, so divisive? How has this strategy created such a toxic, unforgiving political landscape on the left?

Because of how it’s being done, and why it’s being enacted.

When Clinton was a teenager, this country was going through a political watershed. The “Solid South” had been a reliably democratic stronghold of votes for as long as anyone could remember, and with the cultural and electoral tide turning against the republican party, it soon seemed as though they wouldn’t have any base at all within a few election cycles. They were losing because they were the worse of two parties, and they knew it. So what did they do?

They did exactly what Clinton is doing now. They appealed to identity. They condemned the civil rights movement and spoke out against desegregation, and a voting base that had every economic and political incentive to vote democrat voted republican instead, and has done so ever since. All because of identity based prejudice.

What the republicans did back then, and what Clinton is doing now, is saying in no unsubtle terms that if you belong to a certain group, you’re voting against your interests if you vote against me. Back during the civil rights era, it was “vote democrat, vote for the rights of black people,” which was something that the deeply racist white southern voting block could not abide.

Now we’re seeing a bevy of liberal equivalents to precisely that prejudicial narrative.

Planned Parenthood’s endorsement of Clinton (the only time PP has ever endorsed a presidential candidate, by the way) was an overt statement to women. “If you vote against Clinton, you’re voting against your reproductive rights.” Never mind the fact that Sanders has fought for reproductive rights for even longer than Clinton has.

HRC’s endorsement was a similar challenge to gay americans. “If you vote against Clinton, you’re voting against your rights, and betraying the gay american struggle.” Never mind that Sanders was speaking out for gay rights decades ago, while Clinton opposed gay rights until barely a decade ago.

The Congressional Black Caucus’s endorsement said to black americans “if you vote against Clinton, you’re voting for police brutality and the unfair incarceration of your brothers and sons and fathers.” Never mind that Sanders has been speaking out against police brutality and the prison industrial complex for years while Clinton was taking money from the people who make their livings off of putting innocent black men in prison until it was politically expedient not to do so.

And it isn’t just the moral odiousness of such a tactic that should alarm Democratic voters. It’s the implications of what this will do to the party if it succeeds. If Clinton wins the nomination despite the increasingly apparent fact that the majority of Democrats (and Americans in general, for that matter) either don’t want her, or are simply so cynical that they believe she is their only choice, it will be a  coup of the most sinister sort. It will be a nail in the coffin of the idea that democracy actually functions in this country. It will be a clear indication that, just like the Republican base that votes repeatedly for candidates who betray their interests, Democrats are willing to blindly vote for a candidate who was betrayed their interests repeatedly, just because they’re being told to by people they should know better than to trust.

What’s Gonna Happen After Iowa?

    Bobby Jindal dropped out of the race a few weeks ago and it garnered national attention.  The reporting of this event was pretty boilerplate, but the national scope of it was surprising.   Looking at the last poll to include him, a CBS/YouGov poll specifically on the Iowa caucus, he was polling at two percent, which is ahead of, or tied with, Rick Santorum, George Pataki, Lindsey Graham, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, John Kasich, and Mike Huckabee.  In fact, Jindal was averaging four percent in Iowa when he announced the suspension of his campaign, with only four candidates polling outside of 1% difference above him.  Most stories had no mention of campaign fundraising, but even if they had, he had raised nearly $10 million dollars, enough to place him around the middle of the pack.  (It is worth noting that he raised less than Scott Walker and Rick Perry, who also had dropped out)  

    The conventional wisdom regarding primaries is, if it’s looking grim on the outside, it probably is much more grim on the inside.  Jindal, well in line with most expectations, never got off the ground as a frontrunner.  It is important to note, however, that this election cycle is dissimilar to every other we’ve seen this century.  Yes, we’ve had large primaries.  Yes, we’ve had outlandish, fringe candidates jump to an early lead.  But we’ve never seen a situation like this; we have a large primary and an outlandish fringe candidate, but this time that fringe candidate has no need of large contributions to keep him beholden to his party’s establishment.  At the same time the  establishment has picked two candidates that have both floundered to the point where one has already dropped out (Jeb! and Scott Walker).  Any pundit or political mind worth their salt has acknowledged that these circumstances  are unique, and I would argue that they challenge conventional primary wisdom.  

    Here’s a twist on conventional wisdom that isn’t particularly original, but bears repeating:  No Republican candidate should drop out before Iowa this year.  Most of the polling is of registered voters, not likely voters and so we in the politically savvy sphere should not view polling data as being trustworthy.  The establishment hates the top view candidates (Trump, Carson, Cruz) and so they are waiting on who to start throwing money at.  Once they do start, expect to see the game change in favor of that candidate.

That being said, consistently polling at 0 or 1 percent is not a good sign for the future.  

    It seems as though very few people are talking about what will happen after Iowa.  I’m not talking about New Hampshire or South Carolina.  I want to focus on the candidates and their position after Iowa.  I don’t want to speculate about results or tons of potential outcomes, but this exercise requires me to, at least to a small degree.  So, for the sake of argument, we look at the current polling averages to see what we can expect in February.  

    Trump and Carson look close to splitting the vote at the top, somewhere in the range of 20-25%, really big numbers for two people in this wide a field.  Cruz and Rubio, the risers in Iowa as of late, might stay around or a little above their averages of 15% and 11.5% respectively.  Fiorina, having plummeted (relatively) from her 10.5% in October down to 4.5% now, will probably continue to lose traction in the rural state.  She, in all likelihood, should stick around and see how she does in New Hampshire, so we won’t expect her to drop anytime soon.  Anything about her shifting resources will be kept quiet, as that is usually seen a bad sign, and she’ll make sure to spin anything above 2% as being quite the success for a Silicon Valley CEO in the farm belt.  Jeb! will put on a good face and his financial backing will keep him going, and similarly to Fiorina, he is an East coast governor with major establishment ties, so he won’t be counting on Iowa.  The lower tier of candidates are where we’ll see some drop out.  Santorum and Huckabee are supposed to win all of these sorts of states, and if they only garner >3% in Iowa, they’ll fold up shop.  Graham, Gilmore, Kasich, and Pataki may not have been seen as conservative social values candidates, but they can’t survive a really bad showing, so I don’t think they’ll survive. Paul and Christie are wild cards, they can survive not doing well in Iowa, but Christie is going to be on thinner ice after New Hampshire more than Iowa, so he’ll stay in.  Of all of those, I feel the least sure about Kasich.  At the same time, I picked him to be the nominee a month ago, even when I knew he was only slightly more charismatic than Scott Walker and a bit less charismatic than a stack of bricks.  

    Oof, that was not as short as I thought it would be.  However, where this leaves us is with 8 candidates going into New Hampshire.  Not only is that a manageable slate of candidates for a typical primary, but it significantly changes the dialogue and even the set of issues they will be debating.  I expect the tone to shift significantly, however short the period between Iowa and New Hampshire.  The rhetoric can easily become more divisive, as candidates learn where wedges between them are in voter’s minds.  

    Here’s where I see candidates shaping the policies debated (I’ll elaborate more in a bit):

 

  • Foreign policy, particularly military/anti-terrorism will be dominating the stage as is expected post-Paris.  Expect Trump’s bombast to have worn thin, or at least wane to the point where Paul, Cruz and (theoretically) Carson challenge him swiftly.  
  • Trade policy will be dominated by Fiorina, with Christie, Paul and Trump joining her to use it as an opening to attack the president and establishment Democrats.
  • Social issues (abortion, Planned Parenthood) look to be on the back burner, although the Planned Parenthood shootings and the movement to defund the program has forced it back towards the front.  
  • Social Security reform has been a lynchpin of Christie and Paul, although all of the candidates will be picking sides.  
  • Immigration may come up, and we should expect this to be a particularly divisive issue.  Trump has obviously been huge on this,but expect Jeb! to join in as his main challenger..  
  • Taxes/deficit reduction will be, of course, the biggest issue.  The candidates will tie this to the overall economy, so see all 8 weigh in on these parts.  

   

    I’ll skip social issues and Social Security.  Social issues are not only something that usually don’t dominate, especially after election results start to come in, they are not even salient issues for Republican primary voters, especially when the economy isn’t booming.  Given the shooting at the Planned Parenthood clinic recently, social issues are pushed forward.  The Planned Parenthood issue has now become a fiscal morality issue (What sort of values do we encourage based on discretionary spending).  Social Security, despite the prospect of an interesting general election debate that will be had, is also not enough to force the Republicans to take strong, specific stances.  I expect this will be big once the next round of candidates after New Hampshire/South Carolina drop out, but I only have seen one meaningful exchange on it.  If anyone talks, it’ll be Christie.  

    On the foreign and trade policy, Carson’s weakness on the subject has started showing and I expect Trump will start getting pushback on his weaknesses as well.  Stating his strong negotiating skills has gotten some push from Fiorina, but she’ll get stronger and louder if he keeps it up.  Jeb! can speak a bit better on some of it, but will be wary of wading too deep into it, as criticisms of his brother echo around his now spacious, but empty headquarters.  Chris Christie is the milder, smarter version of the Trump/Carson and for him to gain ground, look for him to push hard on giving strong, simple answers that sound eerily similar to Trump, just with a bit more polish and political savviness.  Paul will attempt to set himself apart, after all, this is why he had the clout to run.  His bold stances on foreign policy are radically different than most on the stage and, with fewer people crowding said stage, we’ll see him gain ground on this issue.  

    Taxes/deficit reduction is going to be an interesting debate amongst the candidates.  All have signed on to not raise taxes and all of their plans involve large cuts to taxes and stripping down entitlements.  Honestly, the biggest gain potential in this category is Cruz, whose extremely specific list of agencies and programs that he would cut seem to be the most detailed of all the candidates.  Expect gains for anyone who does something similar without stepping on Cruz’s toes.  

    Immigration is where the biggest issues and fighting will be and that is very simply due to Marco Rubio.  His involvement in bipartisan immigration reform has not come up in a debate in any real way and any candidate worth their salt is missing out on a couple far-right anti-immigrant points to bump their way.  Trump has not seemed super well versed on nuanced policy positions of his candidates (calling out Kasich multiple times for fracking leading to Ohio’s robust growth shows he doesn’t know anything else that would point to knowing Kasich’s policies that are weak).  Carson has refrained from attacking at any real time so far, and I weirdly expect that to stick.  Fiorina seems to not be too strong on immigration, so see her pivot to talking about economic implications of any plans.  Christie is not the person who will pull punches and perhaps this is where he grabs hold of something to go after someone in his spotlight.  Paul and Cruz are both strong, potentially, but on immigration, there is concern they may not be the strongest in the younger part of the party.  

    I know this seems a bit wonky and a bit more than what most would want to talk about, but it is vital to know what the upcoming issues will be.  Where candidates need to take a stance on the primaries will set how far they need to walk back to the center.     As I write for The Paine Report, I’ll be attempting to tie policy shifts in Congress, the White House and by candidates and frame them in a way that will affect not just the elections in which they’re taking place, but the impact going forward.  Sometimes I’ll write about Senate and House elections, but I’ll focus on the presidential race.  

Terrorism and Other Faith Based Activities

I started writing this article several days ago in the wake of the Planned Parenthood shooting that left three people dead. As I write now, we are less than a week out from a second shooting in California that left a lot more than three people dead. As I publish this piece today, the facts are still not all in.

I’m not here to rehash the tired gun control debate. At this point, it’s a debate in the same way that climate change is a debate. That is to say, everyone who hasn’t been taken in by the propaganda machine funded by the industries (The NRA and various oil companies) that stand to lose from comprehensive legislation on either front knows that climate change is caused by human activity just as well as they know that a country with an astronomically high number of fire arms in circulation is more likely to see people getting shot. More fossil fuels means more CO2, and more guns means more shootings. Discussion over.

What I am here to do is discuss a troubling trend that goes beyond anything as mundane as second amendment rights.

Something that has been brought up more and more often in the wake of mass shootings is the discrepancy in discussion, and this is something we’re likely to see more of in the comparison between the Planned Parenthood shooter, who was a white (probably christian) male, and the shooters in California, who were Pakistani muslims. White shooters are discussed in terms of their mental health, and muslims are discussed in terms of their religious motivations. This is the ubiquitous “mentally ill” vs “terrorist” designation, and it is a conversation that the USA needs to have.

But not just for the reasons you’re thinking. Of more immediate consequence than America’s discriminatory willingness to call muslim shooters terrorists and reluctance to call white christians the same is the fact that America has so many religiously motivated murderers in the first place. There are many who are pushing for the term “terrorism” to be applied to white conservative christian murderers the same way it is applied to middle eastern muslim murderers, and that’s a semantic that I very much agree with, but why stop at “terrorism?” I’ve always maintained that when discussing jihadist violence, we need to explicitly refer to it as Islamic terrorism, because it is horrific violence that is committed in the name of Islam, encouraged and mandated by certain segments of Islamic scripture. So when we speak about things like the Planned Parenthood shooting, we need to not just call it terrorism, which it undoubtedly is. We need to talk about where that terrorism comes from.

We need to talk about the fact that the man who killed three people a few days ago did so because he consumed the ludicrous falsehoods that the christian right has been putting forward about what exactly Planned Parenthood does. We need to talk about the fact that a horrifically high number of conservative christians expressed support for his actions. We need to be honest with ourselves as Americans and acknowledge that just as the muslim world has a Jihad problem, American has a conservative christianity problem. The fact that a Californian muslim couple pledged loyalty to ISIS before opening fire at a holiday party should inspire the same exact feelings of disgust and distaste for religious rhetoric as the fact that a christian man shouted “no more baby parts” before shooting three people outside of a women’s reproductive health provider. In California, people were killed by a muslim terrorist, and at that Planned Parenthood, people were killed by a Christian terrorist. There is no room for ambiguity.

As any student of history knows, this is not a new phenomenon. The methods may be more crude, but the conservative religious element in society is almost always the strongest resistor to positive societal change. Just as ISIS, the Islamic Republic, and the Wahhabi government of Saudi Arabia enforce brutal fundamentalist Islam in response to the proliferation of western ideas about human rights, conservative christianity in America is fighting back with every weapon at it’s disposal in an effort to stem the tide of societal progress that has been steadily marching forward for decades. Is it a coincidence that America’s first two terms with a black president have seen a sizable increase in white, christian terrorist attacks in America? Or that conservative christian rhetoric against gay rights, women’s rights, and transgender rights has reached a fever pitch? There is a direct correlation between the downright inflammatory rhetoric of the conservative christian right and this outpouring of conservative christian terrorism.

There is no philosophical difference between a man who commits violence because he opposes a women’s right to access abortion, and a man who commits violence because he opposes a women’s right to wear her hair uncovered. Islamic terrorism and Christian terrorism may wear different masks and may utilize different methods, but they are nothing but sides of the same odious coin. Religious fundamentalism is the largest, most heinously evil opponent that the world and it’s hope for a progressive future face right now. it doesn’t matter whether that fundamentalism wears a cross or a crescent. It is up to us as Americans to stand against such backwardness, and hold fast to liberal values in the face of religious oppression.

Islam, Regressivism, and a Call to Sanity Part 2: The Refugees

It’s been a week to the day since the Paris attacks, and just as I predicted, the conversation has devolved into a ridiculous shouting match between liberals with their heads buried firmly in the sand and conservatives more eager than ever to see a suicide bomber around ever corner.

I’m not going to discuss the conservative response here because I don’t believe it needs discussing. It’s the discourse equivalent of the lowest of low hanging fruits, the same tired hypocrisy: a group of people who use Christianity to justify intolerant, misogynistic, homophobic behavior want to keep Muslims out of this country because of  a group of people who use Islam to justify misogynistic, intolerant, and oftentimes murderous behavior. The hypocrisy of the christian right being the only political group in this country that is standing up to the threat of political Islam is something I’d like to talk more about, but it is not the central point of this article.

The point of this article is to critique the other side of the discussion, the side that too often seems to believe itself beyond reasonable criticism. I’m talking about the political left, specifically the absolutely ridiculous lengths that the left is going to in order to feed the see-no-evil, anti “islamophobia” reaction that they always engage in after attacks like these. What makes this instance particularly important is the conspicuous presence of the Syrian and Iraqi refugees, and the logical gymnastics that the existence of this group is causing us as western liberals to engage in, whether it be in the news or on social media.

First, let’s break down the central arguments that the left is using. Based on what I’ve seen, they fall into three general categories:

  1. What I like to call the #NotAllMuslims defense. This is the instinctive response when Islamic terrorism occurs and is reported on to immediately point out, loudly and repeatedly, that Not All Muslims are terrorists. This one happens like clockwork every time Islamic terrorism strikes, and serves roughly the same function as the #AllLivesMatter or #NotAllMen hashtags that trended this past year. But more on that later.
  2. The False Equivalency. This is a favorite of mine since I consider myself a student of history, and the false equivalency relies entirely on the reader/viewer not knowing a blessed thing about the historical equivalencies that are being utilized.
  3. And finally, a newcomer that we haven’t seen before, and unique to the refugee crisis, the popular “they’ll hate us more if we don’t let them in,” defense, also known as the “This is what ISIS wants” logical fallacy.

Before we get any further, I want everyone to be fully aware that despite the tone of this article, I am not at all opposed to allowing the refugees into the United States. I am actually very much for it. The point of this article is to pinpoint the right and wrong reasons why liberal Americans are for it, and how arriving at the right conclusion for the wrong reasons leaves you looking just as ignorant as the conservatives, who are arriving at the wrong conclusion for perhaps not the right reasons, but understandable ones. This article is meant to elevate the discourse going on right now, not ridicule it or shut it down, by demonstrating how important one’s justifications or lack thereof can be at a time like this.

Let’s start with number one. The Not All Muslims defense is a popular response to an argument that no one is making. It presupposes that there are large groups of politically relevant people in the world who genuinely believe that all Muslims are either terrorists, or have terrorist leaning tendencies.

Let’s be clear: when politicians, talking heads, or anybody says something to the effect of “the Muslims community needs to take responsibility for jihadi terrorism,” they aren’t saying that all Muslims are terrorists. Nobody of any consequence (that one incoherent Trump supporter doesn’t count) is saying that all Muslims are terrorists. They’re saying that the community as a whole needs to acknowledge that there is a problem within their religion, and that specific strides need to be taken from within the Muslim community to combat fundamentalism. It is unreasonable and illogical to suggest that the burden of combating fundamentalism in the Muslim world should fall to any group other than Muslims themselves.

How is the idea that the Islamic community needs to take responsibility for Islamic fundamentalist terrorism any different from the suggestion that American white people need take responsibility for racism, even if they themselves are not racist, or that men as a gender need to take responsibility for rape, even if they themselves are not rapists? It is no different, and it should not be a controversial idea.

And yet it is, and just as with the AllLivesMatter and NotAllMen arguments, this tactic is used to derail a discussion that we really, really need to be having. Nobody is suggesting that All Muslims are terrorists any more than feminists are suggesting that all men are rapists or BLM was suggesting that only black lives matter, or that black lives matter more than any one else’s. In all three instances, this argument is only brought up and only used when people feel threatened by an unfortunate but undeniable fact: That rape is a serious problem, that black people’s lives are devalued in this country, and that there is a serious, serious problem with religiously motivated terrorism in the global Islamic community.

Number two. This one has taken on many different forms, from the hilariously cherry picked “bad guys and good guys in every religion” list to my personal favorite, the native Americans and pilgrims/Americans = Syrian refugees fallacy. Those two are the ones I’ve decided to pick apart because they’re the ones that are the most historically tone deaf, but there are plenty more examples we just don’t have time to discuss today.

The bad guys vs good guys in every religion list is ludicrous because it represents a classic apples and oranges comparison, not to mention the fact that the specific examples reveal a historical ignorance so stunning as to be almost comical. The fact that Adolf Hitler was the best example of a “bad christian” that the author of the comic could come up with (especially when the “bad Muslim” is Osama Bin Laden, aka the father of modern jihadism) is the first clue that we don’t know what we’re talking about. Osama Bin Laden committed every single crime against humanity that he committed expressly in the name of his religion, Islam. For the comparison to hold up, we need a Christian who did the same thing. There are literally thousands of historical examples that could have been used that work way better than Hitler. Whether or not he even practiced Christianity is a matter of some historical debate, but one thing is certain: he killed absolutely no one in the name of Christianity.

And from there it just gets more ridiculous. Josef Stalin, a man who studied in orthodox seminary throughout his youth and who had a far more religious back ground than Hitler, is chosen as the bad atheist, and Malcolm X, a man who throughout his life repeatedly advocated for violence in the service of revolution, is chosen as the good Muslim. Whether or not you agree with Malcolm X (I actually do on a number of issues), the author of this piece is essentially saying “I literally couldn’t find a well known Muslim who didn’t advocate for violence, so I just chose the least violent one I knew about.” That’s laziness in the best instance and downright offensive in the worst.

And then there’s the native American/pilgrim equivalency. People all over social media are pointing out the hypocrisy that abounds when the descendants of European immigrants to north American want to bar middle Eastern refugees from entering the country.

What are we supposed to be getting from this? Historically speaking, A) that’s exactly what many of the natives actually did do. They fought tooth and nail to drive out the foreign invader, and they were massacred wholesale for it. And B) the comparison between European settler and Syrian refugee is even more off base. Are people suggesting that if the natives had just been nice to the settlers instead of turning them away, violence would have been avoided? Are they comparing genuine refugees of a war town middle eastern country with the invading, profit seeking colonists of early America? Either way, the message is incredibly unsettling, offensive, and inaccurate. And now we come to our final point.

Number three, arguably the most important segment of this article. Before I get into the meat of it, I want everybody reading this to do a short thought exercise. On a scale from 0 to 10, 0 meaning absolutely never and 10 meaning definitely yes, how likely are you to join ISIS or a similar Islamic fundamentalist militant group, and engage in religiously motivated violence on their behalf?

This shouldn’t be that difficult of an exercise. Everyone reading this should be thinking “easy, 0.”

Now, imagine you gave that exercise to someone and they answered any number other than 0. Even if they answered 1, which would imply that it’s highly unlikely but that given the right circumstances, there is a slight chance. Would you want that person anywhere near you or your family? Would you want that person in your country?

Every time someone, whether it’s President Obama or some random friend of yours on facebook, says “if we turn them away they’re more likely to join ISIS,” they’re admitting a belief that a significant portion of the refugees, when given that thought exercise, would answer a 1 or higher.

If they answered 0, then what is the risk of turning them away? if there’s no chance of them joining ISIS at all, ever, then why bother worrying? Why let them in? This is the destructive implication you are making when you use that argument.

By admitting this belief, we as liberals are essentially admitting a belief that a significant portion of Muslims are receptive to radicalization. And isn’t that a massively hypocritical thing to admit to, give the fact that liberals fall all over themselves to say the exact opposite whenever a jihadi attack occurs? Are we going to the fact that radicalization of Muslims all over the world is a serious problem, or are we going to keep talking out of both sides of our mouths?

What makes the liberal who uses any of these three fallacies to justify letting the refugees in any less ignorant and tone deaf than the conservatives?

And now we come to the point of it all. Because as you may recall, I do believe we should let the refugees in, and here’s why.

The terror attacks in France were not conducted by terrorists disguised as refugees. They were conducted by home grown Muslims with European passports who were angry and exasperated with a country and a culture that they had no connection to. They were radicalized because the culture they lived in was Islamic, not European, even though the country they called home was located in Europe. They were aliens in their own lands, foreign without having known any other home.

Because of the failure of France, Belgium, and of Europe in general to assimilate and integrate its Muslim minority, try as they might, jihad found willing disciples in the person of these men. It’s the same story for the man who killed Theo Van Gogh, the men who bombed the Tube in London, and nearly every other Islamic terrorist attack that has happened in Europe since 9/11.

In comparison, the US has had barely any Islamic terrorist attacks since 9/11, and you can bet it isn’t because of how well we’ve been conducting the war on terror. It’s because Muslims who are raised in America are not nearly as easily radicalized as those raised in Europe, for one simple reason: America embraces its immigrants. We assimilate and integrate people from every corner of the world better than any other country on earth. We’ve been doing it for hundreds of years, and as politicians are so fond of saying, it’s a big part of what makes us such a great nation.

I’ve met a lot of Muslim Americans, people whose parents immigrated here a few decades and who spent the defining portion of their teenage and young adult years in this country. One friend of mine is the daughter of a man from Iraq who worked with the US military and who was awarded citizenship in the early 2000s. She was a young teen when she moved here, and now in her late twenties she’s as American as you or I. She celebrates Muslim holidays with her family, but she also wears her hair uncovered, drinks alcohol occasionally, and prays a lot less than five times a day.

I have another friend who I went to college with, a Muslim of Bangladeshi descent who has lived the vast majority of his life in the US. He’s a feminist, a liberal, and one of the smartest, kindest, and most insightful men that I met during my time at University. He’s about as likely to join ISIS as I am. And those are but two of many examples I could cite, just from my own experience.

These are the kinds of Muslims that America produces, and these are the kinds of Muslims America needs to embrace. These are the kinds of Muslims that will shape the future of their culture and religion for the better. These are the kinds of Muslims that the Syrian refugees and their children can grow to be if we embrace them the way that the United States embraced those friends of mine and their families.

I say it is America’s duty to let the refugees in, because we are the only country in the west with the cultural fortitude to tackle the problem of Islamic radicalism. We are one of the only country in the west where the children of Syrian refugees can find a nation and a home that will not make them feel othered and ostracized, where they can grow up to be Syrian Americans and Iraqi Americans, able to honor the culture of their parents and to embrace the culture of their new country at the same time.

Allowing the refugees in is the only thing to do both logically and morally, and the world will weep if we allow fear mongering and xenophobia to win out over national courage and moral fortitude. Now more than at any point since 9/11 ushered in the age of Islamic fundamentalism, this is our opportunity to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are willing to do what is necessary to combat Islamic fundamentalism in a meaningful and effective way, as well as to atone for the mistakes that our irresponsible foreign policy has wrought. It is our responsibility as a country and our privilege as Americans to extend the open hand of freedom, liberty, and democracy to these people.

 

Islam, Regressivism, and a Collective Call to Sanity

As I write these words, the world is reeling from yesterday’s brutal attack in Paris. France, a country renowned for its historically secular, free, and open national character, has been forced to close its borders in an unprecedented move. While the French people step up to tend to the wounded and take shelter to protect them and theirs, the rest of us have some serious soul searching to do.

The last few years have seen a steady increase in Islamic terrorism specifically in Europe, but also around the world. The last time I wrote almost a year ago, it was in the wake of a different string of similarly motivated attacks, perpetrated as always by fundamentalist Muslims. I expressed hope at the time that the world was nearing a collective breaking point as far as tolerance for this barbarism goes, and it was with cautious optimism that I greeted the new year.

Now 2015 is almost over, and not only has the progress that I so naively hoped for not been made, but the situation seems to be worse than ever. We must ask ourselves, as we always do after a tragedy, how could this happen? And more importantly, why does this specific sort of tragedy keep happening?

In the wake of a violent attack by Islamic Fundamentalists, the conversation almost always gets derailed by one of two main camps: hateful, xenophobic, anti Muslim bigots motivated by anger, and willfully ignorant, see-no-evil regressives motivated by fear. As we speak, all over the world, people are doing their utmost to avoid having the conversation that the world desperately needs to be having by either blaming all Muslims for the actions of some, or loudly refusing to admit that there is a very serious problem within global Islam right now. We’re either blaming the refugees flooding into Europe, demonizing them and calling them all jihadists, or we’re refusing to admit that maybe, just maybe, a percentage of those entering Europe in the hundreds of thousands (even if it’s a very small percentage) might be security risks. We either say “Islam is violent and evil” or “Islam is a religion of peace.” We either over sell the human rights abuses being committed every day in the Muslim world, or we pretend they don’t exist. And when someone tries to bridge the gap and talk about the real problems, they get shouted down.

We saw the cost of that shameful dichotomy in Paris yesterday. We saw what happens when bigotry and xenophobia rule the day, but we also saw what happens when a problem gets ignored, and all attempts to discuss it are greeted with blind naiveté and a refusal to acknowledge. Islamic fundamentalism is a growing threat to the world entire, and it needs to be acknowledged and confronted. Not by giving in to xenophobia and bigotry, but by staying true to secular, liberal values and refusing to compromise in the face of brutality and injustice.

The answer to the problem of fundamentalist Islam is not to  persecute Muslims en mass, but neither is it to refuse to hold Islam accountable for the violent movements it has spawned. Those are not the only two options, and embracing either one is a decision that will lead to ruin.

So what can we do? We can start by acknowledging two very important facts.

  1. Contrary to what regressives and well meaning liberals often claim, Fundamentalist Islam is still Islam, and the teachings of fundamentalism are rooted in Koranic teachings. Refusing to admit that the people killing innocents in the name of Allah are doing so in large part because of their religion is as ludicrous as refusing to admit that the people in the United States bombing abortion clinics and committing hate crimes against gay people are doing so in large part because of their religion. It might make us very uncomfortable to admit, but anyone who has read the Koran and the Hadith knows that there are absolutely justifications in the scripture for the waging of war against non Muslims. Refusing to acknowledge the justifications for religious violence that exist in Muslim scripture just because there are also other factors that contribute is a foolhardy endeavor, perpetrated most often by regressives who peddle obstructionism disguised as tolerance. The fact that there are also passages in the Koran that promote peace and charity does not cancel out the fact that there are passages that promote war and forced conversion.
  2. Despite the fact that Islam has by far the largest percentage of violent extremists of any world religion, the vast majority of Muslims are not extremists, terrorists, or fundamentalists. The percentage of Muslims in the world right now who are willing to kill and be killed in the name of foisting their religion upon the rest of the world is very, very small. When peaceful, law abiding Muslims are persecuted simply because they follow the same religion as the jihadists, progress is halted, and extremism wins.

With those two facts in hand, the path forward is clear. The western world and the moderate, secular, liberal elements within the Muslim world and within Muslim communities in the west need to join hands and take up arms against their common foe.

But that idyllic scenario will never come to pass as long as anti Muslim xenophobes and see-no-evil regressives rule the discussion. Liberals need to stand by liberal principles and acknowledge the threat of Fundamentalist Islam. Every minute they don’t, the conversation gets derailed and dominated by anti Muslim bigotry, and everybody loses except the extremists on both sides.

Everyone’s Enemy

Last week saw the beginning of a turning point in the way the world grapples with Islamic fundamentalism and religious terror. Even as gunmen stormed the offices of a French satirical magazine, murdering everyone they found inside while shouting that God is Great, the militant Islamist group Boko Haram massacred close to two thousand civilians in Nigeria, destroying towns and displacing thousands of innocent people. Then, only a few days later, the same militant group strapped explosives to a ten year old girl and sent her into a crowded marketplace. Earlier today, just hours before I sat down to write this, the Islamic State released a propaganda video in which a young child soldier executes two alleged Russian spies.

To many, these events might seem like just the latest in a decade old wave of Islamic political violence and intimidation. But if one examines recent trends closely, there is good reason to believe that the tipping point, if it hasn’t already arrived, is very close at hand. Here are five reasons why last week’s terror attacks will mark the beginning of the tide of backlash against global Islamic terrorism and, ultimately, lead to its defeat and downfall.

1. The global response was overwhelming. Not since 9/11 has a terrorist attack garnered such an outpouring of unconditional sympathy and support. The Charlie Hebdo attacks prompted an international outcry that refocused the eyes of the world on the problem of Islamic terrorism. In the years following the US led debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan, skepticism about the problem of Islamic fundamentalism grew to record highs, with many believing it to be a non issue overblown by a war hungry American government. Attacks like those last week silence even the most fervent skeptics, and bring people and governments from all across the world, not just the western world, together in solidarity against the common enemy that is Islamic fundamentalism.

2. The attackers demonstrated that they are a threat to the world, not just to the west. Up until this past year, Islamic fundamentalism and the many militant/terrorist organizations that it has spawned were largely seen as either a middle Eastern regional problem, or as a western problem, something the American dominated world had brought on itself with military adventurism and economic exploitation. Despite the backwardness of that ideology, it was an idea that took hold both in the minds of the west’s geopolitical enemies and in the ranks of many of the west’s far left political movements. Last week’s attacks have gone a long way towards debunking this misled idea for good and all, as the world wakes up to the fact that Islamic fundamentalism is a global threat that the world must work together to defeat.

3. Extreme methods are costing terrorists support. After a meteoric rise to power during the summer of 2014, the use of child soldiers/suicide bombers and the revival of the Qur’an sanctioned slave trade has pushed organizations like the Islamic State and Boko Haram even further to the global fringe, costing them geopolitical maneuvering power and making it highly unlikely that any regime will recognize them or respect their legitimacy. At a time when support for IS is finally beginning to wane, the use of such unspeakable tactics will further isolate them from any support, and cause otherwise tepid regimes to turn against them.

4. The same mistakes will likely not be made twice. Much of the blame for the current position of strength Islamic fundamentalism holds in the world can be laid at the feet of those who engineered and oversaw the bumbling, backfiring response of the western world in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. In the wake of these new attacks, the international response is likely to be far more measured and effective. Europe’s cynical dismissal of the threat is a thing of the past, and those in charge of combating this second wave terror movement will do so in a directed and informed fashion.

5. The greater Muslim community is finally beginning to turn against fundamentalism in a meaningful way. A consistent cornerstone of the debate over Islamic fundamentalism and the proliferation of religious terrorism has been the refusal both of the western world to discuss the true underlying causes of Islamic radicalism, and a bizarre reluctance from within the Muslim community (both globally and domestically) to acknowledge the same. in the wake of last week’s attacks, this finally seems to be changing. From Muslim community leaders to significant Imams and Muslim organizations to publications in Arab Muslim countries to ordinary citizens on twitter, the degree of condemnation that these attacks received from the Muslim community was nigh unprecedented, and it could not have come at a more critical time. As right wing political parties in Europe gain credibility and support from native European voters who are increasingly fed up with the presence of Islamic militancy in their countries, it is critical for Europe’s Muslim minority to demonstrate how little they have in common with the militants, and to reject the extremist elements within their own communities.

Though it is tragic and shameful that it has taken this long for Europe and the wider world to take the problem of Islamic fundamentalism seriously, the fact that the tide is finally beginning to turn is a heartening thought. As long as the world does not lose sight of the true enemy, there is plenty of hope to be had in the face of global extremism and religious terror.

See No Evil

This past weekend saw two tragedies dominate the news, one in Pakistan and one in Australia. In the former, the Pakistani Taliban massacred 141 people (132 of them children). In the latter, an Iranian immigrant with a shockingly extensive criminal record held a handful of cafe goers hostage before killing two of them as the cafe was stormed by Australian police.

What do these two catastrophes have in common, besides the obvious fact of them involving the willful murder of innocents? In both cases, the murderers committed their crimes in the name of Islam, tarnishing the reputation of one of the worlds largest and most widely practiced religions in the most horrific way possible.

Similarly, in both cases the massacres themselves were eclipsed by legions of well meaning westerners jumping all over themselves in the news and on social media, to point out that this isn’t about religion, and that the real problem is the unfair associations that events like this result in. The man who styled himself a Muslim cleric and displayed an Islamic flag in the window of the cafe he seized certainly couldn’t have been acting on his religious beliefs, and the militant group that is explicitly an Islamist, Jihadist organization certainly didn’t kill more than a hundred schoolchildren because education, specifically of women, is anathema in fundamentalist Islamic culture.

The largest and most significant example of this is of course the “I’ll ride with you” hashtag that trended on twitter in the hours immediately following the hostage attack in Sydney. It resulted from a single individual tweeting proudly about how he had seen a Muslim woman nervously remove her Hijab on public transportation, and that he had told her to put it back on, exclaiming that she had nothing to fear because he would see her safe to her destination.

Twitter, denizen of proactive social justice warriors that it is, immediately latched onto the idea that Australia’s Muslim population were living in fear of some inevitable racist backlash in the wake of the hostage crisis. The idea that those brave Australians who had decided they weren’t going to persecute Muslims randomly in the street (which was all of them, as it turned out) and that the as yet un-persecuted Muslims themselves were the real victims of this whole affair spread like wild fire, to the point that #illridewithyou was trending with the same frequency as the Sydney attack itself.

But that’s a good thing right? Humanity coming together to stand strong in the face of racist hatred?

No, it’s not a good thing. Because that’s not at all what #illridewithyou represents.

There was no threat of racist backlash. Racist attacks against Muslims are not, in any statistically significant way, a problem in Australia. The western denizens of twitter in their ignorance simply latched onto the idea that there might be, and that if there hypothetically were, they would condemn it, and that that was somehow the discussion we should be having. That hypothetical Muslims being hypothetically intimidated on public transportation because of their association with a religion that has gotten an incredible amount of bad press lately were the real victims of this whole situation, and that we need to be focusing on them rather than on the actual people that were actually taken hostage and murdered.

Why did such a non sensical jump occur? Because as I’ve discussed many times before, if we don’t have the bad elements within ourselves (for example, hypothetical far right Islamophobics stalking the streets waiting to attack Muslim women for wearing Hijabs) to focus on instead of real problems like the horrors that took place in Peshawar and Sydney, we are forced to acknowledge some uncomfortable truths.

When fundamentalist Muslims repeatedly kill other people (including fellow muslims) in the name of their religion, it takes one hell of a collective blind spot to be able to tell ourselves that fundamentalist Islam isn’t the underlying cause, and that the real problem at hand are the handful of Islamophobic bigots in our own communities who may or may not actually exist. And yet we continue to do so, in large part thanks to feel good placebos like #illridewithyou.

By focusing on something as ludicrously insignificant (in comparison with the hostage attack itself) as patting ourselves on the back over the fact that the Australian people didn’t immediately turn around and launch into a series of anti Muslim pogroms, especially when there was zero evidence that such an event was likely to take place, we are doing the intellectual equivalent of placing our hands over our ears and singing very loudly so as not to hear something we don’t want to hear. We are so desperate to find a silver lining that we are willing to completely ignore the storm cloud itself. And at a time when the Islamic State’s recruitment of European citizens is at a record high, protesting the influence of Salafism in your country earns you a Nazi comparison, and nearly every western country besides the USA is edging closer and closer to caving to Islamist propaganda by abandoning support of Israel, we cannot afford to place our collective heads in the sand.

In fact, the biggest losers in this equation are Muslims themselves. As anyone with access to any statistical analysis and/or common sense can tell you, the vast majority of Muslims living in western countries are far from terrorist sympathizers. They are regular people who just want to be left alone to live their lives. That’s why in the wake of things like the Sydney attack, it is never Muslims themselves who take to twitter to cry Islamophobia and preemptively pick fights with right wing bigots who may or may not actually exist. Moderate, regular Muslims don’t want to draw any comparison whatsoever between themselves and the jihadists. They don’t want anyone to look at them and a terrorist and think “same religion.” They know that when things like #illridewithyou blow up, all it does is draw attention to the fact that they do indeed practice the same religion as the terrorists, and that angry, misguided responses like #illridewiththehostages are an inevitable result. They know that if any bigotry and anti islamic sentiment is likely to arise, it will arise as a reaction to unasked for and unproductive “help” like #illridewithyou.

That’s why it’s always well meaning, usually western, always misguided, non Muslim people who feel the need to immediately steer the narrative away from where it needs to go and instead focus on protesting too much in the opposite direction. They don’t actually care about defending the integrity of the average innocent Muslim citizen at all. They just want the world to know that they themselves are not bigoted or Islamophobic, and they are willing to cheapen the narrative and distract from the conversation in order to do so. They are a big part of the problem, because they distract from the actual problem, which is fundamentalist Islamic extremists killing Muslims and non Muslims with impunity. And everybody loses as a result.

So the next time a similar tragedy strikes, and rest assured that it will, think long and hard about which conversation you want to have when you inevitably take to twitter to discuss the tragedy. Do you want to talk about the real, serious issue of Islamist violence that costs the lives of innocent people, muslim and non muslim, every day? Or would you rather shout about how not racist and bigoted you are specifically, refusing to acknowledge or even discuss the real problem of terrorist violence, and shouting down as an Islamophobe anybody who does want it to be acknowledged and discussed?

You can’t defeat injustice and violence by pretending it doesn’t exist, and we all need to collectively stop pretending that this particular form of violence and injustice doesn’t exist just because we’re afraid of being called an Islamophobe on twitter.

All American Irony

The United States, historically, is one of the most unique countries on earth. No, I’m not talking about our comparatively meteoric rise from colonial backwater to hegemonic mega power in the space of only a few hundred years. No, I’m not talking about our renown as a nation built on an incredibly diverse and impressively constant flow of immigrants from every corner of the world. And no, I’m not talking about the fact that with only five percent of the world’s population, we consume approximately 25% of the world’s natural resources.

I’m talking about the fact that the United States is one of the only countries in the world with a moral mandate written into its governing documents. While many countries since the United States have adopted the practice, the United States was the first modern country in which the government explicitly concerned itself with such concepts and imperatives as the welfare of the common citizen. Right from the beginning, the United States held itself to a different standard than that of other world governments. Ours was not just to govern, but to govern according to principles of human liberty, ideas that were revolutionary at the time they were put down.

This difference explains, in part, why the great foreign policy decisions of the last hundred years have played out the way they have. It explains why the US has fought in dozens of wars and military engagements since 1914 despite never having experienced an explicit domestic military threat. The idea that our moral imperative mandates that we spread our ideals across the world is just as hallowed as the idea that we ensure the guarantee of those same lofty ideals within our own borders. Our Declaration of dependence even acknowledges our respect for the “laws of mankind,” an overt reference to our respect for the international political and societal consensus.

In light of these characteristics, the events of these past few weeks are even more shameful than they would be had they taken place in some other country. The brazen murder of citizens by officers of the law, whether they be black, white, or black, compounded with the absolute lack of consequences that the government sanctioned murderers suffer would be cause for outrage in the meanest, most barbaric corner of the globe. But in the country that styles itself the greatest country in the world, the country that has spent much of the last decade and a half of its history to imposing its will on parts of the world deemed less so, this is a moral affront of the absolute highest order. It undermines every aspect of our credibility both at home and abroad. It strengthens the resolve of of our geopolitical enemies and encourages them to act with impunity. It is an international embarrassment, a disaster of the greatest significance.

How significant? So significant that the UN, after years of refusal to bite the hand that feeds it, has finally decided to put an end to the age of American exceptionalism. In an unprecedented move, a U.N. special rapporteur on torture announced today that allegations of torture carried out by the CIA during the months and years following 9/11 will finally be investigated. This is a watershed moment for American standing in the international community. No longer can the US expect the international community to accept our unquestioning leadership. President Obama was sworn in as the leader of the free world. His successor may well inherit and office much reduced in both standing and significance..

So make no mistake. Whether or not you join myself and countless others in expressing our outrage by holding marches and die-ins, you are now living in a nation with as little international credibility as it has ever had. And the world is that much darker for it.

The End of an Era

A few weeks ago, a pair of Palestinian youths entered a synagogue yelling Allahu Akbar (god is great) and killed three Rabbis and a fourth man at prayer before killing a police officer and being killed themselves. It brought the total number of Jewish Israeli citizens killed over the course of this past month to 11.

To many, this was a source of outrage. The brutal killing of innocent people, especially religious officials, is generally not applauded by the civilized world. And yet coming as it did in the wake of this summer’s conflict in Gaza, there was a remarkably low level of condemnation for the attack. Senior US officials made regretful noises, as is their obligation, but the general consensus from much of the rest of the world (and from a fair amount of American social media personalities) was sadly predictable: This is what you get, Israel, for daring to fight and win against Hamas.

As I’ve discussed before, one of the most tragic results of this past summer’s conflict and the ensuing tide of biased journalism and social media sensationalism that defined its legacy is the fact that it has, in all likelihood, ushered in a sea change in the way Israel is viewed by the western world. When I was growing up, the conflict was represented as a tragic but unavoidable result of two peoples being forced against their will to share a nation. We were taught that Israel was a state founded as a haven for Jews in the aftermath of the Holocaust, and that the Arab Muslims who shared the nation didn’t like the influx and empowerment of the Jewish citizens in what had once been a predominantly Arab Muslim region. We were taught that there was right and wrong on both sides, and that a peace process was the outcome to strive for.

But that was in the nineties. That was back before most people in America knew much about the Muslim world. The american public supported the peace process, but was staunchly on the side of Israel when it came to the military aspect of the conflict, seeing an obvious choice between the western style democratic state founded by survivors of the worst genocide in human history, and the black balaclava wearing, religious war declaring, child indoctrinating, negotiation refusing followers of an organization that explicitly and publicly wants to eradicate Jews and the Jewish state.

Now, thanks in large part to a nauseatingly effective social media PR campaign and the duplicity of many international news publications, the opposite is true. In Europe, the public has turned against Israel and now, without the need for any manner of hyperbole, things are beginning to look more than a little bit like they did in the 1930’s.

In the US, liberal citizens are publicly supporting the Palestinian side against Israel, and liberal politicians are giving tepid, if any, support to the Israeli side. Even while American citizens are being murdered by Islamic militants in the Middle East, large portions of the American electorate are raging against Israel in support of people whose ideology is damn similar to those currently murdering Americans, Christians, Yezidis, and anyone else who is not Muslim in the Middle East.

I won’t go into the tiresome details of exactly how and why this has occurred, since I’ve done it more than once before, nor will I explain why this makes very little sense from a strategic or geopolitical perspective, because I’ve done that as well. What I will go into is just how illogical and tragic it is that the western world, less than eighty years after doing its level best to kill every single Jew on planet earth and then turning around and vowing to never allow such a thing to happen again, is now squarely on the path toward doing precisely the opposite. The biggest difference? This time, most of the Jews in the world (with the exception of the large contingent that live in the north eastern United States) are clustered in one very small space surrounded on all sides by hostility and the sea.

Israel has won every war it has fought in its very short time on this earth. It maintains military superiority at all costs because if it did not, it would begin to lose wars. If it lost wars, it would cease to exist as a state. If it ceased to exist as a state, there would be a second (albeit far less well organized) holocaust underway in very short order.

When liberals rage against Israel’s aggressive and effective military operations, what they are essentially doing is condemning a the state (which, once again, is the extreme minority in its region) for defending itself effectively after it is attacked from without and within again and again and again and again and again and again. and again and again. For most of Israel’s history, they could count on European and American support against their innumerable enemies. Now, it seems, that era has ended.

I have faith that in the decades to come, the abandonment of Israel by the west will be seen as one of the great geopolitical calamities of the twenty first century unless it can be reversed. And it will only be reversed if and when the west can be made to understand who their true enemies are. Here’s hoping that happens sooner rather than later.