From the Comments: Debunking Myths About Islam and Violence

Jacques, a retired sociologist and university professor, has been repeating himself over and over again for the past fifteen years or so. His gripe? The imminent danger of Islam. Or Islamism. It depends on when you began reading him. Until recently, until the time that Delacroix decided to try and pick on me, Jacques’ venom was directed at Islam. Nowadays, it seems his poisonous arguments are directed at Islamism, the political movement. This is a step in the right direction. And yet, though his target his changed, his argument has not. The argument runs something like this:

  • Most, or much, of the violence in the world today is associated with Muslim groups of some kind or other.
  • Therefore, Islam, or Islamism, has an inherently violent penchant that needs to be removed using any method at the West’s disposal (including torture, a separate judicial system for Muslims suspected of being terrorists, and outright war).
  • In addition, Muslims who are not inherently violent (notice: Islam has an inherently violent penchant, except when it does not) are still responsible for terrorism because they do not snitch to government authorities when their fellow Muslims begin growing beards, and they do not speak out against Muslim extremists.

I have already gone the rounds with Delacroix on this narrative. He has been nothing but obstinately ignorant about his own argument, including the pseudo-facts that they rest upon. Maybe I shouldn’t be taken seriously. I’m just a lowly blog editor, after all, and a self-admitted libertarian to boot. The ‘comments’ of the two guys I’m about to highlight should be taken seriously, though. They are both college professors, and both do not self-identify as libertarians (though I think they are). Here is Dr Khawaja attempting to talk some sense into Jacques:

The first point is predictability versus explanation-in-retrospect, and I think you’re proving my point. I agree with your general account of the traits and biographical trajectory of terrorists. They’re often just as you say they are. The problem is, there are lots of non-violent losers with identical traits and trajectories, and no way to sort out the violent from the non-violent before the fact. The explanatory patterns typically emerge after the fact, which is when people tend to jump from explanation-after-the-fact to predictability-ex-ante. I guess I’m just flatly denying that the trajectory of the non-Islamist crazy is–in Western countries–all that different (ex ante) from the Muslim ones. The only “distinguishing” feature is that the latter are Muslim, and alienated from traditional Islam, and born again into something radical. But an enormous number of people have those traits, and simply waste their lives on being born-again Muslims of that sort without ever doing anything violent. My point is, when people–typically young men–start to move in that direction, it usually causes some concern. But “concern” is not the same as alarm at an imminent or even pending attack, and contrary to your suggestion, there is almost no way to predict those unless you’ve been taken into confidence by the would-be perpetrator. And of course, given what he wants to perpetrate, he’d have to be very incompetent to take a would-be snitch into his confidences.

Proviso: what I’m saying above refers to Muslims in Europe and North America. Things are different elsewhere. In the West Bank, if X’s brother, father, uncle, or cousin has been killed by the IDF, X is likely to commit a terrorist act, and if X becomes very religious, you can infer that he’s a member of Hamas. Similar moves are open to someone living in Pakistan. But those are different contexts than France of the US.

I’m not dogmatic enough to insist that the French cleric you quoted must absolutely be wrong. Maybe he has some way of detecting jihadists. But I really doubt it. The problem with French clerics of that sort is precisely their proximity to the government. They tend to speak with a view to pleasing this or that constituency, and what your cleric says is what the French government and people want to hear.

On immigration, granted that you didn’t literally come out and oppose all immigration by Muslims. But that isn’t quite what I accused you of, either. My point is: here we have a humanitarian crisis involving refugees who want asylum in this country. I’m the first to admit that if we admit a large number, some of this number will be terrorists and will perpetrate attacks on us that wouldn’t otherwise have happened (if we hadn’t let them in). My point is: now that we have this crisis, Americans have suddenly decided that a mass influx of refugees has to be constrained by border controls that would ensure that the mass influx remains a trickle. Imagine facing a potential influx of Syrian refugees and applying your stricture that none of them be Muslim literalists. By the time you operationalized that policy, and hired the border control staff to operate it, the year would be 2023, and the refugee crisis would be over. Or to take your other policy: can you really imagine teaching Syrian (or any other) refugees First Amendment law at their point of entry into the US? It can’t be done. It’s just not the way refugee operations work or can work. Imposing strictures like that on refugees is just a way of ensuring that the US never becomes a sanctuary during refugee crises.

I wouldn’t mind that attitude if only it were accompanied by a little bit of candor about history and politics. The US is committed never to become a large-scale sanctuary for, say, Syrian refugees. But now listen to the way politically conscious Americans talk about refugee crises elsewhere. The Arabs of Mandate Palestine were reluctant to open the borders of Palestine to European Jews? Well, that makes them anti-Semites. Common assertion: “The Palestinians remain in UNRWA camps to this day because the surrounding Arab countries, in their greed, refuse to take them in.” This comes from Americans who would never dream of taking them in. Israel, of course, has a very generous refugee policy (for Jews); that gets praise without any recognition that the refugees then function as demographic chips in the settlement game. West Bank settlements are full of Russian “Jews” who know less about the celebration of shabbos than I do.

Do I think the US has a Muslim problem? What makes the question difficult to answer is not any reluctance on my part to tackle the issue head-on, but an ambiguity in the phrase “a Muslim problem.” In one sense, it means “any significant problem stemming from Muslims.” In another sense, it means “a high priority issue facing the country as a whole and stemming from Muslims.” My view is that it has the first, not the second. There are several million Muslims in the country, and on the whole they don’t constitute a political problem. There are pockets of fanatics among them that do constitute a political (security) problem. France may well be different, but I think things are essentially in good shape in the US, despite this or that conspicuous Muslim atrocity.

To come at your question slightly differently: there is a sense in which Islam has a problem, the problem of reconciling itself to modernity. Given that, wherever you have Muslims who haven’t reconciled themselves to modernity, you’re going to get a problem (or problems). So yes, even if we had an isolationist foreign policy, that problem would remain. But that problem is least pronounced in the US, where Muslims basically run the same gamut as Reform to Conservative to Orthodox Jews. Literalist Muslims are no more (or less) a national problem than Orthodox Jews. I don’t mean to deny that they’re both a problem. But I wouldn’t say we have an Orthodox Jew Problem any more than I’d say we have a Muslim or Literalist Muslim Problem. Some places might, but we don’t.

Sorry, I said something confusing: “I don’t mean to deny that they’re both a problem.” I meant to say, “I don’t mean to deny that they’re both problematic,” i.e., give rise to problems. What I’m denying is that the problems are the equivalent of a high-level security threat.

Dr Khawaja blogs over at Policy of Truth and teaches philosophy at Felician College. Dr Amburgey tries to talk some sense into Jacques using a different angle:

“I said “probability.” It’s the concept we use, consciously or not, to approximate rational decisions in our daily lives: Select this birth clinic, rely on this baby food, travel by car, get vaccinated or not, go for this class rather than another. etc.”

I agree with Jacques. I’ll go further, I agree wholeheartedly with Jacques. I don’t subscribe to silly notions of human rationality like some of my colleagues but doing the best we can to make rational decisions is desirable both individually and in matters of public policy. As a consequence it’s useful to consider probabilities in our consideration of Jacques proposals.

Firstly, how does terrorism stack up against other risks in a probabilistic sense?

“Indeed – as we’ve previously documented – you’re more likely to die from brain-eating parasites, alcoholism, obesity, medical errors, risky sexual behavior or just about anything other than terrorism.”
http://www.globalresearch.ca/non-muslims-carried-out-more-than-90-of-all-terrorist-attacks-in-america/5333619

Even if we set aside the consequences of our choices [lifestyle or otherwise] terrorism is dwarfed by other things that kill us. Is it rational to spend more on the military than every other form of discretionary spending combined?
https://www.nationalpriorities.org/budget-basics/federal-budget-101/spending/

Secondly, given that terrorism is a risk how do different forms stack up compared to one another.
According to Jacques…

“We have terrorists of all inspirations in America, I know. The white murderer of black church people in Charleston was a terrorist, pure and simple. He was home bred and home grown. However, we have many, many more terrorists of foreign extraction, almost all with ties to Islam.”

This is, to put it politely, a counterfactual statement. The various public datasets have different observation windows and methodologies. Right now I’m going to use the 1980-2005 FBI data simply because there is a handy pie chart that I can copy from. In decreasing order…

Latino-42%, Extreme left-wing groups-24%, Others-16%, Jewish extremists-7%, Islamic extremists-6%, Communists-5%

The USA certainly has problems. Does it have a ‘muslim problem’? I’d say the numbers speak for themselves.

Dr Amburgey teaches in the business school of the University of Toronto. He doesn’t blog.

Jacques has still not addressed my questions regarding the implications of his policy proposals, by the way, namely that they echo those implemented by the Third Reich. Political Correctness is a corrupting influence on the free and open society (I suspect, in my infinite kindness and generosity, that Political Correctness is Jacques’ real target when he writes about Islam), but so is cultural chauvinism. Two wrongs don’t make a right!

America’s Muslim Problem: What To Do.

There are many people in the US who possess normal common sense and who also have a liberal disposition, “liberal” in the old meaning of the word. I mean before the word came to designate a propensity to force others to do what they don’t want to do, accompanied by intellectual hypocrisy. The word used to mean something like: “well disposed toward others;” it used to refer to habits of tolerance, adding up to giving the other guy the benefit of doubt. I think I am one of those. I am lucid; I see what I see and I don’t pretend I don’t see it; I have no trouble finding something to like in others who are unlike myself. Nevertheless, I draw the line at institutionalized brutality (such as the genital mutilation of little girls) and at intentional cannibalism. The latter means that if you eat your dead to survive (as a Uruguayan rugby team plane-wrecked in the high Andes famously did about thirty years ago); it’s acceptable but if you go a-hunting humans explicitly for the table, I think it’s not cool.

Well, people like me have been struggling to hold their tongues since 9/11 in order to avoid stating the obvious about terrorism , and in order to not be forced to draw the policy consequences of what their eyes behold. We are caught between the rock and the proverbial hard place, largely, I speculate because we wish to avoid bad intellectual company. On the one side, we have paralyzing and contagious political correctness, on the other hand, there is the embarrassing torrent of abuse issuing from political allies who are both uninformed and ill-disposed, so ill-disposed that they are unable to see the obvious contributions of Islamic culture. I mean by this that you don’t have to be a Christian, or to love the Inquisition, or to believe that Christ resurrected to recognize that if Christianity had contributed nothing but Gothic cathedrals, that would still be a lot. Similarly, you don’t have to like Islam the religion to appreciate Arabic calligraphy and the Blue Mosque of Istanbul. Anyway, the pseudo-secret we have been unwilling to admit openly is this: We have a Muslim problem in this country.

We have terrorists of all inspirations in America, I know. The white murderer of black church people in Charleston was a terrorist, pure and simple. He was home bred and home grown. However, we have many, many more terrorists of foreign extraction, almost all with ties to Islam.

The man who murdered four Marines in cold blood in Chattanooga and wounded several several others was an immigrant. Somali refugees and their children have often been implicated in attempted terrorist acts in this country. The convicted and jailed underwear bomber is a Nigerian. We may not be able to do much about US-born terrorists such as Major Hassan (in prison) and preacher Al-Awlaki (pulverized by a drone in Yemen), but we can stem the flow of those with the greatest probability of slaughtering us at home. I said “probability.” It’s the concept we use, consciously or not, to approximate rational decisions in our daily lives: Select this birth clinic, rely on this baby food, travel by car, get vaccinated or not, go for this class rather than another. etc.

There is a young Muslim woman I know well and whom I love like a favorite niece. “Uncle,” she says,” Islamist terrorists are not more my problem than yours.” I disagree because I don’t believe that venomous seeds grow into poisonous plants on their own. They need water and they need good soil. No water, no plant; bad soil, no plant. The water for Islamist terrorism is provided by hundreds or thousands of preachers who preach irresponsibly, good Muslims all who don’t believe they have to be bothered about the effect of their equivocal words once they have left their mouth. (Yes, Mohammed did behead every man of a vanquished enemy tribe on the battlefield. Incidentally, they were Jews. The Prophet then “married ” their wives, he raped them, in others words. Bad example? Talk about this genuine part of Muslim tradition?)

The soil of Islamist terrorism is the passivity of otherwise blameless Muslim communities who cannot help but see fanatics grow before their eyes and decide to keep mum and to do nothing. Here is a simple example of what I mean. The killer of four Marines wore a beard, not any kind of beard, not a Hollywood-inspired beard, not a chic beard, not an old man’s beard like mine. His untrimmed, wide beard is worn only by imitators of the Prophet Mohammed. Few Muslims even wear such a beard. Muslims of all stripes know and recognize this. It take a few weeks to grow such a beard. If your son or your neighbor shows up with one, it should give you pause, if you are a Muslim. You should make a mental note that that young man bears watching. Why would anyone want to imitate the seventh century prophet in the 21st century. Who is wearing robes like Jesus? I am guessing (Guessing) that members of the particular terrorist’s community may have whispered some but just let the matter drop.

Some nation-wide reforms are obviously necessary toward domestic Islamist terrorism. Here are three.

Donald Trump is mostly a rich buffoon but once in a while, he forcefully states the obvious. As he proclaimed, it’s wrong that the people charged with our defense are not themselves allowed to be armed for their own defense. This silly policy should be reversed and all qualified military personnel (and I don’t see why a single one would be unqualified) should be allowed and encouraged to carry a personal weapon. If rural sheriffs’ deputies with three weeks training can carry a weapon, I expect members of our military to be qualified to do the same, strictly for self-defense and as a deterrent, of course. This change from current policy could be tried for a given period and its effects studied. If it were found out that members of the military fall into the habit of gunning one another, or civilians down then, the policy of a defenseless military could always be re-instated. Our society is taking worse risks every day. That was my first point.

Second, romantic libertarians (including many of my friends) have to come to terms with the need for widespread domestic electronic surveillance aimed at preventing domestic terrorism. As is usually the case, the assassin of the Marines in Chattanooga had given signals. He had spent months in Jordan and then made ominous noises on the social media. Of course, most of those who talk big on Twitter never take the next step to real mass killing. The minority who do should be discovered by monitoring the lot in a cheap, economical way because there are so many. To oppose this kind of step is like declaring that the protection of our civil liberties is worth a few massacres each year – which could easily turn into many massacres. Yes, there is a slippery slope there. And yes, such surveillance creates a precedent that might lead to the intimidation of legitimate dissent. Two responses. First, a climate of widespread insecurity also undermines our personal liberties. Witness the creation – with hardly a murmur against – of that very intrusive and yet grossly ineffective Homeland Security apparatus in the aftermath of 9/11. Second, attacks on civil liberties take many forms and are not dependent on the particular bugaboo of electronic surveillance. Witness the still unpunished persecution of conservative political organizations by the Internal Revenue Service.

Civil libertarians, including libertarians would do better and they would be more effective in the long run if they insisted on two things: real effective, strict judicial oversight of surveillance; more restrictive aiming than has prevailed in that area. This would require frank profiling. (More on profiling below.)

The third measure needed is to slow down the growth of Muslim immigration into this country. Islamist terrorists come exclusively or almost exclusively from Muslim communities. The larger the Muslim communities, roughly, the greater the number of potential Islamist terrorists on American soil. This is true both directly and demographically. Some Muslim immigrants become terrorists, others raise American children who become terrorists. Muslim communities everywhere turn a blind eye to the the transformation among some of their members in a radical direction that is the prelude to embracing terrorism. Now, we want to do this in a way that avoids stigmatizing a billion people worldwide, many of whom have a view of Islam that makes no room for social aggression, many of whom are lukewarm faithful, an unknown number of whom are frankly indifferent, no more Muslim that I am. I repeat, in passing, that Muslims globally supply most of the victims of Islamist terrorism but this is not my topic here, I am writing about improving Americans’ safety.

Yes, I know, nearly everyone knows by now that not all Muslims are terrorists (exceedingly few are) and not all terrorists are Muslims. Let’s put this behind us for good. My point is that for practical purposes almost all domestic terrorists are Muslims.

We have to develop a selective tool for keeping out of the country the narrower category of Muslims most likely to become terrorists. I am speaking here of profiling before the fact. Although “profiling” has a bad name, rational action requires it. Here is an example. Looking for car thieves in a particular area, the local police will ignore older church-going black ladies while focusing on white males in their twenties who dress in dirty t-shirts. Profiling! It turn out that one way to interpret Islam insists on its literal relevance in today’s society. The highest Muslim theological authorities including the Grand Mufti of Cairo and religious authorities from Al Azar University periodically remind the faithful that Muslim tradition must be interpreted in the context of our times. This modernizing perspective is equally rejected by ISIS, which practices slavery because it’s explicitly allowed in the Koran itself, and by the Islamic Republic of Iran, which pointedly keeps the stoning of adulterous women on its books for the same reason. (In addition, many Muslims are like their Christian counterparts: They don’t know much about their own religion and what they know is disorganized and often incoherent, what I call “religious bric-à-brac” in an article in Liberty Unbound with a title that includes this word. “Religious bric-a-brac and the Tolerance of Violent Jihad,”).

It turns out that Islamists are also all literalists, strict constructionists, when they are not simply hoodlums. If you prevent literalist Muslims from entering the country , you have gone a long way toward reducing the number of potential terrorists in the US. One article of faith among literalist Muslims is that government must come from God. That’s why the Supreme Leader of the Shiite Islamic Republic is explicitly a cleric, couldn’t be an elected civilian or a general. This belief also explains the search for a Caliphate among Sunni jihadists, a polity where administrative and religious powers are one and the same. But, of course, separation between Church and State, between religion and government is central to our constitutional arrangements. And, there is no compelling reason to accept immigrants, or even visitors, who think of a central tenet of our constitution as anathema. We have every moral right to sift them out. This can be done at low cost and with a fair degree of effectiveness.

Few countries accept everyone without condition; the US does not, never has. It would be a simple matter to make all immigrants, all refugees seeking asylum and, I think all visitors sign a document asserting that they support all features of the US Constitution, including specifically everything that has to do with the relationship between religion and government. These comprise the non-establishment of religion (including Christianity they may be reminded) and an absolute right to blasphemy. As I said, all entrants would be asked to sign a statement to this effect, and they would be told that the list of signatories could be published at any time, anywhere and in any language. Latin Americans would sign because their constitutions are copied largely from ours; Europeans would sign because thy are almost all religiously indifferent or lukewarm; the largest immigrant group, the Chinese wouldn’t care. The only group from which you would expect a significant reluctance to sign would be Muslims, not all Muslims, but Muslims with literalist, fundamentalist tendencies that is, precisely the category most worth excluding. Some would simply cheat, of course, and pretend to agree to what is to them anathema but the possibility of seeing their name publicized would act as a partial deterrent. In addition, such perjury would provide easy ground to prosecute those signing under false pretenses.

Some would protest that such exclusion would be “unfair.” I think that the issue of unfairness dos not arise. This immigrant believes that no one has a right to enter the US.

Arm our defenders; ferret out the wild beasts before they can bite; don’t allow the alligator swamp to become larger. It’s all obvious; it’s all doable. It’s much more than we are doing now.

Right Back!

I have been neglecting this blog because of the wonderfully warm weather and because the ocean temperature is slightly higher than in previous years I remember. It’s sufficiently higher to induce more frequent swimming. In the unlikely event that “global warming” is to be credited, I want more of the same.

I will be back soon with a new essay on terrorism, one that avoids both hysterics and political correctness. So, don’t forsake me yet!

Percentages that Fairly Scream and, “Catastrophe” is a Greek Word

The WSJ of 7/9/15 shows a comparative table for some European Union countries of spending on pensions as a share of GDP. This comparison denotes roughly the drag effect that payments to retirees has on the whole national economy. To no one’s surprise, Greece tops the list with 14.4%. Germany is at 9.1%. This may seem like a small difference but when it’s turned into actual, absolute figures, the difference becomes downright striking. They scream!

The 5.3 percentage points difference can be applied to both countries’ GDPs (or GDPs per capita, same thing in this case). The International Monetary Fund gives Germany’s GDP per capita for 2014 at about $46,000 and Greece’s at about $26,000*. Pensions cost Germany $4,150 annually for each man, woman and child. Pensions cost Greece $3,400 annually for each Greek. It does not look like the Greeks should be able to afford this kind of disproportionate burden.

Suppose Greece’s pensions took the same bite out of its GDP as Germany ‘s does out of its GDP, 9.1% . In this scenario, today, the Greek economy would have about $1,400 each year unspoken for for each man, woman and child. This money would still be available for spending, as it is through pensions. It would also, however, be available for both public and private investment.  That’s $1,400 each year; that’s a lot by any standard. That’s money needed to rejuvenate the Greek aging economic plant.

How realistic would such a change be, involving raising the legal age of retirement, I mean? The Germans’ and the Greeks’ life expectancies are virtually identical ( 80.44 vs 80.30, in CIA Handbook). There seems to be a little wiggle room to move there. Note that raising the age at which people can claim a pension is doubly beneficial: It reduces the number of pensioners while raising the number of workers who support the pensioners. Some will argue that raising the age of retirement is a pipe-dream in a country such as Greece where there is chronically high unemployment. I think this reasoning is wrong. Many Greeks don’t find a job because investment in Greece is insufficient. People need tools to work. What is certain is that the current dishonest Greek government policies, soundly supported by the exercise of a majority of Greeks’ votes cast, are not going to draw foreign investment. The money to improve both Greeks’ chances of employment and their productivity will have to come from within. One significant source is described above: Close the pension option for one or more years to healthy Greeks. It will provide both ready investment money and confidence abroad.

Note that raising the legal age of retirement is a purely political decision. The Greeks can do it any time they want. They can do it overnight. Perhaps, there will soon arise a political party in Greece that will proclaim the truth: It’s not the mean lenders, it’s us!

This is a fairly simplistic reasoning, I know. The general age of the population places constraints on the practicality of raising the age of legal retirement (but an older population also makes it more desirable; think it through). I have heard leftist demagogues on National Public Radio argue that the big bite that pensions take out of the Greek economy is not the Greeks’ fault, that it results more or less directly from the fact that Greece has an old population. Sounds good but the fact is that the Germans are, on the average, quite a bit older than the Greeks (Median age of 46.5 vs 43.5 according to Wikipedia.) Don’t believe experts on NPR, not even on simple facts!

Alternatively, the Greeks could begin collecting their moderate taxes like the Germans instead of like the Italians. They might also remember that “catastrophe” is a Greek word.

* The figures are “PPP” meaning that they take differences in buying power in the two countries into account.

From the Comments: Greece, the Euro zone, and Russian prowess

Dr Amburgey writes:

I just returned yesterday from a week in Athens for an academic conference. There seemed to be a big socio-economic divide in voting intentions. The unemployed and menial workers were definite No votes. The Yes votes were physicians and a few academics. Personally I think they should bag the euro and go back to the drachma.

Brandon: how long do you think it will be before Putin is making deals in Athens? Might be nice to have a friend in the EU when sanctions come up again. Port privileges for the Russian navy would be very conveniently located as well.

Jacques has a good, thoughtful response (“Leaving the Euro zone does not require leaving the European Union”) that I wholeheartedly agree with (and that I’ve blogged about here and here), and it appears Dr Amburgey is in agreement with us (though does he think Greece should stay in the EU?). Contra Dr Foldvary, I do not think there is any need for Greece to leave the EU. If anything, the EU should be adding more states, though not expanding its geographic space.

Regarding Russia, I simply don’t know. Russia – along with Turkey, Iran, and China – is a society that is very hard to understand let alone predict (I would add India/Pakistan to this list, but the states of the Indian subcontinent are traditional post-colonial states and are therefore much easier to predict; the other four were never conquered or carved up by imperial cartographers). The whole Crimea debacle still has me smarting. Nevertheless I’ll add my thoughts to the conversation.

I don’t think Athens will grow closer to Moscow. There are two major reasons:

  1. Greece fears Russia, which is why Athens has remained in NATO for so long.
  2. Most Greeks – even the ‘No’ voters in this recent referendum – don’t want to leave the EU; Greeks overwhelmingly want to be a part of ‘Europe’.

There are couple of minor reasons, too, though I don’t know how minor they are. 1) Greece is not Ukraine. 2) Russia’s economy is in shambles. Greeks have a higher standard of living than do Russians.

On the flip side, the Greeks are always thinking about the Turks. If an opportunity presents itself (though I cannot think of any arising), Athens may start to edge closer to Russia (a traditional enemy of Turkey) if it thinks Ankara is getting antsy about its former province. This is pretty extreme, though. Also, Russia’s economy may be in shambles, but it seems like Moscow always has plenty of money for military expenditures, and rent stemming from a Russian port in the Mediterranean Sea might be too tasty to resist for a country saddled with so much debt.

At this point I don’t think Greece has much clout in European politics, so I don’t see Moscow viewing Athens as a reliable friend in Brussels.

Confederate Flag Hysteria

So the Stars and Bars is coming down from the South Carolina statehouse to the accompaniment of whooping and hollering by breast-beating politicians. If you have the stomach, you can watch some of it here. Now, sure as clockwork, politicians are tripping all over each other to get on the bandwagon. Flags are coming down all throughout the South. You can no longer buy them on Amazon or at Walmart, although at this writing they’re still seen on eBay. Statues of Confederate heroes are in danger of being ground up for use as concrete aggregate.

What’s the meaning of the Confederate flag, anyway? It depends whom you ask. It means nothing to me. To some white Southerners, it’s a reminder of their brave forbears’ fight for their honor. To many blacks, perhaps most, it’s a symbol of hate. Who’s right? All of the above; none of the above—it’s whatever you want to make of it. What’s disturbing is the widespread ignorance of what the Civil War was about. It was about secession, first and foremost, and only secondarily about slavery. Lincoln freed the slaves as a tactical matter, and only in the re-conquered Southern states, and not until two years into the war. Before the war he made it quite clear that his goal was to preserve the union, and if freeing the slaves would further that goal, he would free them, and if not, not.

It is the height of oversimplification to cast the rebels as bad guys and the yankees as good guys. There were many acts of kindness between whites and blacks on both sides of the line and of course, many atrocities on both sides. This doesn’t justify slavery the least little bit. But the war was the wrong way to end it. If the South had been allowed to go its way, 600,000 lives plus uncounted misery and destruction would have been averted. Slavery would not have lasted much longer in the South for economic and moral reasons. One economic reason is that the best slaves would have escaped to the North where they would no longer fear being deported. The gradual mechanization of farms is another. On the moral front, although ideas moved more slowly in those days, thoughtful Southerners would gradually come to see slavery as abominable and indefensible. (Highly recommended: Jeff Hummel’s groundbreaking revisionist treatment of the war, “Freeing the Slaves, Enslaving Free Men.”)

I take their word for it that blacks see the flag as a symbol of oppression. Given that, I would have to agree with the action in South Carolina notwithstanding the insult to Southern pride. But I’m not so naïve as to believe race relations will improve as a result. In fact, I fear they’ll get worse. If the flag wasn’t a symbol of racial animosity before, it is now. Positions will be hardened. White Southern conservatives, having recently taken a beating on gay marriage, will be further marginalized and polarized. The “progressives,” having smelled blood, will be on the warpath (oops—is that word racially insensitive?). They’ll be out on search-and-destroy missions, hunting down vestiges of Southernism.

My humble suggestion: let’s not get so worked up about symbols, whether they’re flags, crosses, Mohammed cartoons, or even the dollar sign on the last page of Atlas Shrugged.

Greece: Democracy in Action

The Greek people expressed themselves with utmost clarity. In response to an incomprehensible question posed to them by their fairly elected Prime Minister, the Greeks voted by a wide margin for the precipice instead of self-discipline. They also voted consciously for blackmail, because their government had explained to them that the “No” vote they gave would put pressure on Greece’s creditors (which include ordinary European Union taxpayers and, to a small extent, through the International Monetary Fund, US taxpayers as well.) The Greek government cynically campaigned for the same “No” vote.

Greece just joined Argentina to form a group of countries where the population deserves what’s coming to it because of its deliberate dishonesty, articulated through perfectly legitimate democratic channels.

As usual the urban poor in Greece – those who have no hens and no apple trees (like my parents in the fifties) – will be the ones to suffer the most as a result of irresponsible collective choices.

When was the last time anything good for the poor ever came out of an election won by any Left at all, anywhere, at any level? Please, remind me.