Radical Islam


Yesterday I noticed an article in which Glenn Beck claimed that liberals are being fear-mongers. I had to laugh because I think the unspoken message is that conservatives DON’T do that, which is a baldfaced lie. Conservatives (especially the Republican party) do it at least as well, selling fear of race, fear of class, fear of sexuality, fear of government, and more recently, fear of religion in the form of Islam very successfully, meaning they get a lot of votes that way. Why wouldn’t liberals do the same, especially since conservatives make themselves such a juicy target?
Fear of Islam is more recent than the others, and for some it seems to be quite an intense fear. Not that radical Muslims don’t do horrible things, but that fear seems overblown to me. I had a somewhat drawn-out debate last week with a woman who claimed to have been studying the situation for several years, and stopped just short of calling all Muslims evil. She would probably say I either wasn’t listening or didn’t understand what she was saying. I think the same of her.
ISIS (or ISIL) is currently the most successful radical group, having captured territory in Iraq, and maybe eastern Syria, but they haven’t yet stabilized it sufficiently to force other countries to recognize them formally and diplomatically. Other countries take them seriously, and are trying to get rid of them (which presents other problems to which I will return), but ISIS hasn’t yet proven it can endure. Radicals would like it to, and have it either take over other countries, or have other countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria set up radical governments, since those countries are unstable enough to give the radicals a chance, but ISIS is the closest to being able to. It also presents a horrifying face of Islam, as do the others. But, as Fareed Zakaria points out, while the radicals hate Christians, secular people, Europeans, and Americans, they kill more Muslims than anyone else.
The woman with whom I was debating talked about Islamization, which means Muslims try to take over other countries. They did expand and create empires from the time Islam became successful, and continued expanding through the 17th century, but after than they began contracting. Maybe they can successfully expand again, but that remains to be seen. The woman saw this as uniquely evil. I didn’t. In fact, I wish to ask a question:
What exactly is the difference between Islamization and the process by which our ancestors took over what is now known as the USA, and Europeans took over both continents of the Americas?
Our ancestors used terrorism to force the native Americans out of the lands in which they’d lived for probably thousands of years, took their lands away, enslaved them, and tried (with some success) to take their culture away. That seems to be exactly what people who fear radical Islam fear. I tried to tell the woman during our discussion that Muslims have done little that Christians and Americans haven’t done. She didn’t seem able to hear that.
We didn’t stop with what we consider our own country either. We invaded Mexico in 1848 to take Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, and Colorado (at least) from them, invaded Canada unsuccessfully, then became a world power with the Spanish-American war. Then we began poking our noses into other peoples business, intervening in other countries for little reason besides that we could.
Smedley Butler enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1898, serving in the Philippines, then having a busy career serving in a variety of other countries: China in the Boxer Rebellion and again later on, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Haiti. He also trained soldiers during World War I, though he longed to fight himself. Towards the end of his career he had second thoughts about what he’d been doing, though. He decided he had filled the role of an enforcer for the United Fruit Company in Central America, and that he had been wrong to do so. He became the earliest person I know of to speak out against the Military/Industrial complex, something President Eisenhower did much later, as he was leaving office.
We began our interference with other countries in a big way during Butler’s career and have continued it since. It is we who destabilized Iraq (Afghanistan had been unstable for a couple of decades at least), allowing Muslim radicals the chance to create further chaos in those areas. Last week I also saw an estimate that the USA had been responsible for 13 million deaths since the beginning of the “War on Terror”. Consider what an unequal response that is to a terror attack which, while horrible enough, killed only some 3,000 people.
Do we question why Muslims should be radical? That unbalanced response provides an answer.
At that, it’s remarkable how FEW terrorist incidents there have been in this country since 9/11. One website said 39, another said only 10. If we make it 39, that means fewer than three a year. That website said that many (no number given) attacks had been prevented before they could actually happen, but it seems surprising that there have been more attacks on Muslims by other Americans than they other way around in fifteen years. Why is that?
There haven’t been that many (that I’m aware of) in Europe either, though those that have occurred have made up for quantity with spectacular nastiness. Most attacks, from what I’ve read, have come not from the many migrants who have reached Europe or tried to in recent years, but from second-generation Muslims who feel alienated. These aren’t usually pious Muslims who regularly attend mosques. They drink, do drugs, and chase women, but don’t feel part of the societies in which they live. European complicity in Middle Eastern wars may be one reason. Prejudice against Muslims may (or may not) be another.
Muslim radicals are people alienated in Muslim countries too, not just Western ones. People with careers and families are usually not the radicals. More often they’re they young men who can’t find jobs or afford to marry.
There are exceptions, of course. Was it last year or the year before that a photo of a young Syrian boy who had drowned in the Mediterranean went viral? I subsequently read that the boy’s father had lost the rest of his family too, as well as his business, and decided to return to Syria to fight (I don’t know on what side). Such losses could tend to radicalize people.
Meanwhile, people in the USA are afraid. I think one reason is probably because they don’t understand the source of Muslim anger, nor do they understand that as much as radical Muslims may hate and wish to kill us, they usually hate other Muslims more, and kill more of them.
Americans have been hearing propaganda about Muslims wishing to take over this country and impose Shariah law here for some time. Probably there are some, maybe even many who wish to do that, but it’s hard to see how they can. Muslim countries are in no position to mount an invasion in a traditional way. They can try to persuade Americans to adopt Muslim leadership and Shariah law, but it’s hard to imagine many Americans wishing to go along with that. They could also try to frighten Americans enough through terror attacks to allow them power, but they don’t seem to wish to. Until the massacre in Orlando, victims of Muslim attacks were just about equal to victims of conservative Christian terrorism–neither anywhere near enough to begin to destabilize the government.
Why is this? I can’t say for absolute certain, but I think most Muslim immigrants leave their home countries because they want to escape violence, not because they want to export it to the West. So far the radicals have nothing but violence to offer people in Muslim countries. Unsurprisingly, most people aren’t interested.


2 thoughts on “Radical Islam

  1. Julian Scala

    Allen –

    As usual, a highly reasonable argument that won’t make any converts among the many Americans (and Canadians, too) who cherish their unreasonableness far too much to give it up under any circumstances that I can imagine. The appeal to fear is dangerous because at some level the deeply fearful are in love with their fear. They won’t thank you for trying to reason them out of it. Fear of the kind that arises in the face of some terrifying Other provides an excuse for violence and hatred, and these satisfactions are addictive — literally so, I think: in both the spasm of fear and the reaction to hatred the body produces chemicals that are pleasant to those who experience them.

    I disagee with you on one point. Glenn Beck is, I think, quite right to suggest that liberals — at any rate, Democrats — appeal to fear — in particular, fear of Republicans but more generally fear of the great white unwashed in the flyover states at large. Both parties have little besides fear to offer in the current campaign. Moreover, if one examines the online comments in, say, the New York Times, it’s hard not to be struck by both the hysteria (Trump is the Antichrist, and if he wins we’ll all be killed) and the malice exuded by the majority of liberal commentators. Most Liberals may have better manners than most conservatives — marginally — but it’s clear that many liberals are as drunk on fear and hatred as their conservative counterparts are. As to the election, I agree with Julian Assange: it’s a choice between gonorrhea and cholera, and it’s hard to say which is which.

    The woman you talked to who refused to acknowledge anything you were telling her about the actual state of things can, of course, be multiplied several million times. I had an eerie phone conversation last week with my cousin Charlie in Brooklyn, 87 years old and a violent Trump supporter. At bottom, Charlie’s gripe is that black people, by virtue of being poor, are cleverly putting it over on the rest of us. They get all of the government handouts; middle-class people work their asses off and get screwed. Charlie blames this state of affairs on the government. He likes Trump because Trump is “not a politician.” It would never occur to him to blame the plight of the middle class on the people, like Trump, who own the government and everything else, too. It’s an interesting set of contradictions. The poor have only themselves to blame, since if they were willing to “work hard” they wouldn’t be poor. Yet there’s no resentment of people like Trump, who don’t work hard and couldn’t possibly justify their enormous wealth even if they wore themselves to the bone. Indeed, admiration for Trump derives ultimately, I think, from what his fans see as his success in gaming the system. They’d very much like to do the same thing themselves, but they don’t know how. Trump does know how, and they admire him vastly on that account. Yet they don’t admire poor people, especially poor people of color, even though thye, too — according to their detractors — are gaming the system, albeit in a small way. Maybe that’s it: the supposed dishonesty of the poor is too small to encourage admiration; that is reserved for the grand, even majestic, crimes of the rich. It’s the mere essence of the middle class: suck up to those above you; kick those below you.

    In any case, I’ve decided that the phrase “I work hard!” is the most offensive in the English language. It’s the slave glorying in his servility. As to Charlie, he’s an entirely kind and soft-hearted person, and the same thing is probably true of a great many Trump supporters. But the temptations of anger and a cleansing rage are too strong to resist. I’ve just read a memoir by a Jewish woman, a native Berliner, who survived the war in Berlin thanks to the help of many non-Jewish — and, in not a few cases, pro-Nazi — Germans, who risked their lives for her sake. Of course, she was an attractive young woman who didn’t “look Jewish,” and some of her helpers exacted a quid pro quo in the form of sexual favors. She herself reflects that many people’s behavior would probably have been different if she had been the fat, swarthy, arrogantly prosperous Jew of the official caricatures. Still, there is very often a significant difference between people’s politics and their actual demeanor toward others. That’s one reason I’m sorry Bernie Sanders lost his nerve. I think that if he’d run as an independent he would have drawn many Trump supporters over to the better side of their own natures. Certianly, he was better placed than the other two to reconcile some of the great schisms in American life.

    • As usual, I agree with much of what you say. My brother took a course and read a book concerning conservatism vs liberalism, and agrees that liberals are no better than conservatives in hating and being divisive. He also says that conservatives are statistically warmer, contribute more to charity, and are better with families than liberals. He goes on to say that what conservatives either don’t understand or don’t acknowledge is the power relationships between rich and poor: the people conservatives admire have the advantages of wealth and connections that poor people lack. As you note, it’s easy for any of us with comfortable lives to tell people who don’t they only need to work harder. That’s a narrative that’s gotten awfully old, in my opinion, and it would be nice if it got retired.
      I try not to be disrespectful when I debate with conservatives, but it probably often doesn’t come out that way, which means that I contribute to the divide in American life.
      The book I very much want to read is JD Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. He grew up in southeastern Kentucky (not far from where my family lived for a couple of years when I was very young) and south central Ohio. His mother had problems with addiction, and he probably has known a lot of people with similar situations. He says that hillbillys (or poor whites) have long been the demographic that it’s okay to look down on, and this is the reason many of his relatives will be voting for Trump, though he says he won’t. Trump at least understands that many Americans are very tired of elites, and speaks to their disgust for them. I don’t disagree with some things he says, I just don’t think he really means them. It is a shame Bernie Sanders isn’t still in the race.

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