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“Useful Idiots”: Why The Violent Extremists Welcome Attacks On Islam

Whenever an act of horrific terror enrages the West, a predictable second act ensues. Furious commentators and activists on the right erupt with blanket denunciations of Islam, Muslims, and their supposed plots to enslave us all under Shari’a law, urging that we ban the religion, stigmatize its faithful, and restore the Judeo-Christian exclusivity of America. Sometimes a few even seek retribution in attacks on mosques, individual Muslims, and anyone unfortunate enough to “look Muslim.”

Violent or merely loud , these are the “useful idiots,” whose divisive blundering underscores the propaganda of al Qaeda, ISIS, and imitators around the world. They represent precisely the opposite of what we must do and say if we are to defeat Islamist extremism in all its manifestations.

Look behind the delusional murderers who actually carry out such crimes as the massacres at Charlie Hebdo and the Paris kosher market: What is the strategic objective of those who deploy them? Not a military victory over the French army, nor even an atmosphere of fear in Paris. They seek to provoke a harsh crackdown on innocent Muslims, especially the young and unemployed, along with expressions of bigotry and discrimination – to highlight the simmering communal conflicts they hope to inflame into a “war of civilizations.”

So the extremists can only be grateful when anti-Muslim propaganda, repeated constantly in right-wing publications and broadcasts, casts them as the defenders of Islam, rather than its defilers. Every time Islam is publicly defined as a religion of violence, the jihadis gain prestige. Their appeals become more persuasive to oppressed young Muslims – especially if no alternative is apparent.

Yet the narrative of endless conflict and implacable distrust is not only untrue – as we saw last week when Parisians of all faiths and none rallied together – but deeply destructive to traditional democratic values and strategically stupid.

Yes, we must protect the right to commit free speech, including speech that is offensive to religions and even to ethnic groups, without fear of violent responses. We must also protect the rights of religious and ethnic minorities — including the right to protest peacefully against offensive speech. That requires swift action against those who will conspire to maim, murder, and terrorize – and the capacity whenever possible to neutralize those criminals before they act.

But Americans will need to do much more than surround ourselves with police, armies, and intelligence services if we ever hope to overcome our extremist enemies. Effective counterterrorism demands a contrasting narrative of coexistence, respect, fairness, and opportunity.

The elements of that political arsenal exist already — in the stories of Ahmed Merabet, the Muslim policeman who died heroically in Paris, and Lassana Bathily, the young Muslim employee who led Jews in the kosher market to safety; in the undeniable fact that the extremists murder hundreds of innocent civilians, overwhelmingly Muslim, every week; and in the secure, prosperous existence that millions of ordinary Muslim families have enjoyed in this country for decades, despite outbursts of prejudice and harassment.

We ought to note with pride that Muslims serve in the U.S. military and every branch of government, including two members of Congress, because the Constitution specifically bans any religious test for public office. (Certain figures on the religious right may need to be reminded too.) Muslims should know that their holy days are routinely celebrated in the White House by presidents of both parties — even as all religions are subject to disbelief, criticism, and even jeering satire in a free society.

The consensus among ordinary Muslims is well known to public opinion pollsters: By large majorities, here and abroad, they fear and disdain the violent extremists who have defamed their religion. Let’s at least stop trying to change their minds.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, January 15, 2015

January 16, 2015 Posted by | Charlie Hebdo, Paris Shootings, Terrorism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Triumph Of American Culture Welcoming Immigrants”: Why Republican Fear-Mongering About France Is Detached From Reality

One frequent criticism conservatives make of Barack Obama when it comes to terrorism is that he doesn’t “understand” the threats we face. This supposed lack of understanding, they say, is what leads the President to be so weak when what is needed is more strength, more military action, more belligerence. Those who “understand” terrorism know that this is the only path to combating it effectively.

With the attacks in Paris last week, conservatives and Republicans are again asserting that Obama’s lethal combination of ignorance and weakness is leaving us vulnerable, because terrorist incidents like the ones in France are soon to occur here in America. For instance, here’s an excerpt from a glowing story about John McCain in today’s New York Times:

He said in an interview last Thursday that Mr. Obama’s decision not to send more American troops to Iraq to thwart the Islamic State had put America at risk.

“That attack you saw in Paris? You’ll see an attack in the United States,” Mr. McCain said. He repeated his frequent assessment that the president’s foreign policy is “a disaster” and “delusional.” He said “of course” he would have made a better commander in chief.

Let’s follow the logic here. McCain is arguing that because we don’t have enough troops in Iraq, someone could get some guns and shoot a bunch of Americans — presumably at ISIS’s behest — whereas if we had more troops there, ISIS would still want to launch (or order, or encourage, or inspire) that kind of an attack, but they wouldn’t be able to.

So what exactly does McCain think was required for those two men to attack the Charlie Hebdo offices? Was it an international conspiracy involving a huge mobilization of resources and the coordination of large numbers of people spread across the world? No. Despite the fact that al Qaeda in Yemen is trying to claim responsibility for it, all that the attack required was two guys and a couple of guns.

Yet McCain thinks that whether such an attack occurs in America will be determined by how strong and aggressive we’re being against ISIS.

McCain’s good friend Lindsey Graham had a similar interpretation of the events in Paris: it’s going to happen here, and it’s because President Obama is weak. “I fear we can expect and must prepare for more attacks like this in the future,” he said, adding that, because of Barack Obama’s poor policy choices, “I fear our intelligence capabilities, those designed to prevent such an attack from taking place on our shores, are quickly eroding.”

But even if you believed that Obama is eroding our intelligence capabilities (and I have no idea what he’s talking about on that score), does that make us more vulnerable to a couple of guys with guns shooting up a public place? If such an attack were in the works, it wouldn’t require getting resources from overseas, and it wouldn’t require coordination and communication of the kind American intelligence might intercept. All that would be necessary is for someone who is angry enough to go to a gun show, pick up some heavy weaponry, and he’d be on his way. And he probably wouldn’t have to go far — according to this calendar, there are 61 gun shows happening this week in America — not this year or this month, but just this week.

Given how easy it would be to carry out an attack like the one on Charlie Hebdo, the real question is why it doesn’t happen all the time. While there have been a number of cases in recent years in which right-wing terrorists have tried to shoot a bunch of people, there have been only a couple of occurrences of politically motivated jihadist attacks like the ones in Paris — not an attempt to plant a bomb or do something similarly elaborate, but just somebody taking a gun and shooting a bunch of people — most notably that of Nidal Hassan, who killed 13 people at Ft. Hood in 2009 (there was also a Seattle man who killed four people last year and claimed it was revenge for American military actions).

So why doesn’t it happen more here? The answer is that unlike their European counterparts, American Muslims are as a group extremely assimilated and patriotic. So there’s virtually no one here who wants to carry out such an attack. Our relative safety on this score isn’t a triumph of intelligence, it’s a triumph of the American culture of welcoming immigrants.

Of course intelligence is important in preventing terrorism. But Republican critics, who are so proud of their supposedly deep understanding of national security issues, seem to believe that every kind of terrorist attack is exactly alike, and is made more or less likely for exactly the same reasons. That’s the kind of sophisticated thinking on terrorism we’ve supposedly been missing for the last six years.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributing Writer, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, January 14, 2015

January 15, 2015 Posted by | John McCain, Paris Shootings, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Sometimes, It’s Not Entirely About Us”: A Note On Criticism Of Obama For Not Attending Paris March

The march in Paris yesterday expressing solidarity in the wake of the terrorist attack on the office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was an inspiring sight, with somewhere between one and two million people, joined by world leaders, proclaiming their defiance of terrorism and their support for freedom of expression. But don’t think for a second that politics was absent, there or here at home. For instance, there was apparently a great deal of behind-the-scenes wrangling between the French, Israeli and Palestinian governments over whether Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas would attend. Back here in the United States, the Obama administration has been roundly condemned for not sending sufficiently high-ranking officials to participate in the march.

Many argued that President Obama should have attended, since other heads of state like Angela Merkel and David Cameron were there. “Our president should have been there,” wrote Sen. Ted Cruz. Others said that if not the President, then at least the Vice President or Secretary of State should have gone (the U.S. was represented at the march by the American ambassador to France). The criticisms have been somewhere between vehement and vicious, and not just from conservatives, but from mainstream reporters and news organizations. CNN ran a headline reading, “Where was Obama?” The New York Daily News cover read: “You let the world down.” Jake Tapper, writing about the absence of American officials, opined: “I say this as an American — not as a journalist, not as a representative of CNN — but as an American: I was ashamed.”

Let’s dispense with this specific question with no more than the attention it deserves: It would have been all but insane for President Obama to participate in a march, in public, in a foreign country, with a couple million people around him. The security requirements necessary to protect him make it impossible. The Secret Service has to do an extraordinary amount of work and planning for him to drop by Ben’s Chili Bowl a mile from the White House; the idea that with a couple of days notice he could walk through the streets of Paris in an enormous throng of people is absurd.

But let’s be honest: practical considerations aside, the world wasn’t waiting to see whether Barack Obama would participate in this particular march. As shocking as this idea may seem from our perspective, sometimes it’s not entirely about us.

And it isn’t as though the whole American political leadership, from the President on down, haven’t spoken out on this subject. Should the administration have sent Vice President Biden to the march? Yes, they should have. That would have been a fine gesture (and I’m guessing he could have fit it into his schedule). But what’s interesting to me is the way that people and organizations that hesitate to express personal opinions on other topics feel free to issue thunderous condemnations of the White House for its less than active participation in what is, after all, a symbolic act.

Maybe my memory’s faulty, but I don’t recall any other journalist committed to the ideal of “objectivity” saying he was “ashamed” about the fact that millions of Americans have no health coverage, or about the 30,000 Americans killed by guns every year, or about our ample contributions to global warming. It’s precisely because those things are about real people’s lives that it would be considered deeply inappropriate for a mainstream journalist to express such an opinion. But you can say you’re ashamed about something entirely symbolic — and in the long run essentially meaningless — like the fact that the American ambassador attended a march when it would have a bigger deal had the Secretary of State or the Vice President been there.

That isn’t to say that symbolism is unimportant. Much of politics is about the creation and dissemination of symbols. But what exactly is the damage that has been done by the fact that a (supposedly) insufficiently high-ranking American official represented our government at this event? Will the peoples of the world no longer believe that America is an advocate for freedom of speech, or that Americans abhor terrorism? I doubt it.

And before anyone gets too self-congratulatory about his or her own courage and ideals in expressing solidarity with those murdered in France, consider another event that occurred last week, when Boko Haram killed as many as 2,000 men, women, and children in the city of Baga, Nigeria. There are mundane reasons why that news got so much less attention than the events in France — perhaps most important, those killings occurred in an isolated place, while Paris was already full of reporters, and more could get there quickly and easily to report on the story. But it’s undeniable that a terrorist attack in Europe — and one targeting journalists — is going to be of infinitely more concern to the media in Europe and America than an attack in Africa.

When someone in France or Germany or the United States says “Je suis Charlie,” in many ways they’re right. The victims of the Paris attacks were people like them, which makes the horror of their murders feel more real and immediate. And of course, there’s a critical democratic value at issue, that of free expression, which allows us to expend plenty of words considering what these events “mean.” Boko Haram’s victims, on the other hand, weren’t advocates for a cause, and their deaths weren’t imbued with symbolism. They were just human beings.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, January 12, 2015

January 13, 2015 Posted by | Charlie Hebdo, Paris Shootings, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Why We Fight”: The Right And Wrong Reasons For Outrage

That was an incredibly moving scene in Paris yesterday, the largest civilian mobilization in French history, which is quite a history. We must hope that the humanist (an important word to which we’ll return) solidarity on display there can be sustained. To see so many people from so many religions and non-religions and so many different countries all saying the same thing is an all-too-rare sight in this petulant world.

But a little part of me wondered from time to time if we all really are saying the same thing. Let us suppose that Charlie Hebdo had published a cover showing Jesus and Mary Magdalene and a couple of the disciples besides absorbed in a sexually adventuresome tangle, and a couple of deranged militant Christians had gone in there and mowed the staff down. Or let’s imagine it was Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob similarly depicted, or Moses, and a couple of Jewish religious fundamentalists had committed the slaughter. How would, and should, our reactions be the same, and how would and should they be different?

This is where certain lines and distinctions can be drawn. Everyone left to right would criticize mass murder. We’re all against that. The Christian and Jewish identity organizations would all denounce them. Abe Foxman would put out a reassuring statement. Bill Donohue of the Catholic League…well, actually, based on his dubious response to this tragedy, it would be a little harder to predict how much sleep Donohue might lose over the murder of Christian blasphemers.

But by and large, that’s the easy part. Now come the harder parts. Would we be chanting Je Suis Charlie in ideological unison the way we are now? I think we most certainly would not be. Would conservative Catholics, even those not out there on Donohue’s unique wavelength, link arms with liberals and secularists to defend the right of a blasphemer of Jesus? Would Benjamin Netanyahu, in my Jewish hypothetical, have made a special pilgrimage to Paris to express his solidarity with the dead who had so defamed his faith? I think never in a million years (and by the way, remember that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas did do precisely this by attending Sunday’s March).

I think it’s pretty obvious they would not be nearly so enthusiastic about the sanctity of Charlie Hebdo’s rights to make satire in these cases. I, for my own part, would be, as would (I think) most of my friends. Then there’s a contingent to my left (yes, conservative readers, there is a contingent to my left, and they’d be delighted to fill you in on my numerous apostasies and on mainstream liberalism’s pusillanimity more generally) that would respond to the inevitable “they got what was coming to them” nudge-and-wink rhetoric from conservatives by opposing all that even more vociferously.

Each of these three tendencies is distinct, and each is protesting in this case against, or in behalf of, somewhat different things. All oppose murder and support free speech in vague terms, but after that they diverge. The theological-conservative tendency says Je Suis Charlie chiefly out of its revulsion at Islam and fear about its power—fear that it can strike us anywhere anytime. For them, a slaughter by an extremist Christian or Jew would not be qualitatively even the same kind of crime, because this crime to them is absolutely emblematic of a religion whose inherent qualities provoke this fanaticism, and which terrifies them.

On the…I’m grasping for an adjective here; multicultural is too tread-worn. So let’s just say on the left, there is condemnation of the killings, of course, and defense of Hebdo’s rights. But the greater preoccupation on the left is to preempt and counter the theo-conservatives and to search high and low for evidence of racism on the part of others—including Charlie Hebdo itself, for some of the cartoons that we know about, the one about the Nigerian girls most notably, but even some of the anti-Islam ones. Fear of power comes into play on the left also, but in a very different way than on the right. People on the left, who will tend to see Muslims as victims of Western power objectives and think Christians and Jews have plenty enough power to fend for themselves, will be more likely to see Muslims in general (though not mass murderers) as victims.

Both of these positions are relativist in almost exactly the same way. They’re mirror images of each other of course, but for both, how to respond to this atrocity is chiefly about which set of actors threatens their world view—Muslims (for the right) or the mostly Christian and somewhat Jewish capitalist power structure (for the left).

But the response should be about humanist values and nothing else. This isn’t about power relationships or who’s offended and who’s not. It’s certainly not about racism, either Charlie Hebdo’s or the right’s, and it isn’t even about free speech per se. It’s about the specific right to commit blasphemy, especially through satire, an activity that, as Jeffrey Goldberg noted a few days ago, is “directly responsible for modernity.” Obviously it’s not the only precondition of modernity, but it’s up there.

The Christian and Judaic systems do have more modernity than Islam has right now, there’s no doubt about that. This is the smidgen of a point the right has, although 1) I hate to cede that point to “the right,” because it is a fundamentally liberal point that liberals should be willing to make, i.e. that the Muslim world needs more liberalism, and 2) the right embeds it in so much paranoid and bilious upholstery that it gets buried and alienates many who might otherwise agree. But I do wonder what would happen to an American publication that published a blasphemous drawing of Jesus and friends of the sort I described above.

The editors probably wouldn’t end up dead. But note that I feel comfortable only saying “probably,” not “definitely.” Without question they’d get death threats, hundreds or thousands of them, and they’d need police protection, and they’d lose advertisers and sponsors and maybe be forced out of business and not be able to find decent new jobs. None of those things is painful death, so that’s a difference and an important one. But it’s not as clean a distinction as merely defending the right to commit religious offense, period. That’s what modernity is, and we could use a little more of it ourselves.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, January 12, 2015

January 13, 2015 Posted by | Charlie Hebdo, Paris Shootings, Religion | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Cynical Pandering To Wingnuts”: Of Course Obama Is To Blame For Everything Bad In The Whole Wide World!

Because we are used to Sen. Lindsey Graham saying irresponsible things about world affairs all the time, there’s a temptation just to ignore him. But he’s so ubiquitous a media presence that this is difficult, and his poorly-earned reputation as a “moderate” means that he creates a lot of room for extremism with his utterances. So this sort of crap (per Mediaite’s Andrew Desiderio is worth noting:

While discussing the ramifications of Wednesday’s terrorist attack at satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo‘s office in Paris, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said President Barack Obama‘s policies and campaign promises are “getting a lot of people killed” because he refuses to acknowledge that the France attacks and others are motivated by religion.

“The people who are attacking us and attacking France are motivated by religious teachings that say there’s no place on the planet for anybody that disagrees with them,” Graham said on Fox News Thursday morning, adding that Obama is “undercutting” other foreign leaders by not acknowledging that it is a religious war.

Now the reality is that Obama prefers to describe violent jihadists as ideologues who are pursuing a perversion of Islam, in order to express solidarity with the vast majority of Muslims who don’t agree with terrorists in any way, shape or form. It is unclear to me what is gained by insisting on calling murderers authentically religious, unless, of course, you want to imply their co-religionists are culpable or suspect, as an awful lot of conservative Americans most definitely want to do. So it’s kind of a no brainer, I guess, for Graham, who has offended said conservatives with his positions on immigration and a few other topics, to pander to them in this respect, involving as it does the ever-popular “Blame Obama” meme.

But Graham does have another ax to grind on this topic:

When he left Iraq, he did so on a campaign promise. He’s trying to close Gitmo based on a campaign promise. His campaign promises are getting a lot of people killed. Our intelligence-gathering abilities have been compromised. The only way you can stop these attacks is to find out about them before they occur. We’re reducing our military spending at a time when we need it the most. These policies driven by President Obama of being soft and weak and indecisive are coming home to haunt us.

Graham really, really wants to see people tortured, and really, really wants to pretend that “strength” is identical to stuffing the Pentagon with more money than it needs or has even asked for. So cynical pandering to wingnuts aside, there’s a decent chance he really believes what he’s saying here, which is worse.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, January 9, 2015

January 12, 2015 Posted by | Lindsey Graham, Paris Shootings, Terrorists | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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