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.