The Heidelberg Catechism is one of my all-time favorite Christian documents. Written in 1563, mostly by Zacharias Ursinus, the Heidelberg (as it is sometimes called) is composed by 129 questions and answers (the classical format of a catechism), supposed to be studied in 52 Sundays (that is, one year). I believe it is very telling that, being a catechism, the Heidelberg was written thinking mostly about younger people, even children. Ursinus himself was only about 29 years old when he wrote it. Maybe it is a sign of the times we live in that the Heidelberg sounds extremely deep for most readers today.
Throughout its questions and answers, the Heidelberg covers mostly three Christian documents: The Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer (“Our Father who art in Heaven…”) and the Apostle’s Creed. The catechism is also divided into three main parts: Our sin and misery (questions 3-11), our redemption and freedom (questions 12-85), our gratitude and obedience (86-129). Probably an easier way to remember this is to say that the Heidelberg is divided into Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude. That is also, according to many interpreters, the basic division of the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Romans, historically one of the most important books in the Bible.
I mention all these characteristics about the Heidelberg Catechism because I think they are worth commenting on. As I learned from a friend, that is the Gospel: Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude. As C.S. Lewis observed in Mere Christianity, Christians are divided on how exactly this works, but all agree that our relationship with God is strained. That is the guilt. However, in Jesus Christ, we can restart a peaceful relationship with God. That is the grace. This should be followed by a life of gratitude. That is the way the Gospel is good news. If you don’t emphasize these three points you are not really presenting the Biblical gospel. To talk about grace without talking about guilt is nonsense. To talk about guilt and not grace is not good news at all. To talk about guilt and grace but not of gratitude is antinomianism. To talk about gratitude (or obedience) without talking about guilt and especially grace is legalism. But also, notice how unbalanced the three main parts are: Ursinus dedicated way more space for grace and gratitude that he did for guilt.
That’s not accidental. Also, it is very interesting that he talks about the Ten Commandments when he is dealing with gratitude. It didn’t have to be this way. Ursinus could have included the Law when talking about guilt. He could use the law to show how miserable we are for not fulfilling it. But instead, he wanted to show that obeying God is a sign of gratitude. You are free already. Obeying will not make you any more saved. But it is certainly the behavior of a truly restored person.
If you read so far, I should first thank you for your attention, but also say that I am completely unapologetic for speaking so openly on Christian themes. At some point in history, Christians decided to adapt to the modern culture. That was the birth of Christian Liberalism. Modern man, some of them assumed, could no longer believe in stories of gods and miracles. Modern science was able to explain things that societies in the past thought to be supernatural occurrences. The Bible was at worst pure nonsense or at beast a praiseful reflection of the piety of people in the past, but certainly not a supernatural revelation from God. But if you take away the supernatural elements of the Bible, what do you have left? Good morals, some thought. I believe they were wrong.
The social gospel is one consequence of Christian liberalism. The central miracle in the Bible is that Jesus, a mortal man, was dead for three days and resurrected. That is indeed a miracle. Make no mistake: people in the first century knew as well as we do that people don’t come back to life after three days. Maybe they knew it better than we do, for in the 21st century, for many of us, death is not a part of everyday life. For them, it certainly was. Christians have believed through almost two thousand years that Jesus’ death and resurrection have something to do with us being reconciled to God. But if Jesus didn’t resurrect, and no one really heard from God that he is angry, what do we have left? The answer, according to Christian liberals, is social justice. Reform society. I believe that for this, they own society at large an apology, and I will explain why.
I heard from too many people that the reason they don’t go to church is that Christians are hypocrites. “Do as I say, but not as I do”. Maybe they are right. The balance between guilt, grace, and gratitude if fundamental for Christianism to work. Salvation (reestablishing a rightful relationship with God) is by grace, not by works. Say that salvation is by works and you set the board in a way that you are sure to lose. As I already mentioned, I think it is just wonderful that the Heidelberg Catechism talks about the Law of God (The Ten Commandments) when it is discussing gratitude, not guilt, and I believe this is a great lesson for us today.
I say all this today because I believe that political correctness is (at least to a great degree) the bastard son (or daughter) of the social gospel. See the recent Gillette commercial that caused so much controversy, for example. Are they really saying anything wrong? Don’t men behave sometimes in ways that are less than commendable? I believe we do. Especially coming from a Latino culture as I do, I am more than willing to say that men all too often are disrespectful towards women and also towards other men. However, how the people at Gillette know this? If there is no God, or if he didn’t speak, how can you tell what is ethically commendable behavior and what is not?
I am no specialist, but as far as I know, more than enough atheist philosophers are willing to admit that in a sole materialist worldview there are no universal grounds for morality. As the poet said, “if there is no God, then all things are permissible”. It is always important in a conversation like this to explain that I am not saying that atheists cannot be ethical people. That is absolutely not what I am saying. Some of the best people I ever met were atheists. Some of the worst were Christians who were at church every single Sunday. With that explained, what I am saying is that there is no universal guide for human behavior if there is no God and everything just happened by chance. There are particular guides, but not a universal one, and to adhere to them is really a matter of choice.
The way that I see it, people at Gillette want men to feel bad and to change their behavior. They want men to feel guilty and to have gratitude. But where is the grace? I believe that is why this commercial irritated so many people. It makes people at Gillette look self-righteous or legalistic. Or both! But it definitely doesn’t help men to change their ways, supposing that there is something to change. I believe there is. There is a lot to change! But political correctness is not the way to do it.
Post Malone has been at the heart of some manufactured controversy recently. Complex and other hipster millennial outlets (x, y) have criticized his appropriation of braids, grills and slang (AAVE), as a white man who has recently made a name in hip hop.
I’m a college student in the Californian city with the highest rate of binge drinking (and a lot of partying). Just like rock n roll replaced jazz, hip hop has replaced rock as the club genre. And Post Malone is popular. I have never once heard someone complain about Post Malone in real life. The first time I heard his genre-fusing cooing was in a Mustang with my Mexican roommate and his girlfriend. I thought it was shit. He found “White Iverson” good enough to turn up the volume whenever it came on, and radio stations are notoriously abusive with new rap singles.
Last year you would see Latina and black classmates dancing to Post Malone at any of Chico’s backyard parties. No one thought he was culturally appropriating, or if they did, they didn’t care. His music sounds good to them. That’s what matters.
Post Malone has said some things in interviews and online that pissed off journalists and maybe a handful of other people with the time to be bothered. One of those things was the n-word, used once on Snapchat long ago. More recently, he stated that the modern hip hop landscape is sort of deficient in conscious rappers, rappers who will talk about “real shit,” and that “If you’re looking to think about life, don’t listen to hip hop.” Some easily offended artists, particularly those who are listened to almost exclusively by white people — Lil B, Earl Sweatshirt and Vince Staples — responded angrily.
In Complex‘s piece, the author was upset with Post Malone for dumbing down the music scene. Funny. XXL, one of the largest hip hop news outlets, which runs (and endorses) a group of up-n-comers every year, had the most lyrically-inept roster in recent history for their 2017 edition: Ugly God, Madeintyo, A Boogie With A Hoodie, Playboi Carti, Kap G, then a few alrights, and a single prodigy who’s now off to prison. (Playboi Carti can’t even rap. He really can’t.) I’m sorry to inform Complex, but the focus of hip hop is about hedonism right now. That’s how it is. No one gives a damn about J. Cole after 2014 Forest Hills Drive, and Kendrick Lamar sold out on his last album.
Since gaining fame, Post Malone has worked with Quavo (of Migos) and 21 Savage. Why didn’t these artists call him out for stealing black culture? And if Post Malone is destroying the often-intelligent culture of hip hop by exclusively sampling stereotypes and gangster imagery… why does no one care that Migos and 21 Savage are doing the exact same thing? Post Malone has also worked with Kanye West, who, again, didn’t care that he is white and immersing himself in the culture. Kanye has a lot of rap clout. So if Post Malone gets Kanye’s approval, what sort of validity do the rest of us have?
Granted: racial slurs are a reasonable line to draw for white artists. But Post Malone apologized and he’s clearly not a racist. What more is there to say?
There is no standpoint epistemology that can be non-arbitrarily applied here. Many people would like to say that white fans are ruining hip hop or that hip hop has always been about criticizing white power structures or some other ahistorical, revisionist narrative. No.
Hip hop is not just a personal liberator. Hip hop is for everyone. Hip hip is a product of black culture but black culture is no monolith. The standards for hip hop change. The style changes. The message is not singular. Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” has become an anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement. Why? Kendrick’s own personal viewpoints on the struggle for black liberation align much closer with Tupac Shakur’s — the perspective that real change must start in black communities, and any problems with the police and white authorities are secondary or tertiary. Have the organizers at BLM listened to Kendrick’s work before good kid, m.A.A.d city? Did they loop “Alright” so much from To Pimp a Butterfly that they skipped “The Blacker the Berry”?
Do these people want to pretend that all old school hip hop flowed from the mouth of Gil Scott-Heron? Have they listened to “Rapper’s Delight”? What about 2 Live Crew? “If you’re looking to think about life, don’t listen to hip hop”: Post Malone was being provocative, clearly. But hip hop is no special fountain of consciousness and enlightenment. It’s got even more sex and drugs than does rock n roll. Travi$ Scott came on the scene just to rap about partying — and he’s still a fantastic, infinitely creative artist. We will see more and more of this, just like we always have.
To all of this, it might be replied that white people are stealing hip hop like they stole rock n roll before. But music is not zero-sum. One artist’s creation does not prevent another artist’s creation, and especially now, there is always billboard room for more. Action Bronson is, stylistically, a carbon copy of Ghostface Killah (I mean, the off-brand version). But Wu Tang’s spotlight is long gone. A new artist for a new generation is no loss for the old artist, no disrespect to Ghostface. And now, if we look to anticipate the emerging future for hip hop (à la Soundcloud etc.), the new (black-led) wave is directly sampling from historically white inputs: radio rock, nu metal, grunge. Or even East Asian anime influences.
The attacks on Post Malone and the like are part of a larger guerilla ideology. They are one aspect of the cleansing of hip hop (an outrageously politically incorrect discipline) in general. I was in a recent dispute with a female friend over the outro from a song I like, as it came on shuffle:
Well with a pimp we gotta keep pimpin to have a b–h and that’s what she yearns for. She yearns for the pimpin. And once you keep f–king with pimpin, that square is a trick. It turns it from a square to a trick. Why she gone lay with a trick? It’s the nastiest lowest form of a motherf–ker. Pimps do what they wanna do. Hoes do what they’re told. And squares does what they can. They just do what they can. You see what I’m sayin?
She thought it was misogynistic. Sure, yeah, it is. But it’s a sample from a movie and that movie is about life on the streets. And that’s what’s going on. Hip hop tells stories.
I haven’t seen “American Pimp,” from which the sample is cut. But most of us would recognize that the quote is referencing, knowingly or not, the Melian dialogue from Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War from twenty four hundred years ago. It is 5th century B.C.E. and the Athenians are preparing for war against the Spartans. The Athenian army, under the direction of Cleomedes and Tisias, sends an expedition to the island Melos for conscription. The Melians, a small Spartan colony, would prefer to stay out of the conflict. In a classic statement of realist political philosophy, the Athenian representatives disregard abstract moral claims and tell the Melians, straight up: join the empire and fight for us, or be enslaved and massacred. There is only a question of morality between equals, and all that truly matters in politics is power:
For ourselves, we shall not trouble you with specious pretences — either of how we have a right to our empire because we overthrew the Mede, or are now attacking you because of wrong that you have done us — and make a long speech which would not be believed; and in return we hope that you, instead of thinking to influence us by saying that you did not join the Lacedaemonians, although their colonists, or that you have done us no wrong, will aim at what is feasible, holding in view the real sentiments of us both; since you know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.
The Melians decide not to give up their freedom, and bet on the odds that they will be aided by the Lacedaemonians, asking only to be left alone. The Athenians withdraw from the conference. The next winter, they siege the Melians into surrender then slaughter all the men and sell the women and children into slavery.
The point is: hip hop can rhyme about snorting cocaine off of a stripper and then reference classical Greek literature in the same song. We don’t really get that sort of postmodern syncretism in other genres. Hip hop is a bastion of creativity and subtlety as well as vulgarity and cruelty. Let’s hope it continues to surprise and offend us.
So let Amber Rose organize Slut Walks promoting sex positivity and feminism while her boyfriend 21 Savage raps about gang bangs and punching women in the face. Rap is for everyone and thus also the scumbags. Hip hop is a free speech fest, an untouched final frontier not yet contorted into submission by the thought police. What the people want is a good 808 and an album every couple months, not another stern voice to lecture them into moral and cultural conformity.
Hip hop has always exhibited the brute political realism of Thucydides’ History. More can be learned about the realities of American government from listening to Bone Thugs-N-Harmony than sitting in a political science class. Its willingness to stay down and dirty is its signature trademark. So cultural appeasement and cleanliness can have everything else: it can have our vocabulary, it can have our media, it can even be enforced by government for all I care. Just keep its indelicate hands off hip hop.
This is a micro alert. Be careful, reading this might make you uncomfortable.
It’s a November afternoon, a rather nice November but November all the same. There is a wedding on the little lawn on the cliff right above Steamer Lane. (Note for my overseas friends in Germany, Turkey, and Illinois: Steamer Lane is a famous cold water surf championship spot in Santa Cruz, California. The whole area, on the Monterey Bay, is exceptionally beautiful.)
The bride is late; surprise! The groom’s buddies are milling around in their comfortable enough tuxedos.* The bridesmaids are sitting and flocking together in their bareback, bare-arms, low-cut long dresses. A cool sea breeze is blowing, of course. Anyone could have predicted it. The ladies are obviously cold, as they should be. Anyone would be. Exemplary social scientist that I am, I make it a point to pass close enough to verify that goose pimples prevail. This goes on for at least an hour. It’s true nippling weather. Maybe that’s the point and I am just missing it.
I don’t know why no one in charge of the women of the bridal party planned for this weather. I don’t know why the bridesmaids’ uniform could not have included a tasteful shawl. Frankly, I don’t know if any of them would have used a shawl in preference to shivering though. (One young woman in my entourage says, “No way!”) At any rate, it’s difficult to take seriously the claim that women are tired of being considered sex objects. Those women, and the women of every American bridal party I have ever seen are bravely and determinedly on display. It’s not an intellectual display; it’s not a talent show; it’s not an IQ contest. I would swear they are disturbed, possibly enraged at the thought of not being considered sex objects on this occasion, after so much effort. The chasm between public discourse and reality has rarely been so wide since the Victorian Age. In the long run, political correctness is sure to induce some sort of collective schizophrenia, it seems to me.
Just to be painfully clear: I am not criticizing the bridesmaids’ behavior – bless their hearts! I hear that young men are ever more reluctant to commit. And you don’t catch flies with vinegar. And there must be a reason why Mother Nature placed women’s breasts on their chests rather than on their backs. (It’s so they can watch men watching them and take it from there.) I am not deriding the women in the bridal party at all. Female exhibitionism has been an attractive part of my worldview ever since I can remember (maybe since three or four years of age). I am just not becoming used to the grossly hypocritical denial that forms today the social context of such displays. It even bothers me worse than ever.
Someone has to shout, “Bullshit!” I wish older women would do it. In their regretted absence, here I am! You can count on me.
* “How gauche,” my snobbish Parisian side is thinking. Tuxedos are evening attire; they should never see the sun.
Yes, I am alive, thank you for asking.
I have been away from this blog for two reasons. First, the little boy who hated the end of summer and going back to school is still alive and well inside the old man. I combat the corresponding end of summer melancholy by trying to cram outdoors activities into my life until the days become too short. Second, my hands hurt enough to keep me away from the keyboard most of the time. I am considering switching to one of the voice recognition softwares such as Dragon. I am not too worried about accuracy. Mostly, I don’t want to have to junk my old Samsung because of space requirements or some other software feature I don’t even know exists. I listen to advice from my betters (practically everybody in this case). Ideally – ideally – I would like a program that does more than one language.
I had much trouble writing the essay below because the topic of mass migrations has so many ramifications and because it touches so many different sensitive subjects. In a way, it’s just too rich a topic. And, the more I waited, the more complicated the situation became on the ground. Please, bear with me.
Like most or many people, I have observed with grief in my heart the fast-rolling disaster of the migrants crisis in Europe. I have several reactions, not all compatible with one another.
As I wrote, on about 9/5/15 Hungary was unaccountably preventing thousands of migrants from leaving its territory. This is strange because most of them don’t want to stay in Hungary; they want to go to Germany and to Sweden. Besides, Hungary, which is relatively poor, has a fairly big anti-immigrant political party, lots of voters who want as few immigrants inside as possible. A major Hungarian politician even declared that Hungary does not want any Muslim refugees because of its history of strife with the Ottoman Empire. Something does not add up: If you don’t want them, let them go elsewhere, even give them a lift! Later (09/14/15) Hungary built a fence to keep migrants out. Smart move!
What is confusing is that the current crisis is only in part new. We have heard for years, we have seen pictures of people drowning trying to reach the Italian island Lampedusa for a long time now. Three hundred and fifty drowned there in one 2103 day alone. This first European Union territory is only day-excursion distance from Tunisia. Several years ago, I saw pictures of hundreds of black Africans acting in concert to swamp the wall of Spanish enclaves in North Africa. The two enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla are also, practically, part of the European Union. I could tell from their appearance that the fence climbers were not Syrian families but sub-Saharan Africans. Some were from Senegal, a poor but peaceful and orderly country. So, there have always been illegal emigrants to Europe motivated by the search for better economic opportunity, people who left their countries not out of desperation but drawn by hope. This first category of migrants resembles closely immigrants from Mexico, for example, who daily come into the US illegally.
So, it seems to me that there are right now two main categories of migrants (would-be immigrants) that are intermixed on the ground and on the sea and that the American press is not doing a good job of separating them, conceptually. I am possibly getting a clearer picture by superimposing on one another American and French language reports. The new migrants, a recent category – are going to Europe because they feel that they literally have no place to live. They are properly refugees; they seek refuge in an absolute sense. This is the case, no doubt, with many Syrians. Their area of origin has been destroyed by the Assad government, much of the rest of their country is aflame or under the brutal tyranny of the so-called Islamic Caliphate. The livable areas are shrinking fast. Many belong to the wrong sect and are suspected of being natural enemies irrespective of their actions or inaction. They are not welcome in the shrinking areas of livability within their country or they are unable to reach them. From interviews in both English and French and from the quality of their clothes, I deduce that a large percentage of these new migrants are solidly middle-class, well educated, with defined skills. I mean “middle-class” by my standards, not middle-class by some other, lower exotic standards. The impression is strong and clear with respects to Syrians, less so for Iraqis.
Many Syrian migrants are young men who are simply trying to escape the draft in a murderous on-going war. (The fact that they are young and male has implications for the receiving countries that I hope to consider in a related essay, following.) But migrations are always complicated. Once the path is opened by the desperate refugees just described, once bridges are built, simple economic migrants of the old style who would not have thought of moving will join the exodus. Things will not sort themselves out soon. It will become increasingly difficult to separate real refugees from traditional, conventional economic migrants. Both target principally Western countries.
The new migrants from Syria, but also from Iraq, calculate, probably correctly, that their neighbors have reached the point where they can’t or won’t take them in. Lebanon and Jordan are groaning under a disproportionate demographic burden. Two out of eight residents of Lebanon today are recent Syrian refugees. The situation is more nebulous in Jordan but the figure there appears to be about one in ten. (Think of 32 million recent refugees in the US.) Many citizens of these countries of asylum think without being able to say it aloud that the fragile political ethnic-religious equilibrium of their countries is compromised forever. Turkey says it has taken in two million Syrians. It’s not that impressive given its population of 77 million. There is a possibility it’s not just the total number of refugees that gives Turkey cold feet but the prospect that those refugees will include many Kurds from Syria whose very presence will cause more unrest among the long rebellious Turkish Kurds.
The other neighbors of Syria and Iraq, its Arab neighbors, specifically, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE, seem to have given away a lot of money but they show no sign of opening their doors. It’s astonishing when you think of the ease and safety with which refugees could reach there as compared to their perilous journey to Western Europe. It’s even more interesting that there seems (seems) to be no great clamor from refugees to be admitted into these prosperous countries anyway. It appears that there is a consensus among Muslim Arabs: Muslim Arab refugees are not welcome in most Muslim Arab countries and they don’t want to go there anyway. Interesting! The new migrants, the real refugees believe, probably correctly too, that refugee camps in the Middle East lead nowhere, that they are still going to be there in twenty years. And, why not? Some Palestinian refugee camps are now reaching age seventy. Iraqis are in the same situation. Afghans who are the right kind of Muslim (Sunni) but who don’t speak Arabic don’t even try to go there. Instead, like everyone else, like Syrians and Iraqis, they head for Germany and Sweden because most of them are fluent in German or in Swedish or both. (Just a bitter joke.)
It’s not clear what the other neighbor, Iran, is doing. I am guessing it’s taking in Afghans in the east, same as it has done for twenty years. A country with a population size similar to that of Turkey – and of Germany, by the way – 78 million, appears to have opened its doors to no (zero) Syrian refugees. There are Iraqis living there but it’s always been so; it’s not a humanitarian response to the current crisis.
No one is asking why India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, with over 600 million Muslims between them, have not offered asylum to 10,000 Middle East refugees, or even to 5,000. No one even dare think the thought that China, Japan, and, of course Russia, have done nothing. The Pope has drawn attention loudly and clearly to the plight of the Middle Eastern refugees. The Vatican is an independent sovereign state with the legal capability to issue visas. I have been there: There are many underused buildings and extensive gardens suitable for a tent city. The Vatican city-state already possesses all the requisite municipal services. Yet, to-date, the Vatican has taken in zero refugees although its head of state, the Pope, has urged Catholic families and parishes everywhere to open their door. Like fish, organizations rot from the head.
Notably, so far, the US has announced that it will take only 10,000 Syrians. (But in the past twenty years, the US absorbed about 70% of all defined as refugees by the UN who did find asylum. We have credibility money in the bank, so to speak.) As I write, no country of Latin America – with its surprisingly large minority of Arab descendants who enjoy much influence – has made any significant offer. Perhaps, the countries of the Western Hemisphere are too far removed from the scene of the main disaster to be prompt. We will find out in the next few days.
It’s now obvious that compassion, simple humanity is disproportionately lodged in the West, that is, in Christian and in formerly Christian societies. Not all such societies are helping but the bulk of those now helping concretely right now, except for Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey (see above) are such countries.
The refugees themselves know this, and are stalwartly heading for Western European countries – that have experienced mediocre economic growth for many years – in preference to non-European countries routinely growing at more than 6% for years. So, China and India are not taking them in which is fine because they don’t want to go there anyway. Japan has not even begun to think about it. The refugees have not asked anything from Japan. It might just as well be on another planet. Again: Refugees are trying desperately to find room in Western societies that are not even doing very well themselves, Greece, of course, but also Italy, and Spain, and France, with its rate of economic growth that may well reach 0.6 % this year, the French hope fervently. (Incidentally, it was a pleasure seeing the French Socialist government, that paragon of solidarité shamed into giving a hand by a German conservative politician. It had not lifed a finger until then. Sorry if you missed it.)
What politically correct opinion in the West does not want to say too loud is also obvious: most, almost all of the migrants are Muslims. To admit this obvious fact forces you to ask what happened. The migrant crisis is a dramatic manifestation of the widespread institutional, economic and moral failure of Muslim societies. In fact, voices of conscience in the Arab world have been more forthcoming in their remarks than have Western commentators. (And no, I am not using “Muslim” and “Arab” interchangeably. Don’t insult me, please. There may also be non-Arab Muslim voices denouncing Muslim passivity toward the crisis that I have missed. I welcome responsible additions to this essay.)
Muslim societies with one big exception (Indonesia) and several small ones (Senegal, Mauritania, etc.) have been generous in their provision of war, massacres, ethnic cleansing, and other atrocities. They have mostly failed to provide work for their young. Those that don’t sit on a cushion of hydrocarbons rarely display economic growth surpassing their demographic growth. The resource rich states are well, dependent, on factors which they cannot control, on capricious facts that discourage both collective and individual planning. Only a handful, literally a handful, of Muslim countries has been able to sustain anything resembling a democracy, any form of democracy, even using the term loosely. With the exception of Indonesia again, the most stable, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, but also Algeria, are old fashioned despotic states. When it comes to charity, the care of those more unfortunate, assistance to brethren in distress, the Muslim world is a straightforward disaster although such care and such assistance are explicit moral obligations under Islam. Muslim societies are failures on most counts. Important fractions of their populations are on a perilous march seeking a new life in the Crusaders’ heartland.
The shame, the hypocrisy!
I know, I know, it must all be America’s fault. I will have to write a part two to this essay.
I am starting my own war against empty, silly slogans and presumptuous words. I think they are the brick and mortar of political correctness which is smothering our brains. Living in Santa Cruz, California and dutifully listening to National Public Radio every day sure raise my awareness of brain cell destruction. (See endnote.)
Somebody had to do it, to start this war, I mean. And it’s in the best of human traditions that old men admonish the rest of the tribe to behave itself. (It’s “itself,” not “themselves;” tribe is singular. There are uses for a plural singular. This is not one. Pay attention. Learn English. I did.)
First thing first: If you call yourself an “educator,” you are not fit to educate anyone, especially children; I mean that you are not cultured enough. Learn to read, please!
If you believe that “educator” gives you gravitas (look it up) because the word rhymes with “doctor,” think again. Medical science exists, incurable warts and all. There is no science behind education. The mistaken belief that there is has led this country to waves after waves of destructive fads. These have left whole generations unable to write simple declarative sentences or to divide 144 by 12.
In twenty-five years of teaching in an expensive university, I met several graduating seniors, Spanish majors, who were illiterate in two languages including their own. (Reality surpasses fiction!) Education science indeed!
The proper word is not the pretentious “educator,” it’s “teacher.” If that does not sound noble enough for you, you should not be teaching. Good teaching requires a degree of humility. I refer to the humility to be ready to get another job if you can qualify for one.
Everyone in the world remembers his best teacher: He or she was enthusiastic yet calm, humane yet rigorous, encouraging yet demanding. There is no science in any of this. These qualities never add up to anything anyone would pompously call an “educator.”
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.
“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.”
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?
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!
A reader, MM, sent a comment criticizing an off-hand, snide remark I had made in my micro-essay, “Sex Advice.” I welcome the opportunity MM gives me to take him into the alley and beat him to a pulp. His full comment:
Though usually considered much of a stick-in-the-mud regarding language, and especially neologisms, I must offer a cordial disagreement regarding the word “gender” when used instead of “sex.”
Ordinarily I despise changing the language (you should see, for example, my battles with the ignorami who say “healthy” when they mean “healthful”), but when a change improves and clarifies, then I can not only accept but embrace it.
You are right that “gender” was originally intended for language references — more important in French and other furrin tongues — but since “sex” has become such an important, or at least such an ever-present, part of everyday life, having a separate word, such as “gender,” keeps the meaning clear.
I mean, I have compromised my formerly inviolate principles so that now I even use the word “gay” rather than “homosexual,” after swearing I would never degrade the language in that fashion.
But, after all, “gay” is the polite term, the one preferred by the people to whom it applies.
So, if I can change, linguistically, so can you.
MM’s justification for the widespread substitution of “gender” for “sex”makes sense. I agree that it clarifies. However, it ignores the fact that such a change rarely occurs as a result of a technical-rational process. Such changes, this one in particular, are loaded with sociological and, with political importance. To ignore them is to assent. Winning the substitution of one word for another is like winning an election forever, an election in which the winning party never even ran and the opposition never campaigned. What I am going to say about “gender” applies even better to “gay.” Continue reading