“MAGA maggots” and my fifteen minutes

One of the more disgusting aspects of contemporary political and media culture is the practice of forming on-line hit squads to go after innocent victims when they dare to complain in ways that discomfit right-wing politicians or discredit right-wing causes.

The latest example is the concerted attacks on the student survivors of the Parkland massacre who are organizing – with admirable skill and self-restraint – to demand more effective gun control laws. I’m on record as a skeptic about how much good politically practicable gun control can actually do under U.S. conditions, but there’s no doubt that making it harder for juveniles to access AR-15s and similar weapons could help moderate the carnage in schools. (That’s a small part of the total gun-violence problem, but still worth addressing.)

In any case, it does my heart good to see these young folks stepping in to the public arena with so much energy and such a sharp eye for political efficacy. You don’t have to entirely agree with them to unreservedly admire them. If it had been my friends who were killed, and if I’d spent hours hiding in a closet wondering whether I would survive, I doubt that I could master their self-possession.

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Do Fatwas Against ISIS Matter?

A few months ago, 70,000 Muslim clerics issued a fatwa against ISIS. All very well and good, great to see, important to notice, etc.

But whenever violence is justified by appeal to religion (regardless of which religion it is, see Baruch Goldstein), adherents of that religion have to take proactive steps to ensure that beliefs leading to violence are being rooted out. So here is one that I would be interested in discussing with these 70,000 imams:

How do you interpret Qu’ran 4:34?

That verse describes relations between husbands and wives, and in some interpretations allows husbands to beat their wives. Other interpretations suggest that men are superior to women. And yet other interpretations reject all violence or any suggestion of gender inequality. What do these imams think about that?

Now, one might wonder what that has to do with anything: this fatwa concerned ISIS and Al-Qaeda, not gender. But I believe that the two are linked. In male-dominated traditional societies, women can stand in for the ultimate Other, that which must be controlled and dominated. Hyper-masculinism means great propensity to violence, or as a professor of mine once put it, “when it comes to violent crime, women are just not doing their fair share.” The one thing that virtually all terrorists have in common is not their religion, or their culture, or their class background, but rather their sex.

Put another way, Islamic terror will not cease until women in the Umma are empowered and equal. And this applies to all terror. It may not be a sufficient condition — Communist China early on adopted formal norms of gender equality and Maoist rule might have been the most brutal of the 20th century, which is saying a lot — but it is a necessary one. For my own faith, it is surely no accident that the religious settlers who have committed the worst terror against Palestinians are also the ones who hold the most retrograde views on gender.

So while it is great that we hear condemnations of terrorism from imams, my follow up question is: how are you personally, in your practice and in your work, fighting for gender equality with Islam? What do you tell your followers about Qu’ran 4:34? Because if that answer is a shrug of the shoulders, or an uncomprehending stare, it isn’t good enough.

A grown-up talks to grown-ups about ISIL

What we saw on TV this evening was the product as advertised: No Drama Obama. The President said what had to be said. We need, he told us, to do measured, reasoned things to defend ourselves at home and abroad, and one of  them is cultivating a split between the radical Islamic fringe and the mass of Muslims.

This is the basic point that divides Obama from Trump and Cruz and Rubio and everyone in the 101st Chairborne Division who insists that Obama say “Islamic terrorism.” Really, it’s not hard to see that when it comes to Christianity: those of us who aren’t Christians want Christians to disavow Junior Falwell and the Westboro Baptist Church and that Bible-thumper who just shot up the Planned Parenthood clinic, and we know we can’t achieve that by insisting that every lunatic who has a cross at home or a pulpit to pound, and kills someone or makes speeches full of hatred, demonstrates that Christianity, as such, is evil.

By the same token, putting massive numbers of U.S. troops on the ground in Syria would be to follow the fox into the briarpatch. That, after all, is the great lesson of the Iraqi adventure. (As  @Lib_Librarian – not otherwise known to me – Tweeted, “You know the stupid thing we did before? Which got us in this mess? Yeah, let’s try to avoid that this time.”)  “Not doing stupid sh*t” isn’t an emotionally satisfying foreign policy principle, but it beats the alternative all hollow.

But in some ways the tone of the speech was even more important than the substance. The President made his case with logical force but without dramatic passion. No anger. No shouting. He addressed us as a grown-up talking to other grown-ups about a difficult situation, not an adolescent gangbanger egging his homies on to some act of emotionally satisfying, but disastrous, retaliatory violence.

What Barack Obama’s fans love about him is precisely what the Red Team hates: his sanity. Unlike Trump, he doesn’t appeal to people who want a leader to express their rage for them and make them feel righteous about it: An Angry-Drunk-in-Chief.

What we need most, at this moment, is courage: the courage, as the President said yesterday, not to be terrorized, not to give the terrorists the power that only we can give them, by letting them bait us into folly, like stallion driven mad by a horsefly.

What I felt when the speech was over was a mixture of gratitude and pride: gratitude that we are being led by someone who prefers accuracy to dramatic passion, and pride, as both a Democrat and an American, at having a leader worth following.

Footnote  Given that being placed on the “no-fly” list means that, if you’re an American citizen abroad, you’re effectively stranded there, a virtual exile, Obama’s argument that someone dangerous enough to be on that list shouldn’t be able to acquire an arsenal seems reasonably sound. On the other hand, the objection that people are put on the list without due process, and have no effective recourse once they’re on it, also seems cogent. So how about we compromise: Give everyone on the no-fly list full notice and an opportunity to be heard and represented, and extend the consequences of being on that list to not being able to buy weaponry?





Obviously a terrible tragedy yesterday in Boston. It is all the more sinister because of what the finish line of a Marathon typically represents: a supportive, celebratory place of individual achievement.

I have finished two Marathons in my life, the 2004 Richmond and 2005 Marine Corps races. For me, these races were culminations of my losing about 60 pounds that I gained during graduate school (a decidedly unhealthy time for me in many ways) and the birth of my kids (my wife lost weight after childbirth, I just kept going!). One of the most beautiful moments of my life was making the left turn at around the 26 mile mark of the Richmond Marathon and seeing the finish line: I knew that I would finish. I began to weep as people shouted Go Don Go, you did it! (I had my name printed on my race bib) and the crowd roared, even for someone like me who finished in the 4 hour 40 something minute time range.

That is the point of the finish line at a Marathon. Long after the race winner has had a meal and a massage, normal people do extraordinary things, cheered on sometimes by family, but always by loving, supportive strangers. The finish line of a Marathon is quite an experience, and one that cannot be ceded to the acts of yesterday.

cross posted at freeforall

Barack Hussein Obama

This video  is the most elegant iteration I’ve seen of the dialogue on the left about the President.  What’s so amazing about “Barack Hussein Obama,” written and directed by Jamil Khoury, is that both sides are treated with respect.  And what a shame that should be amazing!

Khoury is Artistic Director of the Chicago theater company Silk Road Rising, and this piece is a component of the company’s ambitious work-in-progress “Mosque Alert.”

The video is 13 minutes long.  Please make time to watch it.

Reflection, a decade later.

If we want to commemorate the event by expressing our hostility to the people who brought it about and the ideas they serve, let us today celebrate everything they hate: freedom, science, secularism, religious tolerance, and equality for women.

I hate to post anything about the 9/11 anniversary. My deepest conviction about the event is that, from the day it happened, we’ve talked about it far too much, unduly empowering the purveyors of politicized violence. (Just as we – and I’m looking hardest at you ABC, with your terminally stupid “America Held Hostage” – empowered the worst elements of the Iranian Revolution by making too big a fuss about the Embassy takeover. Jimmy Carter didn’t help by turning off the lights on the Christmas tree on the Mall.)

That said, if we want to commemorate the event by expressing our hostility to the people who brought it about and the ideas they serve, let us today celebrate everything they hate: freedom, reasoned discourse, science, secularism, religious tolerance, and equality for women, while renouncing bigotry and mindless cruelty.

Otherwise, the terrorists will have won.

Several Reflections on the Death of Bin Laden

We should be cautious on drawing too many conclusions from publicly available information, especially given the inaccuracy of early accounts (woman as human shield, etc.), but several features of the story beyond what’s been commented on widely are interesting:

1. Bin Laden may have been an operational drag on “Central Al Qaeda.” The weird story about plots to disrupt American trains (!) on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 suggests that Bin Laden was still actively involved in operational planning. He could only communicate infrequently and with low bandwidth, vastly increasing the cycle time of planning revisions. It also put him very out of touch, probably contributing to Al Qaeda central irrelevance. I suspect that, despite the symbolic value of eliminating Bin Laden, had he just been eliminated by an airstrike, it might have been a net plus for Al Qaeda.

2. The operation as conducted, on the other hand, because of the intelligence yield of hardrives and documents and thumb drives now in US possession, leaves every Al Qaeda associate wondering whether their location has been or is about to be discovered, and whether they will soon meet a similar fate. They will no longer trust established communication channels and will suspect that people in contact with them have flipped. Al Qaeda’s central coordinating and resourcing function, had it had any strength left, probably is no more. The lesson will not be lost on people thinking of joining similar networks.

3. The controversy over the photos revealed interesting dynamics in the Obama administration and much silliness elsewhere. Leon Panetta said the photos would be released – despite this the President decided the opposite. It is clear who is in charge of this administration. On the other hand, Senator Lindsey Graham’s statement that the photos should be released because the only reason the go in on the ground was to obtain proof of Bin Laden’s death was utter foolishness. First of all, the intelligence yield and disruption of Al Qaeda was even more important than certainty (See #2 above.). Second, certainty was established in other ways than a picture. Third, a picture can be doctored and would not convince those who ready to believe in conspiracies (viz the parallel with Obama’s birthplace).

4. It’s interesting that in reaction to belief that elements in the Pakistani Army or ISI protected Bin Laden people are talking about cutting economic assistance funds, that tend to support the welfare of the Pakistani people and the civilian government, but not the assistance through military channels and the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Contingency Fund, that are targeted directly on producing a Pakistani military more aligned with U.S. regional goals.