From the Comments: Islam and Islamism

Matthew riffs off of my recent post on imperialism:

I am far too lazy at present to read the links you embedded in this article, so I will shoulder the lazy man’s burden, and provide some simple anecdotes.

A very common reaction is to blame Islam itself for the problems Islamists cause in the West, and in their own countries. I have never opened the Koran, and I have only cursorily read the statements of Islamist groups such as Hamas. I cannot honestly speak to whether Islam is at fault in toto, because I know too little about Islam’s tenets to deduce a causal relationship between Islamist extremism and the creed they espouse. What I have been noticing, however, in my brief travels in the Islamic world (I am currently in Meknes, Morocco) is the difference in practice between what I will call “media Muslims” (the straw men the media set up as representative of all Muslims) and the real, flesh and blood Muslims you meet in your every day encounters. I have met pious Muslims, who pray five times a day, and have had theological discussions over the differences between Judaism and Islam. I have not hidden my Judaism, as many Jews do out of fear for their lives – misplaced oftentimes, I would say – and have had no problems. I have met young Muslims who eat pork and drink alcohol and don’t give a jot about Allah or Muhammad. I have tried to flirt with Muslim girls and failed, probably because my only Berber words are “yaaah” (yes) and “oho” (no).

There is a very large pressure in culture and in the media to reduce everything to social forces. We must fear “Islam,” and “Communism,” and “Terror,” without considering that all of these social forces are composed of many individuals, with different ideals, and different means of pursuing them. Islam is, like everything else, a pluralistic social movement. There is Wahhabism on one end, and cultural Islam on the other, and many people fall in between. So, I do not think Islam can be blamed for the West’s problems with Muslims. A particular strain of Islam, adhered to by a particular type of individual, is one factor. Western meddling and overt racism is another.

The rest of the ‘comments’ thread is, of course, well worth the read too. I am not much of a bragger but, as I’ve repeated on here many times, the ‘comments’ threads at NOL are some of the best on the web. I look forward to Matthew’s posts teasing out what it means to be Western.

Also, Matthew, with Moroccan girls you have to feign ignorance and let them believe that they are doing the hunting and that you are the prey. (Let us know how it goes, of course.)

Around the Web

  1. France must avoid repeating American errors
  2. The internationalism of the American Civil War; shockingly incomplete (almost dishonestly so), but a good starting point
  3. The false piety of the Hebdo hoodlums
  4. Sri Lanka’s surprise political transition
  5. From Martin Anderson to Charlie Hebdo and back

Charlie Hebdo: Todos, nadie, uno.

La primera reacción pública frente al atentando a los integrantes de la redacción de la publicación satírica Charlie Hebdo fue acudir a la identificación con la víctima: “Je suis Charlie Hebdo”. En menos de 48 hs. se comenzaron a escuchar los primeros distanciamientos: no todos querían identificarse con Charlie Hebdo, ya que eran pocos los que adherían por entero a su línea editorial. En estos casos, lo más delicado reside en las razones para expresar una u otra posición.

La identificación de la comunidad con la víctima de un atentado es un requisito que hace a la legitimación de la persecución penal contra quienes hayan perpetrado el atentado. En este sentido, es correcto decir “yo soy Charlie Hebdo”, ya que esto implica afirmar que la víctima del atentado pertenece a nuestra comunidad y es la comunidad la que ha sido agredida en la persona de la víctima. Si el estado –en este caso el Estado Francés- se encuentra legitimado para iniciar la persecución penal de tal atentado es porque el agredido se encuentra dentro de la comunidad protegida por aquél. Por otra parte, dado el cariz político del crimen, si le da el rango de cuestión de estado es porque es la autoridad del mismo la que ha sido desafiada: alguien distinto al propio estado se está atribuyendo la autoridad para decidir qué tratamiento público debe dársele a las opiniones molestas. Recién aquí es cuando entra a jugar el tema de la libertad de expresión.

La libertad de expresión en tanto que garantía individual solamente es relevante cuando lo que se expresa es una opinión con la que disentimos: La opinión de “otro”, en el sentido de completamente ajeno a uno mismo, un “otro” que expresa lo que no queremos escuchar. Cuando nadie discutía la proveniencia divina de la autoridad de los reyes, el cuestionamiento público a los mismos constituía una profanación de una repugnancia semejante a la que hoy sufre un feligrés cuando debe soportar una afrenta a su religión. Los reyes entendían que, -expresándolo en el lenguaje de hoy- en esos casos no se había hecho un ejercicio “responsable” de la libertad de expresión o que la misma “no estaba para eso”.

Por el contrario: que la libertad de expresión sea efectivamente una garantía depende de que quien exprese una opinión sumamente ofensiva contra un tercero o contra la autoridad no pueda ser legalmente perseguido por el estado por haberla emitido (por supuesto, estamos hablando de “opiniones”, no de “enunciación pública de planes” contra un tercero o la autoridad). La libertad de expresión protege aquello que dice “el otro”, aquello que no queremos escuchar. En este sentido, para poder predicar de un sistema jurídico que éste respeta la libertad de expresión, “Charlie Hebdo” tiene que ser otro, enteramente distinto a nosotros, y no ser molestado por el estado a causa de sus opiniones aún pese a aquéllo.

Ahora bien, cuando un grupo armado atenta contra un ciudadano porque se considera agraviado por las opiniones vertidas por éste no está atentando contra la libertad de expresión directamente, si no contra la vida de sus víctimas y contra la soberanía del estado que reconoce la libertad de expresión de sus ciudadanos (es decir, atenta contra la libertad de expresión sólo mediatamente). A los efectos de la vida de las víctimas del atentado “todos somos Charlie Hebdo”. En cuanto a la relación del estado que reconoce la libertad de expresión de sus ciudadanos “no todos son Charlie Hebdo” y es cuando “uno solo lo es” cuando más se pone a prueba el respeto de la libertad de expresión por parte del estado. Este respeto tiene dos aspectos: frente a los ciudadanos se manifiesta como una obligación de abstención frente a las opiniones expresadas; frente a quienes desafían mediante la violencia física tal sistema de valores, en la persecución legal y política de los mismos. Nótese que no resulta necesario que “todos seamos Charlie Hebdo” para que el estado garantice la libertad de expresión en este doble aspecto (abstención frente al ciudadano e intervención frente al agresor). Es más, solamente podemos decir con seguridad que garantiza la libertad de expresión cuando Charlie Hebdo es enteramente el otro.

En resumen, la persecución jurídica, en el plano del derecho penal, del atentado se activa con la agresión sobre la vida de las víctimas del mismo. En tanto la persecución política –en el marco de un estado de derecho, se entiende- se pone en movimiento con el desafío a la autoridad pública que implicó el uso de la violencia física con la finalidad de imponer la abrogación de la libertad de expresión. Que seamos o no seamos Charlie Hebdo depende de cuál de los dos aspectos estemos considerando: para el primero es necesario que lo seamos todos, para lo segundo alcanza con que lo sea uno solo.

@fgmsv

Previamente publicado en http://ihumeblog.blogspot.com.ar/  de @IHUMEorg

The burden of imperialism, the virtues of immigration, and the importance of data

One thing I have noticed about the terrorist attacks in Paris is the relatively little that imperialism is brought up. The Muslims of France hail from parts of the world that were once a part of the official French empire. This empire is still a force in much of its old official boundaries. The British and the Dutch also have problems with Muslims that were once a part of an official empire. The Germans and the Turks are a different case, as the Ottoman and German empires had more of a deal between themselves in regards to cheap labor than the cases of Western Europe, but the relationship is still not one of immigration – not in the sense that is perceived by Americans, Canadians, and Australians.

I wonder how much of the tension between natives and immigrants is due to the imperial relationship of the sides involved. I would wager quite a bit. I also have to wonder about the role of land in all of this. Land, of course, is the ugly cousin of labor and capital, two of the three factors of production utilized by economics (there is a fourth sometimes cited, entrepreneurship, but I am not yet convinced that this belongs and neither are many economists).

Immigration is different than what the former imperial states of Western Europe are dealing with. I know the similarities are seemingly the same, but they are not. I would be happy to flesh this out more in the ‘comments’ threads if anyone takes issue with it.

Here is the abstract from an excellent article in Social Forces on the futility of deriving any conclusions about a society based on simple perceptions:

We investigate the thesis widely credited to Max Weber that Protestantism contributed to the rise of industrial capitalism by estimating the associations between the percentage of Protestants and the development of industrial capitalism in European countries in the mid- to late nineteenth century. Development is measured using five sets of variables, including measures of wealth and savings, the founding date of the principal stock exchange, extension of the railroads network, distribution of the male labor force in agriculture and in industry, and infant mortality. On the basis of this evidence, there is little empirical support for what we call the “Common Interpretation” of Weber’s The Protestant Ethic, namely the idea that the strength of Protestantism in a country was associated with the early development of industrial capitalism. The origin of the Common Interpretation and its popular success are probably derived largely from selected anecdotal evidence fortified, through retrospective imputation, by the perceived well-being of contemporary Protestant countries.

The article is titled “The Beloved Myth: Protestantism and the Rise of Industrial Capitalism in Nineteenth-Century Europe” and it can be read here (pdf). As you read through analyses of the terrorist attacks in Paris, be sure to keep this in the back of your mind.

By the way, the piece is co-authored by Jacques, who has failed to adhere to his own standards when it comes to discussing Islam.

Islamic Murders in Paris

Twelve people have been confirmed dead in a shooting at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical publication. Armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, the gunmen forced their way into the building by coercing a mother with her child to give the key code. They then went from office to office, asking for staff members by name, before gunning down each in turn. The attackers are reported to have shouted things like “Allahu Akbar!” and claimed to have been members of al-Qaeda. They then fled the scene in a stolen car, dumping it in the vicinity of Pantin, an impoverished African and South Asian neighborhood in the suburbs of Paris – where, incidentally, I spent New Years one year with an ex-girlfriend – and then hijacked another car before fleeing from the city. As of now, they are still at large.

The natural question most people ask in reaction to these sorts of events is “why?” Why did these three people decide to kill all these other people, over a cartoon? Answers always fall into four categories: their fault, our fault, nobody’s fault, and squid ink. As you might expect, the distribution of responses breaks down fairly neatly along ideological lines.

1. Their fault puts the blame on “radical Islam,” Islamists, terrorists, or sometimes just “Islam” plain and simple. This article from National Review Online argues that Islam is against freedom of expression at its core. Another article, also from NRO, seems to intimate that this is the beginning of some sort of clash of civilizations. CNN lists responses from the journalistic profession, all of which express solidarity against the “forces of unreason” that are on the warpath and have “corrupted the heart of Islam”

2. Our fault puts the blame on our collective intolerance of others, or on our governments’ foreign policy. We in general, or the victims in particular, somehow have it coming to us. This article by Slate does not overtly state that the employees of Charlie Hebdo asked to be murdered, but the author asserts that they have a “long history of courting controversy.” This cyclical from AP states similar claims. If we, or at least Charlie Hebdo, should have expected this, what is the implication?

3. Nobody’s fault straddles the line, asserting that such a colossal crime is the result of nothing in particular. Crazy people warped the tenets of their faith to justify their evil actions, and only they can be blamed, not the social environment that produced them, nor their creed, nor the laxity of Western society, nor any other sort of causal explanation. It just “happened.” I have not yet found an example of this in the media, but I am sure it will be offered sometime between when Europe goes to sleep mourning this tragedy, and America wakes up to ponder it.

4. Squid ink is the attempt to divert blame from targets that the speaker or author believes will likely be blamed. This article from Salon attempts to divert blame from an assumed target, Islam, by diverting it onto the onerous figure of Richard Dawkins. This article, also from Salon, has nothing to do with the current controversy, but by framing other articles on the front page of the site, acts as an implicit tu quoque: Christians are murderers too! Islamic murder isn’t that bad!

It’s always popular to say that the truth lies somewhere in between, or beyond, the options the media offers us. And so I too will follow convention. Perhaps the truth is somewhere in a combination. It is undoubtedly true that there is a great deal of resentment in the Islamic world over Western policy over time, and I don’t doubt that this played some role in the minds of the murderers. I also don’t doubt that the reactions of Westerners to increased immigration to their countries has also factored in. Resentment against the encroachments of a foreign group on one’s territory is always resented, leading to friction between the natives and the implants. In France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and elsewhere, car burnings in immigrant neighborhoods are a frequent occurrence.

Personally, I think that, like all things, this is merely a struggle for power. The governments of the West have allowed large numbers of immigrants from poor countries with inimical social systems to immigrate to their countries, often for legitimate reasons. The Belgian government, for example, entered into an agreement with the Moroccan government to allow vast numbers of Moroccan citizens to immigrate to Belgium for work purposes, as the country lacked the amount of labor it needed. However, when any new population comes to an area that is already populated, there are many ways to deal with that population. Assimilation was the dominant strategy in the United States for some time: “if a Pole is made into an American with American habits and American values, great!” In Europe, however, there was precious little done to assimilate the immigrant populations, so that they instead formed large communities of their own folk that did not interact with the natives. In Germany, for example, many Turks have lived there for decades without being naturalized, and as Germany follows jus sanguinis, none of their children are citizens either, despite having no immediate connection to Turkey except on paper.

As these immigrant populations have grown in size, many of the younger generations have learned the local tongue, assimilated into the social patterns of their host nations, and fanned out into the country as a whole. One of my friends, a Belgian of Moroccan ancestry, speaks little Berber but perfect French, and has much more affinity for the country of his birth than the country of his ancestors. Many have also become more entrenched in their immigrant communities, and have agitated for special rights and privileges for their people; not only the social services they are always alleged to be parasites on, but also special zones for sharia, halal meals in schools and prisons, the right to not view objectionable material such as cartoons they do not like, and so forth. As they grow in size, they also grow in power, and like all people will assert that power to mold their environment in the ways that they choose – ways that are not compatible with Western society. What we are seeing is, I think, the latest installment in the slow bleed of the West, its slow transformation into a multicultural, and finally a non-cultural, entity.

Or, I could be full of it. Such is a consequence of immediate reactions and thinking out loud. Dear reader, please let me know thy thoughts in the comments.

Does size matter?

No matter how one sees the ideal liberal world, there will always be differences in size between the sovereign entities on the globe. Even in an anarcho-capitalist world there will be different sizes of the communities that people voluntarily form, although they will of course lack sovereignty in any external legal meaning we now associate with the term. So the question is: does size matter in international relations?

There are many answers to this, and I will be unable to provide them all here (or elsewhere, for that matter). There are instances where size,  measured in number of inhabitants of a particular state, does not matter at all. Trade is probably the most important one. After all, it is not countries that trade but people, and if the trade is free, the nationality or location of the traders is of no importance whatsoever. This more or less still applies to the completely distorted trade situation we now regard as normal, with states continually interfering through all kinds of tariffs and non-tariff trade barriers. The real exceptions are cases where political action forbids trade, such as with the several economic boycotts between Russia and the West at present.

Size does not matter in other important segments of international relations either. In cultural exchange, there is no general correlation between size of country and quality of cultural expressions. Of course in the mainstream Western arts (sculpture, paintings, opera, symphony orchestras, etc.), it helps if a country has reached a certain level of wealth, but this is independent of size. Also, talented artists will normally be recruited from all over the world, or be able to sell their (indigenous) works globally.  The same applies to sports. If one corrects for population size, many medals at the Olympics, or other championships, are won by athletes from small or middle-size countries.

The size of an economy does matter. Richer countries (in terms of gross domestic product per head) are able to direct more resources to influence international relations. Not only through military expenditures, but also through resources deployed for diplomacy, international negotiations, ‘soft power’, or otherwise. Yet a rich country does not need to be big country, neither in land mass, or in number of inhabitants. And poor countries can still influence international affairs, take for example North Korea.

Still, there are greater and lesser powers in international politics. There is not one distinguishing feature, but most of them combine a large number of inhabitants, a fairly large land mass, either a developed economy which allows for significant military expenditure or the assignment of extraordinary share of GDP to the military. Even then there are real great powers (US, China, Russia at present), middle sized powers (UK, France, Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa) and countries punching under their international political weight, (India, Germany, Japan, Egypt, the Philippines, perhaps Turkey). This division is never stable, as the past decades have shown, where only the US has been a consistent top dog Even small countries can exert significant international political influence, as Singapore shows, although the sheer lack of size will always ensure they can rank higher than the middle category .

So the answer is clear: size hardly matters at all. All countries can become more, or less important, regardless of geography, inhabitant, or economic circumstances. Different policies may cause countries to rise or fall on the “international relations influence league”. Of course, liberals will aim at dynamics caused by liberty increasing policies. That is the perpetual opportunity for liberals across the globe.

Gun Rights, the Black Panthers, and ‘the South’ in the United States

From a report by Aaron Lake Smith in Vice:

The Dallas New Black Panthers have been carrying guns for years. In an effort to ratchet up their organizing efforts, they formed the Huey P. Newton Gun Club, uniting five local black and brown paramilitary organizations under a single banner. “We accept all oppressed people of color with weapons,” Darren X, who is 48, tells me in a deep, authoritative baritone. “The complete agenda involves going into our communities and educating our people on federal, state, and local gun laws. We want to stop fratricide, genocide—all the ‘cides.”

Interesting, and brings up the question: will the NRA support their right to bear arms, or will they revert to their early 20th century stance and begin supporting gun control again? Also in the article is a bit of history:

The seeds of what was to become the Black Panther Party lie in the 1940s, when black veterans returned to the South after fighting in World War II and found themselves dehumanized by segregation.

I’ve often wondered about this. The desegregation of the South and the achievements of the Civil Rights movement were perhaps the greatest human accomplishments to come out of World War 2 and the Cold War, and this has startling implications for libertarians who advocate for a hardline non-interventionist foreign policy. Libertarians in the US point out that worldwide empire is bad, even a liberal empire, but without it I don’t see a Civil Rights movement happening (which in turn means nobody in the developing world has a model to look up to).

After Germany and Japan surrendered Washington was forced to cede political rights to blacks because of the hypocrisy that pro-rights marches highlighted to the world. The US was engaged in a propaganda war with the USSR, and the segregation of blacks and whites in the US was very bad press. Without the Cold War, blacks would probably have remained official second-class in the US (and the world). Libertarians should be proud of the Civil Rights movement, even if the legislation passed didn’t conform perfectly with individual rights (i.e. affirmative action instead of reparations, or nothing but individual rights!) and even if blacks got their individual rights through legislation rather than law.

Smith’s reporting in other places is less than convincing, though:

Shootings of civilians by police officers reached a 20-year peak in 2013, even as the incidence of violent crime in America went down overall.

I believe that the shooting of “civilians” by police officers is a violent crime, but unless I am missing something Vice simply treats the data as if shootings by police officers are different from shootings by people who are not police officers. Nothing will change as long as this kind of mindset is prevalent in the US. I understand that police officers have a job to do, and that their job makes them different from people who do other jobs (say, a doctor or a lawyer), but it does not place them above the law.

Also, a more disturbing implication of this would be that a more violent police force decreases crime. This is not discussed by libertarians or left-liberals. I don’t like it, but it cannot be ruled out as a possibility just yet. I hope somebody will debunk my notion in the ‘comments’.

One last fascinating tidbit from the article is the difference between the old leaders of the Black Panthers (one who claimed that the Koch Brothers are behind everything, thus showing – to me, anyway – that hippies and Black Panthers have more Baby Boomer similarities with each other than they’d like to admit) and the new leaders (“all power to all people,” including gun rights). Racism is so interesting to me in the American context because of the demographic perceptions amongst other reasons). My parents and grandparents have very different types of racist assumptions than I do, but I’m getting way too far ahead of myself. More on American racism later, or just take me to task in the ‘comments’ section!

(h/t Chris Blattman)