Today’s CNN gave some depressing news: CIA director John Brennan reports that despite all the anti-terrorist actions of the US and other nations, and a serious loss of its territory in Syria and Iraq, ISIS’s capacity to produce terrorists acts hasn’t diminished a bit:
We judge that ISIL is training and attempting to deploy operatives for further attacks. ISIL has a large cadre of Western fighters who could potentially serve as operatives for attacks in the West. And the group is probably exploring a variety of means for infiltrating operatives into the West, including refugee flows, smuggling routes, and legitimate methods of travel,” CIA Director John Brennan will tell the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday morning.
Brennan also says despite all the efforts by the U.S. against ISIS, it has not stopped the group.
“Unfortunately, despite all our progress against ISIL on the battlefield and in the financial realm, our efforts have not reduced the group’s terrorism capability and global reach,” Brennan will say.
“The resources needed for terrorism are very modest, and the group would have to suffer even heavier losses of territory, manpower and money for its terrorist capacity to decline significantly,” Brennan will say. “In fact, as the pressure mounts on ISIL, we judge that it will intensify its global terror campaign to maintain its dominance of the global terrorism agenda.”
It is a time of frustration for all of us, for we know there are no easy solutions. What is ineffectual, though, are loud assertions that Islam is no more violent than other faiths, as seen in Julia Ioffe’s misguided piece in Tuesday’s Foreign Policy. That is Ostrich Leftism, and tries to circumvent the problem by signalling one’s virtue.
Other acts that signal virtue but don’t do anything to help can be seen on the religion pages of PuffHo, in which it’s claimed ad nauseum that the effusion of love and solidarity after the Orlando shootings (granted, extremely heartwarming and affirming) is what we really need to defeat the “hate” of Islamic terrorism. One also sees the claim that many Muslims are not terrorists. Of course they’re not, but terrorism is rooted in Islamic ideology, which is invariably cited by the terrorists themselves. (Two HuffPo examples below; click screenshots to see the apologetics).
The entire world? See the link below to an anonymous piece, and you’ll learn otherwise.
What should we do? Well, Harvard professors should know, right? After all, they’re supposed to be smart and savvy. To this end, the Harvard Gazette canvassed six Harvard faculty, asking them “How can we best halt this drumbeat of mass violence?” (Note: religion isn’t mentioned in the question, so it’s apparently directed at all shootings in the U.S., though the headline does mention Orlando.) The answers are given in the piece, “How to curb the madness“. Sadly, even most Harvard professors can’t say anything meaningful, and for three reasons. First, the problem is a hard one; second, its causes extend beyond the U.S. borders; and third, the professors studiously avoid mentioning Islam.
The usual causes are floated: bigotry, homophobia, and the easy availability of weapons; and indeed, I think gun control is something tangible we can do to “halt the drumbeat of violence.” Sadly, with a Republican Congress that isn’t likely. I have a solution, which I’ll mention at the end, but first look how the Harvard professors tiptoe around Islam:
Timothy McCarthy, adjunct lecturer on public policy and program director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy:
Then I think we need to look at the ways in which we institutionally, ideologically, individually allow ourselves to be governed by prejudice. We have to again, I think, take a cold, hard look in the mirror about our religious institutions, all of our religious institutions, whether they are churches or temples or mosques, that preach hate from the pulpit … I am sure there are people in mosques and temples and other religious institutions all across the country and across the world who are taught to hate in the places where they go to fortify their faith. That too has to be examined deeply and diligently.
After offering the Ioffe-ian “all religions are the same” trope, he proffers the “love each other” trope:
I think, perhaps ironically, that the nation can actually look to queer communities, communities of color, those of us who are most marginalized and vulnerable, to lead the way, because all we want is to love and all we want is to exist, all we want is to be treated equally and fairly in a country that talks about those things all the time. All we want is to be free, and we have something to say about that because we have spent our lives struggling for that, and we know how to do that work, and we know how to show the way to healing.
No, it is Muslims who must lead the way, at least as far as Islamist violence is concerned. What we have above is simply virtue signaling without any substantive solutions.
Ronald Schouten, director of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Law and Psychiatry Service and associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who studies the psychology of terrorism:
In terms of “it,” this was an act of extremist violence. Labeling it as “right wing” or “Islamic extremist” makes us feel better because we have attached a label and it allows for blame to be laid on a specific group. But it does not point the way to prevention, except for those who think most simplistically and favor exclusion of broad categories of people based on their religion and ethnicity and/or jettisoning the Constitution. Both are wrong-headed and destructive, but the fear mongering makes for what some consider good politics. In fact, such simplistic solutions are exactly what extremists want because it would tear at the heart of our society.
Umm. . . while Schouten says this, echoing the sentiments of Obama and all apologists, our own government is busy concentrating on Muslims and Muslim enclaves, for in our hearts we know that it is those groups we must focus on.
The only person who says something halfway substantive is Steve Pinker, but he, too avoids mentioning Islam, though he alludes to it obliquely in his last paragraph:
Steven Pinker, the Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology, is a cognitive scientist and experimental psychologist and the author of the 2011 book “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined,” which examines a long-term trend away from violence across human history:
The honest answer is that we can’t stop them. Despite the round-the-clock media coverage, mass shootings are in fact rare compared to the more than 35 homicides that show up on police blotters every day. And rare events are inherently difficult to predict and control. In a country of 315 million people and almost as many weapons (which won’t evaporate any time soon), nothing can prevent .0001 percent of those people from wreaking revenge or gaining notoriety by the only guaranteed recipe for becoming famous: killing a lot of innocent people.
The best we can do is try to lower the odds. Two measures are common sense: outlawing or restricting bloodbath weapons, and increasing the reach of mental health services. (Most mass shooters have a history of disturbance.) Another is trickier: keeping media coverage and officials’ responses in perspective — currently they are massively out of line with the actual level of harm — so as not to provide a perverse incentive for angry losers to “make a difference” in the only way available, even if they only get to enjoy their fame in the anticipation of it.
The same is true for terrorism, which almost by definition is a tactic to exploit the media. And for terrorist attacks, anything that can hasten the waning of the prestige of the cause would help. We don’t see anarchists or Marxists bombing cafes anymore because they no longer feel they are part of a glorious historical movement.
Steve mentions Marxists and anarchists, and I can’t help but think that he means “Islamists”, that is, we must “hasten the waning of the prestige of Islamism.” (I’m just guessing here.)
And indeed, I think that’s the only solution—if you conceive of the problem as deaths not just in the U.S., but throughout the world. For the evils of terrorism, or religiously inspired violence, are far greater overseas than in the U.S. Why should an American life, or fifty American lives, be mourned more than the lives of fifty gays in the Middle East, or of fifty Yazidi women? That’s not to diminish the horror of the Orlando shootings, but to say two things. First, the problem is most serious outside the U.S. Second, even if we have more leverage to solve the problem in our own country than elsewhere, it will continue, as the CIA director noted, so long as the megaphones of Islamism broadcast from overseas.
As a counter to the “peace and love” message of PuffHo, have a look at the infinitely depressing article by an anonymous author on the Arab Humanists site, “As an Arab, the Middle East reaction to Orlando left me speechless. . . ” A bit of it:
As a bilingual Arabic and English speaker from the Middle East, I took the liberty of browsing through Arabic news pages on Facebook earlier today; namely Al Jazeera, Al-Arabiya, BBC Arabic and a number of Egyptian news outlets to gauge how the Arab world was responding to the Orlando shooting. The results were disappointing, alarming, and depressing to say the least. Each page’s comment section was inundated with posts showing sympathy towards the attacker, praising him for his actions and wishing death upon members of the international LGBT community. Comments ranged from jokes about the incident and how “the gays had it coming,” to long du’as (religious supplications), wishing death upon gays and lesbians, as well as asking God to grant the killer “the highest place in paradise.” I considered collecting screenshots of these comments to raise awareness about the amount of hatred towards the gay community in the Middle East, but it soon dawned on me that such a task would be impossible.
There were simply too many hateful comments, with thousands celebrating the attack, from Tunisia to Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. It was only through deep digging that a single person who expressed so much as a shred of sympathy to the victims and their families, or even condemned the blatant massacre that took place could be found. If you don’t speak Arabic, visit Al Jazeera Arabic’s Facebook page and scroll down until you see a post about the Orlando attack and note what the top three “reactions” (newly added Facebook feature) are.
Most of those Muslims would not engage in terrorism itself, of course. But by celebrating its effects, and refusing to condemn radicalism, they are enabling it. Those are the people whose attitudes must change if we’re to curb the violence.
So yes, let’s get rid of guns, and let’s have an open discussion with American Muslims about what Enlightenment values have to say about their faith. That, at least, will help keep their children from growing up radical, or of being susceptible to the blandishments of radical Islam. And let’s crack down on guns as well; screw the NRA if it says otherwise.
But the problem of both American and foreign terrorism will not end until Islam itself undergoes a profound reform. Not just ISIS and other terrorist organizations, but Muslims as a whole, who, by and large, hold views incompatible with democracy, equality, and Enlightenment values.
In the end, the solution is what ex-Muslims and liberal Muslims have been telling us all along: the reform of Islam must come from within. That is the message of Maajid Nawaz (see here), of Ayaan Hirsi Ali in her latest book, Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now, and of Asra Nomani in her new Washington Post piece, “Repeal Islam’s scarlet-letter sex laws.”
The problem, of course, is that such reform will be slow, taking decades or even centuries. In the meantime, religiously-inspired terrorism will continue, albeit at a declining rate. We can hold it down by banning guns, and we can try to expand mental health services, as well as using the usual government security procedures. And we need to start naming the problem for what it is: mass murder based on a religious ideology. Yes, all of this will help, but these are bandaids for a problem needing major surgery. The surgeons must be the believing Muslims of the world—not just in the U.S.
As the author adds:
Members of the left who claim such terrorism has nothing to do with Islam need to become aware of the issue at hand that is Islamism, and understand the ramifications of evading discussions on it. The Arab world’s moral collapse is the result of decades of fundamentalist Wahhabi indoctrination across the Muslim world which has culminated in the recent rise of Islamic terrorism. Reform must come from within Muslim communities – I can’t stress this enough. An open and frank discussion on the current understanding and interpretation of Islam is much needed. Yes, it’s great to see Muslims in the west condemning the attack and voicing solidarity with the victims and their families, but there still remains a long way to go. The Muslim world, particularly the Middle East and North Africa, has become rife with followers of either Arab nationalist anti-west ideologies, or Islamism and Wahhabism, both of which are cesspools for hate.
h/t: Bryan, Faisal Saeed Al-Mutar, Orli