Anti-Sikh Riots, Eastern Europe’s Normalcy

Here is a pdf from economists Andrei Shleifer and Daniel Treisman on life in Eastern Europe 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall:

Twenty-five years after the Berlin Wall came down, a sense of missed possibilities hangs over the countries to its east. Amid the euphoria that greeted the sudden implosion of communism, hopes ran high. From Bratislava to Ulaan Bataar, democracy and prosperity seemed just around the corner.

Yet, a quarter century on, the mood has changed to disillusion. With a few exceptions, the postcommunist countries are seen as failures—their economies peopled by struggling pensioners and strutting oligarchs, their politics a realm of ballot stuffing and emerging dictators.

Wars—from Nagorno-Karabakh to Yugoslavia, Chechnya, and now Eastern Ukraine— have punctured the 40 years of cold peace on the European continent, leaving behind enclaves of smoldering violence. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s consolidation of autocracy and imperial aggression seem to many emblematic of a more general rot spreading from the East.

[...]

We find that objective evidence contradicts the conventional view. Media images aside, life has improved dramatically across the former Eastern Bloc. Since the start of transition, the post-communist countries have grown rapidly. Their citizens live richer, longer, and happier lives. In most regards they look today just like other countries at similar levels of economic development. They have become normal countries—and in some ways “better than normal.”

If only this picture would garner as much attention as wars, protests, and economic downturns.

This week marks the 30th anniversary of the vicious anti-Sikh riots that occurred after Indira Gandhi was assassinated. Akhilesh Pillalamarri has a thoughtful piece.

The Uses and Abuses of Hypotheticals

In arguments, we often have recourse to hypotheticals, which allow us to imagine alternative situations, what could be and what could have been, different worlds, and so forth. Although an important tool, they are abused in arguments to an alarming degree. This is due solely to the prime advantage, and unfortunately disadvantage, of the hypothetical: because it is an image of a world that never was or that may perhaps be, it allows the imagination free reign to create, and so to run wild.

This has its most pernicious effects in the arena of current affairs, which is always subject to the most wild speculation. When looking at the situation in Israel/Palestine for example, the theorizing over a two-state solution has become so hackneyed that most commentators have sought to find their own path: perhaps a one state solution? Perhaps an independent confederation of states? Perhaps international arbitration under the United Nations? Perhaps the benevolent rule of a colonial power? Perhaps creating a giant sinkhole beneath the region, so as to eliminate it forever from the irksome consciousness of the world? Regardless of the idea, the chief sin of each theorist is not that his idea is necessarily bad, but that it is not necessarily plausible. Returning to the above example, with the death of the two-state solution, the most likely result seems to be a move to a single state, initially dominated by the more powerful Israeli polity until demographics renders this untenable, and afterwards some murky result, such as ethnic cleansing or, unlikely, ethnic and religious amity.

This reflects my own bias to realistic solutions. Sometimes dreamers can conceive of a reality beyond the grasp of most, and through force of will create it as a new reality. The majesty of Hellenism, whose cultural empire stretched from the boundaries of Rome in the West to the banks of the Indus in the East, and even beyond, was the result of Alexander’s megalomaniacal will to power. Without him, there would not have been such a cultural force, just as surely as after him there was not a military force that could hold his empire together. But, this sort of action is the province of great men. The rest of us, who toil in obscurity, can scarcely afford to give our great visions the flesh and blood we would like them to have. Constrained by our limits of power, and probably by our limits of foresight, we are far safer staying within our natural boundaries than venturing beyond. In grasping at the unknown, we seek to imagine a reality that could be. But in ignoring reality as it stands, we often risk losing all perspective of what reality is likely to be.

Despite all this, continue to speculate. Create hypotheticals, and support them with quality arguments. I look forward to reading them, for despite the sins of imagination, the fruits may be equally great: an improper imagination lacks perspective, but a proper one sharpens it, by offering a small measure of insight into the murky proceedings of the future. It creates the space for action, for it introduces uncertainty into what might seem hopelessly determined. After all, one can never divine the future, despite all probabilities.

We Can’t Bomb Our Way to Sanity

With Canada still reeling from last week’s unprecedented terror attacks, can we make ourselves safe from the threat of “radicalized” Muslims?

It is now pretty clear that both of Canada’s two terrorist attackers last week were mentally disturbed men. Their acts of violence were not caused by a religion the police can censor or a terrorist organization the military can bomb.

These two men weren’t “radicalized.” They were losing their minds.

Wednesday’s Parliament Hill attacker, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, was a drug addict who once robbed a McDonald’s in the hope that he could “get to jail to atone for his sins and get clean from a crack addiction.”

In other words, this man suffered mental torment. He decided that by attacking others, he could force them into a response that would cleanse his guilt and silence his troubled mind. When getting locked in a cage didn’t do the trick, Zehaf-Bibeau decided to up the ante and get himself killed.

Monday’s hit-and-run attacker, Martin Couture-Rouleau, apparently underwent a radical personality change two years ago. He lost his car wash business and became alienated from his friends, his father, and his wife. Only later did he convert to Islam, start talking to his horrified friends and family about the redemptive power of suicide terrorism, and then run over two soldiers with his car.

At the time of his car attack, his wife was seeking sole custody of their child because of the changes in her husband’s behavior.

This was not a functional Muslim man who decided to take up arms because he saw some beheading video on YouTube. He was a superficial convert dealing with, at the very least, some serious emotional changes and relationship problems.

The kind of personality transformation Couture-Rouleau apparently underwent seems to be consistent with the onset of schizophrenia, which usually happens in a man’s early 20s. Couture-Rouleau would have been 23 when the changes started.

These men were not good Muslims on the accepted path of proper conduct in their faith communities. Couture-Rouleau’s imam had been meeting with him in an attempt to talk him out of his interest in acts of violence. Zehaf-Bibeau had recently been kicked out of a mosque in British Columbia for his erratic, drug-induced behavior.

These were unstable men living with intense mental and emotional turmoil.

From the point of view of the mentally disturbed person seeking to end his psychological suffering, authentic religious devotion has a downside: you have to keep at it day after day. You pray, you work, and you still have to face your inner demons every morning and every night.

Suicidal violence has the advantage that you only have to do it once.

That these recent attacks have more to do with insanity than with Islam or ISIS may not be convenient for Western governments. It does not provide a shadowy supervillain against whom to defend ourselves. It provides no outlet for the Western public’s fear and anger, and it provides no justification for war. We cannot bomb our way to sanity.

This fact is also not advantageous for ISIS propagandists, who would prefer to congratulate Zehaf-Bibeau and Couture-Rouleau as holy warriors rather than express sympathy for them as mentally ill.

But there’s a plus side for those who prefer peace. The mental instability of last week’s two Canadian terrorists is a reminder of why suicide terrorists are really not that dangerous. The desperate people who usually carry out these attacks are likely not capable of the kind of delicate, slow-moving, secret operation required to set off a dirty bomb or a biological weapon in a Western city.

They have what Ludwig von Mises would call a high “time preference.” They want to end their own suffering and they want to end it now.

These terrorists (if we want to use that word for such tormented souls as Zehaf-Bibeau and Couture-Rouleau) were not actually trying to achieve mass casualties. They were trying to end their own pain and shame.

Suicidal violence with a hastily adopted patina of Islam was just the rope they chose to hang themselves with.

***

Originally published in Anything Peaceful.

Around the Web: Rand Paul’s Foreign Policy Speech Edition

I already know what the neoconservatives are going to say. Same goes with those on the socialist Left. I think everybody knows what they are going to say and that, in a nutshell, explains why the neoconservatives are becoming as marginal in contemporary debates as the socialists.

Complex interdependence turned around

An interesting analysis in one of the Dutch quality papers today. The analysis was about Russia’s power politics, and especially how it used all kinds of formal and informal tactics in different areas, for example traditional diplomatic canals, covert military action, media, energy politics, espionage, et cetera. Special attention was drawn to the economic aspect. Not so much the economic sanctions, which are mainly making life more expensive for the Russian population, are a nuisance to the people in power, yet lack any pacifying effect.

More interesting was the point that the entanglement between the Russian en European economies actually allows the Russian leaders to more belligerent, and to make use of the Ukraine crisis to prolong the life of their rule. This is due to the fear of Western governments to lose Russian investments, gas supplies and capital. President Putin and his followers know this too well, and are therefore prepared to take more risks in the Ukraine crisis. Sure there are other factors important as well, yet this economic factor is significant in their power game.

For liberal theory in international relations this is complex interdependence turned around. In 1978 Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye published their influential book Power and Interdependence, which focused on the importance of the multiple ways societies and countries are interconnected. Although a lot can, and has been, said about their analysis, as well as the broader discussion following the book, many liberals read the book as a confirmation of their belief in the pacifying effects of economic interdependence. However, this was not the actual position of Keohane and Nye, who emphasized that interdependence would not necessarily lead to international cooperation, nor did they assume any other automatic benign effects (see page 249 of the second edition, 1989).

If anything, the current situation in the crisis between Russia, Ukraine and the West shows the truth of these careful theoretical remarks. The political effect of economic ties is not automatically benign or peace enhancing.

Columbus Day needs to go, but…

I deplore Columbus Day. It it a state-sponsored celebration of state-sponsored genocide. I argue that it needs to be abolished because Columbus was a bad man with bad motives.

However, there are a number of talking points, put forth by the Left, that are simply wrong and need to be debunked before we can have an honest discussion about why Columbus was such a bad guy.

The conquests of New Spain and Brazil undertaken by Spain and Portugal were state-sponsored, while the slow, eventual westward push by other European peoples were only indirectly sponsored by states (through corporate charters and the like) until the mid-nineteenth century (a time frame of over four centuries). This state sponsorship can largely explain why Latin America is the red-headed stepchild of the West today.

I don’t buy the argument, put forth by Politically Correct Leftists, that the genocide of Native Americans was perpetrated solely by white men and their cunning and guile. This counter-narrative is just as dishonest as the traditional narrative proclaiming Columbus to be a great discoverer. It takes away the agency and the complexity of Native societies with one fell, condescending swoop.

As an example, consider yesterday’s (American) football game between the Cardinals and the Redskins in Phoenix. The owner of the Redskins, under fire for keeping the name ‘Redskins’, invited the current, democratically-elected President of the Navajo nation to watch the game with him and his family. The President and his wife obliged, and wore Redskins gear to accentuate their support for the Redskins owner.

The couple did this while hundreds of anti-Redskins protesters stood outside the stadium with signs and slogans. Native fans brandished signs inside the stadium declaring their support for the Redskins name.

Many appointed Native leaders simply sold their people out to Europeans. Many more thought assimilation between their culture and the Europeans’ would be the better option going forward. Many Native factions actively slaughtered other factions for money, land, or other goods and services.

I often wonder if traditionalists don’t see what Leftists are doing when they deliberately display such a proud ignorance of historical facts. It’s as if traditionalists relish the role of bad guy in society when they play into the dishonest hands of Leftist so-called reformers.

At any rate, here is economist Bryan Caplan on Columbus Day, and here is philosopher Irfan Khawaja. Both are worth reading. Both are libertarian, to one degree or another, and both pieces move well beyond the usual garbage that passes for debate in this country.

Restore the Turkish Empire!

The Turkish Empire, also called the Ottoman Empire, was founded in 1299 and lasted until 1922. At the start of World War I, the Turkish Empire still included much of the Levant, including what are now Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Palestine, and part of Saudi Arabia. The Sultan, as the emperor, was also the head of the Caliphate, the realm of Islam.

Libertarians are generally opposed to empires. However, a great historical error was made by the victors of World War I. The chiefs of France, the United Kingdom, and the United States, broke up the Austro-Hungarian empire and the Turkish Empire. Whereas the Arabs helped the British defeat the Turks in the expectation that they would achieve independence, the British and French betrayed these hopes by making the Arab lands colonies. The British obtained Palestine, Jordan, and Iraq, while the French took Lebanon and Syria.

Under the Turkish Empire, the diverse religions of the Middle East were able to co-exist. The Empire had a policy of local self-governance under the “millet” system whereby people could use their own religious laws. The term derives from the Arabic word millah, for meaning “nation.” Because they were all under one empire, the ethnic groups such as Kurds and the religious minorities did not fight over land.

Today’s problems in the Middle East, including the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Syrian civil wars, the dictatorship and war in Iraq, the violence in Lebanon, and the rise of supremacists, all stem from the breakup of the Turkish Empire. That realm had its problems, including violence against Armenians and others, but most of the residents of the former Turkish areas would probably wish they had stayed in the Empire.

With the discovery and development of oil Iraq became of strategic interest. If the Turkish Empire had not been broken up then the oil would have served the Empire; and the dictatorships and tyrannies of Syria and Iraq would have been prevented. Most likely, the Turkish Empire would have been a constitutional monarchy. The retention of the Caliphate would have avoided the nostalgic yearning of Muslims for its restoration by violence.

But now, is it too late? We cannot restore broken Humpty Dumpty, can we? Maybe not, but what is the alternative? Nobody is talking about restoring the Turkish Empire, but there does not seem to be any better solution.

The restoration of the Turkish empire does seem crazy, ridiculous, and absurd. But it would unify the region. There was no Sunni-Shia war under the Turks. Christians were able to follow their faith. Jews who had lived in the region since the BC times did not have to flee.

The new Turkish Empire would include Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine, Jordan, and Iraq. Kuwait was separate from the Empire, and could join or not as it wished. The government of Turkey would start the process by sending in troops to take control of Syria and sections of Iraq. The other states would be invited to join in.

The new empire would not be called “Turkish,” although Turkey would be the major power holding it together. It could be called the Confederation of the Levant. The states of the confederation would retain their own institutions. Israelis and Palestinians would benefit by joining the new Turkish empire. Just as Muslim cities once had Jewish quarters, the Empire would regard Israel as the Jewish quarter of a Muslim empire, while Palestinian Arabs would no longer be under Israeli occupation; they would constitute a state within a Muslim Caliphate, and the Israeli settlers would recognize the Palestinian jurisdiction by paying rent.

The US is now reluctant to send in troops to pacify the Levant, and Turkey is in the best position to do so. Having become more Islamic, now is the time for it to take the next step and restore an Islamic empire with a Caliphate, but a peaceful, democratic, and tolerant one.

Just as breaking up the Austro-Hungarian Empire was a big mistake, which allowed Nazi Germany to swallow up Austria and then Czechoslovakia, so was the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire. The European Union has replaced the old European realms as it becomes a new empire of democratic states. Nothing like that is happening in the Middle East.

It’s time to talk Turkey!