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July 08, 2005

Thoughts on London

I'm outraged by the attacks in London. It was sheer barbarity. Tony Blair had it right - this isn't a clash between civilizations. It's a clash between civilization, and un-civilization, and there can be no quarter given to the barbarbaroi. (Any classics majors out there?)

Everybody is always asking, "where are the moderate Muslims who reject terrorism?" Well, here's one brave group that does just that. I can't vouch for all their politics, but I know a couple people who work there, thanks to my professional contacts, and the folks I've met are pretty sound.

The moderates we can reach out to are important because the big terrorist threat from Islamacists is not from those already enrolled in Al Qaida affiliates - that is a small and limited pool. The real threat is the potential recruiting pool in our midst and overseas - that is an unlimited supply of potential recruits, and we cannot afford to push otherwise moderate people into the terrorist camp; nor can we afford to antagonize those who are inclined to help us, into ambivalence.

In asking moderates to stand up, we are asking them to do a very tough thing - "hey, you peaceful guys who reject violence. Um, could you please just stand up and loudly tell the ravening madman next to you, the one with the long knife and the ticking vest (who we can't arrest because we're not extremists either, yet), that you reject him and his methods? Could you do that for me, please? And by the way, I think it's pretty reasonable to hassle your ass at the airport. Now get along, be a good boy." Yep, we're asking moderates to take a big risk. So what can the rest of us do? Simple. If you have Arab and Muslim friends and acquaintences, reach out to them and say hi. They are probably a bit apprehensive right now, and probably could use some reassurance. Don't be a condescending jackass - that's not the point. But let them feel like they are members of our community, the American community. If we expect Muslims to act like Americans - to report threats in their midst, to spread the good word about plural democracy back to "the old country", to volunteer as FBI and military linguists - we need to treat them like Americans, like our neighbors that they are. Just reach out. That's a start.

I have some relatives who work in the financial district in London. They are high flying investment bankers, and a medium-flying lawyer/analyst. They are doing fine, thank God. On my last trip over, two of them gave me a massive amount of crap about "Bush's Wars" in Afghanistan and Iraq and Malaysia and everywhere else. They have suddenly overnight turned into strong supporters of the various U.S./Brit/Ozzie/Ital' efforts to unscrew the middle eastern polity. The problem is more nuanced than that of course - we have a big problem with the apostles of nihilism that the middle eastern monsters have sent out to hunt for souls and lives, and a similar problems with the non-Islamacist enemies of civilization in academia and the media and government... but for center-left Europeans, my cousins are doing okay and are on the right track. A conservative is just a liberal who has been mugged, as they say.

And may I say, God Bless England, and God Save the Queen. They've been stalwart allies, and I've practically forgotten about those dustups in 1777, 1805, 1912, and 1864, plus the insulting guy on Radio 4 last week. And we'll just agree to not talk about George Galloway.

It's been a tough 36 hours for me. In addition to the family worries, I represent a couple clients who do some work in the defense and security sector. While they were busy trying to provide surge capacity to help out their clients, I was busy doing work for them to help meet unanticipated demand. Imagine my surprise then, as I sat in my office sweating bullets and trying not to fall asleep and drool on some papers I was working on, when I noted a CNN poll on TV this afternoon (of course I have a TV on in my office, tuned at all times to CNN or FOX or C-SPAN. Don't you? Eh, I guess you aren't all D.C.-ites.) Anyhow, CNN took a poll and found that 70% of Americans think that we should be using metal detectors, more cops and bag searches on subways and trains.

Please, folks.

Between 150,000 and 400,000 people ride Metro in D.C. each day. God alone knows how many people ride the NYC Subway. Using metal detectors and bag searches at the entrances would create such an enormous delay, that these forms of transportation would become impracticable. You know how lousy it is to fly now with TSA searching everybody? You have a two hour wait in security line because we can't afford more than 60,000 or so TSA screeners - and that is for 25 major airports around the country, where maybe, possibly, 100,000 - 200,000 people fly per day. Do you have any idea how expensive it would be to similarly secure all the train and subway systems around the country? And the fact remains, some jackanape can still just run up to the track in an above ground area and pitch a knapsack full of C-4 in front of the damn thing.

Let's be clear. Domestic security is meant to preserve three or four key things. First off, it's meant to preserve our way of life - our civil liberties, our productive lifestyles, our mobility, and the assumptions underlying a free society. Second, it's meant to preserve physical life. Hey, no offense my peeps, but any one of us croaking is no great shakes for the Republic. I'm assured that we can make more babies, providing there are adequate supplies of liquor and Barry White records - and frankly attacks resulting in blackouts might actually be of assistance in this area. Third, we have to preserve the economy. We can't afford to let our economy crack under the weight of some anorexic, bony fingered, bearded madman in a cave with a Sony videocam. The economy drives our security and our lifestyle.

In other words, we can't implement massive security measures all over the place to meet every potential threat for the 300 million or so people who live here. We can't afford it, and even if we could, the damage to our way of life would be too severe. We are a free society, and to be free, means to accept risks. There is also the problem of always fighting the last war. The military does this frequently - we went into Viet Nam with a WWII mindset in our military; we went into WWII thinking we would be fighting trench warfare. And so forth. So forget securing the trains, and maybe think about de-capitalizing air transportation security. Powerplants and water supplies, anybody?

We will be attacked again. It will be bad. Some of us will die. But some of us, most of us, will keep on keepin' on. Accept that. Accept it, and then think rationally - how can we get the greatest number of us, past the hazard? How can we reduce the biggest hazards?

Well, that's all I gots. It's been a long couple days, and I hope all of you come away from witnessing the London attacks appreciating what you have and take for granted just a little bit more.

Posted by Blackavar at July 8, 2005 11:51 PM | TrackBack
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About your moderate Muslim friends...

What has MPAC said or done about the surahs which are the direct inspiration for these acts of murder?  Have their imams issued fatwas denouncing such interpretations, or distributed Qurans with those verses excised?  (Probably not, because they'd be killed.)

Christian fundamentalism is comparatively benign, because the number of Christians who actually take the entire Bible literally (including the instructions on diet, on economics, on the role of women, on slavery....) is vanishingly small and the nutjobs are kept in control by the larger society.  I don't see these control mechanisms operating in Islam, and the throngs who dance in the streets after each mass-murder suggest that the nutjobs form the majority.  They don't view these acts as abhorrent, they view them as religious triumphs.

This group includes large numbers of Muslims in Britain... and America.

Then consider the doctrine of taqiyya.

It's a matter of priorities.  I'm not ready to consider anyone a fellow American unless they consider themselves American first, and Muslim (or anything else) second.

Posted by: Engineer-Poet at July 9, 2005 01:06 PM

I've gone to a couple of their events, so my knowledge is limited. From what I've seen, they do a pretty good job of reconciling their beliefs, with life in a plural democratic society. Keeping in mind, they are first and foremost a political advocacy group, not a mosque or arbiter of religion... Most of the individuals leading the group speak at mosques and other community gatherings, urging opposition to extremism, offering a version of jihad closer to CS Lewis' version of christian struggle - an intensely personal spiritual journey. They reject violent attempts to spread Islam.

I agree with you - there are large groups on the other side, who are likely to deceive us - to say they are our friends, while rooting for the enemy. I think the majority are probably not in that camp - they know they would be doomed first. (Imagine if Fred Phelps was moving to take over Christianity, how most Christians would respond). As for Taqqiya - I understand insofar as that is doctrine, it is Shia doctrine - not that Sunnis cannot take advantage of fatwas permitting deception.

My larger point being we should support the moderates where possible. Even if you are of the "clash of civilizations" persuasion, then "divide and conquer" should provide motivation. I personally believe war of annihilation will not prove necessary, but even were it so, it is morally incumbent on us to try every available alternative first. And frankly, we haven't really tried that many alternatives yet.

Posted by: Blackavar at July 9, 2005 10:00 PM

I'm probably hitting the high level on the Naivometer. Forget that we have the best military firepower in the world and probably the second best military personnel (to the Israelis) in the world. Aren't we just plain stupid in not using our other "Best of"'s? I'm talking about Marketing and Advertsing. Mind control, you may call it, but we should be caling it in. Big time. We're offerring millions for the capture of bin Laden, the Jordanian clown operating in Iraq, and other terrorist leaders. No takers. Why? This has to resolved. Immediately. Like you mentioned in your entry, the military used WW II tactics in Vietnam and that was a mistake. Whatever we're doing with our "Wanted: Dead or Alive" multi-million offers is obviously the techniques of a much earlier age. Let's get this part figured out; fanaticism has its price. We just haven't figured out an effective way of peddling it.

Posted by: DarkoV at July 11, 2005 09:49 AM

One theory is that marketing is part of the perceived attack; the Islamists are reacting to the viral success of American popular culture.

Our marketing plans should probably expand to the entire English language and Enlightenment literature.  If Britney Spears is subversive to the medieval religious order, just think about how much damage you could do with Jefferson, Paine, and Voltaire and de Toqueville in translation.

Posted by: Engineer-Poet at July 12, 2005 01:24 AM

Just think what you could do if you could get Britney Spears to do some public service announcements on Al Jizz, encouraging people to read Jefferson, Paine, Voltaire and de Toqueville...

Of course I think Bastiat and Burke would be a little less likely to end in bloody revolutions, but at this point, I'll take anything that works.

Rene Russo on Rothbard?

Kelly Clarkson on Kirk?

Katie Holmes on Hayek?

Or maybe Pam Anderson on Milton Friedman? (I bet Milton Friedman would like that...)

Posted by: Blackavar at July 12, 2005 08:44 AM

There are quite a lot who are just keeping their heads low and playing neutral. I don't ever beleive in discrimination or group scapegoating. But I have a hard time feeling sympathy for the "victim" of suspicious looks and all that, when I see more bravery from the our clear opponents than from the "moderate ones".

Posted by: TCO at July 19, 2005 12:13 PM
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