Friday, November 28, 2008

"not all Muslims, nor, possibly, most Muslims, are behind these attacks"

Rod Dreher becomes one of the first I've seen to use the excuse of the attacks in Mumbai to tiptoe up to the line of condemning every Muslim. (This is a popular activity and if he doesn't already have many peers he will by the end of the day.)

Thanks, Muslim terrorists! You do so much for the world. Your Mumbai adventures on behalf of your faith have killed scores of people, and have jacked up tensions between two nuclear powers that hate each other. And now there are reports that British nationals of Pakistani origin may be involved in the attack -- something that, if true, could make life very difficult for Brit-Paks.

Good thing this bloody-minded intolerance is limited to a small number of Muslims, right? Except for the 10,000 to 20,000 ordinary Muslims who assaulted a Coptic Christian church in Cairo this week.
This line, though--

Look, I know that not all Muslims, nor, possibly, most Muslims, are behind these attacks.

So there's about 1 billion Muslims in the world. A billion. A billion is a lot. What would a billion man plot look like, exactly? How would they communicate? Coordinate? I mean if you could really get a billion people together to attack Mumbai, you might as well try to take over a whole country. Ah, but maybe by "are behind" he means "support". That kind of contention is thrown out there all the time, of course, and it has the virtue of requiring no form of proof whatsoever. Just like the contention "The average Palestinian would murder every Jew if he could," this kind of statement has no referent, invites no verification, requires nothing but the author's say-so and the guts to think you can leave it out there, orphaned and unsupported. This in non-falsifiable nonsense. I'm sure, say, the thousands of impoverished Thai Muslims living along the coast with no television or newspapers would be surprised to learn that they support a terrorist attack they've never heard of. Dreher has left himself an out, here, but he's done it in about the weakest form possible: possibly most Muslims weren't behind these attacks. Mmmm.

The fact of the matter is that it's not just some Muslims who aren't terrorists, is not just a few Muslims who aren't terrorists, it's not just some percentage of Muslims who are not terrorists, but hundreds of millions. The vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists. Hundreds and hundreds of millions of people. I spent part of my childhood in Indonesia. After September 11th, I tried to tell people that, while certainly the Muslim world needed great reform, it wasn't actually the case, as you heard many talking heads say, that there weren't any Muslim societies where there was freedom of religion or civil rights for women. Indonesia, the worlds largest Muslim country, has a sizable Muslim majority, and yet it has robust Hindu, Christian and Buddhist communities. Women have held public office (including President), wear western clothes, work and socialize with men, and in general enjoy emancipation, suffrage and freedom. It simply wasn't true that there were no Muslim countries with religious freedoms or freedom for women, though the civil rights record in most Muslim countries was and is deplorable.

After the Bali nightclub bombing, though, a curious thing happened. When I would bring up Indonesia, people would say "Aha! There was that nightclub bombing in Bali!" The fact of that attack, apparently, was enough to tar every Indonesian Muslim. Nevermind the fact that there are some 250 million people who live in Indonesia. No, the fact that some tiny fraction of them-- the biggest estimate I've ever seen for the number of people involved in the night club bombing was in the low hundreds-- that fact meant that we could tar all Indonesian Muslims with the brush of terror. The fact that we are judging hundreds of millions based on the actions of a small few has simply become par for the course. Forget about political correctness, forget about politics, forget about tolerance. Just as a way of judging data, this is very weird.

Half the world's Muslims live to the east of Pakistan. Islam is as much an Asian religion as a Middle Eastern religion, demographically, though the average American wouldn't bother to learn that fact. The vast, vast majority of these Asian Muslims practice a mainstream Islam. The vast, vast majority of them are completely uninvolved in terror. Middle Eastern Islam, meanwhile, has more of an extremist problem than Asian Islam. Yes, there are far too many Middle Eastern and Central Asian Muslim terrorist. Again, what percentages are we talking about, here? What number of Middle Eastern Muslims have engaged in terrorism, compared to those who haven't? We're talking about a vanishingly small portion, here, and yet that is still enough, apparently, to mock the idea that Islam is a religion of peace. Yes, of course, Islam has a lot of reforming to do, just as Catholicism had many crimes to answer for and many which they continue to refuse to answer for. (And, incidentally, Islam is about 700 years younger than the Christian church. I invite anyone to consider the amount of murder and torture going on in the name of the Catholic church 700 years ago.)

I know of very few people who argue that Islam doesn't need reform. I know of zero people who don't want to confront Islamic terrorism. I know of no people who don't think we should hunt down and arrest or kill the terrorists. I know of no people who consider terrorism no threat to the United States, only people like me who argue that the threat of terrorism to the average American is negligible in comparison to the threat of conventional or nuclear war, or environmental catastrophe. Everyone knows we have to fight these terrorists. Everyone knows the problem is some small number of Islamic extremists. Everyone wants them hunted down, and no one wants another 9/11, another Mumbai. So what is Rod saying? What would he have us do?

No indication from Dreher about what he would have us do about this problem of Muslim terrorism. I don't mean to be too hard on Rod, because he's hardly alone in seeming to agitate for some new vision of dealing with terrorism, either physically or intellectually, without actually advocating any particular change. The world is broadly pursuing what is considered the consensus method for dealing with terrorism, after all: police-style investigation, espionage, information sharing, and legal and financial dismantling of support structures for terrorist enterprise. It's not sexy, I suppose, and it doesn't serve anyone who is more interested in demagoguery than in solving the problem, but it has the virtue of being the most effective way to actually deal with the problem. Constantly stamping your feet and declaring Islam is the enemy, meanwhile, does nothing for us.

So what should we do, guys? There's this resilient movement within our national discourse, since 9/11, of people who are fighting mad that more of us aren't fighting mad. Islam is the enemy! This is an existential threat! You're not taking the threat seriously enough! If these statements are more than self-aggrandizement, if they are made with some goal in mind beyond letting the world know what a brave opponent of terrorism the person making them is, then there has to be some action advocated by these people.

Here's where we're left. We have a host of people from across many ideologies insisting that we don't take the threat of Islamic terrorism seriously enough. Yet they are curiously silent on the course of action we should take. This is the frustration for people like myself: we hear again and again from certain people who fancy themselves defenders of Western civilization that they alone are taking the threat seriously enough, that the average American liberal doesn't understand the threat, that we as a country aren't taking enough action. We hear this from Christopher Hitchens, and from Anne Applebaum, and from Charles Krauthammer, and others. They never tell us what we should do. (Geoffrey Andersen made this point about Hitchens in Slate once, but I'm afraid I can't find the link.) So we're left at this impasse. See, thinking people actually know what "really getting tough" with Muslims means: it means outlawing Muslim iconography and literature, closing mosques, banning the headscarf and other Muslim clothing, registering Muslims, maybe herding them into camps. That's the only thing that "taking the gloves off" can really mean.

Now I don't think the people constantly complaining that we don't recognize the threat from Islam want to us to do these things. (I certainly don't think Rod does.) But if they don't, then they're not saying anything at all. Then it really is just rhetoric. If you want to tell other people they aren't doing enough, tell them what to do. Otherwise, you aren't saying anything at all.

Update: This post originally referred to Rod Dreher as a Catholic, which I'm told he isn't. My apologies.

Update II: See Greenwald:

Any decent, civilized person watching scenes in Mumbai of extremists shooting indiscriminate machine gun fire and launching grenades into civilians crowds -- deliberately slaughtering innocent people by the dozens -- is going to feel disgust, fury, and a desire for vengeance against the perpetrators, regardless of what precipitated it. The temptation is great even among the most rational to empower authority to do anything and everything -- without limits -- to punish those responsible and prevent repeat occurrences. That's a natural, even understandable, response. And it's the response that the attackers hope to provoke.
These attacks are outrageous and inhuman and they turn my stomach. We must respond to them with what works, and part of what works is not exacerbating the tensions that created these attacks in the same time. Find these people, and kill them. In doing so, though, we need to prevent the temptation to engage in rhetoric or policies which breed more enemies.

4 comments:

  1. It's actually a common argument that I hear from my fellow Orthodox Christians (of which Rod is now one, so you may want to excise the "Catholic church, to which he belongs" line), the Huntington 'clash of civilizations' bullshit, that Islam isn't a religion of 'peace' but rather 'submission' (the 'proper' translation of the word), and that submission means the eventual conversion or killing of all non-Muslims; and all Muslims are implied in this, somehow. I think it's a meme that was taken over, at least in Orthodoxy, from the Greeks (who obviously have had some problems with muslim Turks). Anyway, I'd always thought it was bullshit, and your post completely nails it. Though I think the Krauthammer/Kristol axis is something a bit different (Greenwald diagnoses this correctly in his latest book), there is quite a large contingent of very conservative educated Christians who have bought into this chest-thumping about the evils of Islam as such, and it's really quite ridiculous.

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  2. If even half of the NRO authors understood the concept that...

    typing opinions does
    NOT EQUAL
    fighting terrorism

    and they had focused their collective intellectual energy on truly fighting terrorism, we would be further along on solving this difficult quest.

    Instead, they blasted Kerry with full force on his idea to make this into a large scale police action. And remember, police action involves collecting evidence, charging suspected terrorists, trying them, and jailing them if convicted. As we watch the release of 100's of suspected terrorists due to prosecutorial malfeasance in the coming days and months, it's hard not to be re-enraged by the Bush administration and their supporters.

    At least liberal opinion makers got one thing right... it's a fool's errand to approach this fight without due process.

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  3. meh
    It is simply pragmatics and realism.
    Even Bush was (barely) smart enough to understand that if this conflict gets framed as a war on al-Islam, that is a loozer strategy for the West.
    Teh Stupid, it burrrrrns.

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  4. My response is lengthy, and can be found here.

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