Sam Harris on what ISIS really wants

Regular readers of this blog will know that I admire Sam Harris, but also have some strong disagreements with him. What ISIS really wants is a podcast of his from the middle of last year in which he comments on an issue of Dabiq, that outfit’s mouthpiece titled in deference to their fantasy ground zero, the eye of the apocalypse. His commentary makes me aware that he is far better at making sense of Allah’s finest to those who have never been Muslim, especially those who have never known unfreedom and all-pervading unreason, than I am. I would not have been nearly as able to accessibly comment on Dabiq as he does in this podcast.

I struggle with finding the point, the knot, in the Western mental make-up that makes people reject certain unimaginable things before it even reaches their thoughts, like blinking before you see something heading for your eye. There’s much about the way Muslims are brought up to think (not just ISIS) that Harris lays out very carefully in his commentary. Much of this it would not have occurred to me to explain as I take them to be self-evident. But they’re only self-evident, I’ve come to realise, because I was once a Muslim. If I’d commented on this material, I’d have run into the same tired objections from Western people that I always run into. Harris, I suspect, will do better.

By the same token, I think he still doesn’t quite appreciate what madrassas do to the minds of children. There is a difference between someone who converts to Islam in adulthood, and someone who’d been done in a madrassa. And while the story of the Finnish convert to Islam is horrific and her worldview glows in the same light of insanity as that of her co-religionists around her (and there is no reason to doubt a word of it), it is also misleading. It tends to prejudice the reader into thinking that what ISIS calls for and offers, in fact what the Qur’an calls for and offers, is something that appeals or fails to appeal equally to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. It does not. A Muslim who has been through the madrassa experience is primed to be receptive to this and does not require ISIS to turn him or her into a similar monster, indeed, does not require anyone at all, when it comes to it. For as long as there has been Islam there have been people who, if imagined within today’s context, would have been a perfect match for any of the Muslim terrorist groups plaguing the world today. In their own time, they might’ve taken up the sword, or wandered around as isolated, lonely individuals whom others might have politely avoided. I can think of several people I’d known in my childhood (before the world went nuts), who would have been viable candidates for jihad. Muslims turning to practising Islam in the manner the Qur’an demands (for example by joining ISIS) is much more like flicking a switch that sets something in motion, than the voluntarism implied by an appeal a convert might respond to.

Nonetheless, I am very glad that this excellent commentary is out there.

My take on Trump (something I really didn’t want to write)

The most powerful democracy in the world, in every imaginable sense, has recently had a presidential election. It is a democracy often praised for its robustness, not least by those living under it and benefitting directly from it. Key amongst its lauded strengths is the system of checks and balances that comes from three independent arms of government and resulting in a self-correcting system. It is a system that isn’t perfect, some would say far from perfect, what with the corroding influence of money, the dumbing influence of the media and the trivialising influence of celebrity culture. Another of its key strengths is the rule of law. Elections are held every four years without fail and no President serves more than two terms (I believe there has been one in extremis exception).

I was stunned, not by Donald Trump’s victory at the polls, but by the meltdown that hit liberal America in its wake. Sure, this man is a gross specimen of all there is to be embarrassed about in the human character, but didn’t he just get elected fair and square by one-person-one-vote secret ballot? Isn’t he as much proof of the robustness of American democracy as the election of Barack Hussein Obama before him? Indeed, witnessing the apoplexy besetting America’s liberal intelligentsia, I couldn’t help recalling the anguished sound and inarticulate fury of the barely-literate right in the wake of a black man’s moving into the White House on 20 January 2009. Liberal America seems to have forgotten that.

They seem also to have forgotten that Donald John Trump did not elect himself to power. Distasteful and dangerous as many of his views might be, those are the views of enough Americans for the robust democratic system to have cleared him for Presidential office. There was no mistake here, not even a hanging chad. American democracy is intact and working exactly as it should. So far, Donald Trump is no threat to it. Should he get out of hand, well, there are those checks and balances we’ve all heard about. Let’s see whether it’s really the guarantee that it’s made out to be. If he manages to avoid impeachment to make it to the four-year mark, he’s going to have to face another election. That’s what the law says.

So I was more than a little alarmed to read Rosa Brooks’ 3 Ways to Get Rid of President Trump Before 2020 in the 30 January 2017 issue of Foreign Policy magazine, in which she calls for the ousting of the US President by military coup. Ever since the frenzy to seek out and murder Salman Rushdie, I have been implacable opposed to the notion “responsible free speech,” which has only been reinforced by the slaughter of the staff at Charlie Hebdo. Rosa Brooks’ piece is a clear case of irresponsible free speech, one that gave me much pause for thought. Ms Brooks’ irresponsible exercise of free speech does not prompt me to call for responsible free speech, but I have a few things to say about it.

Brooks seems unaware of what fire she is playing with. Equally unaware she seems, of the very a large population in the world, and many generations of them, who are all too familiar with military coups d’états, the people who seize power through them, and the near-impossibility of getting rid of them afterwards, not to mention the ‘clean-up’ they feel obliged to carry out while they hold power. One can only hope that Brooks doesn’t live within earshot of a stadium, for her children’s sakes, if not for hers. The bizarreness of her proposition deepens when one keeps in mind that she proposes a coup because she finds the US democratic system’s checks and balances wanting. She explores each of the three checks-and-balances provisions of the democratic system: the next Presidential election; impeachment; and the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. These will not do, she finds. Call in the generals!

Donald Trump may well turn out to be the catastrophe he threatens to be. But let’s just take a look at this. The first point, and one that Brooks might do well to take note of, is that Donald Trump did not seize power in a military coup. This alone shows him to have more respect for democracy than she has. The judicial arm of government (remember those checks and balances?) has already stepped in to block one of his Executive Orders, and although he is considering further legal action, the point is that it is legal action. At this moment, democracy is safer in his hands than it would be in Brooks’.

The judges who blocked the Executive Order banning travel from a number of Muslim countries didn’t do so because Trump is the crazy maniac of many a commentator, but because his Order did not comply with the rules of American democracy. It is worth remembering that to another section of the electorate, Barack Obama had been a crazy maniac, but he, too, complied with the rules of democracy. Many of those voters wanted extra-judicial action against Obama and his family. But then they are right wing, many of them barely literate; that’s what they do; it’s their dinner-table talk.

Of course Trump’s bigotry against Muslims, against anyone, needs to be opposed. But I know Islam, I know its dangerous agenda and I know how its fifth column operates. I am very familiar with the Muslim track record of turning very unpleasant indeed, once they reach a certain proportion of the population they joined. The Muslim Brotherhood is the organisation through which this infiltration takes place. The task of moving against the Muslim Brotherhood does not go away, just because Trump is a bigot against Muslims. Put differently, Trump’s coming to power does not abrogate the Qur’an. It is still there in every Muslim heart, as ISIS so tauntingly boasts. Trump’s bigotry against Muslims risks all critique and exposure of Islam and action against the Muslim Brotherhood being associated with his bigotry. It tends to silence critique of Islam for fear of association with Trump. How long will it be before the increasingly hapless regressive left accuses ex-Muslims, the ultimate critics of Islam, of complicity in anti-Muslim pogroms? Another side effect is to bog down critics of Islam in endless disclaimers of not being against Muslims (this is, in fact, a double problem because Muslims do need to be criticised, as I do in some of my earlier posts).

Donald Trump has taken Office and placed others of similar outlook into all the key positions of power, another complaint of the liberal intelligentsia. But that’s what all presidents do. Note that none of those he put in power are his children or his brothers-in-law. In most of the world, for example, in the Muslim world or where coups are perennial, that standard remains a fantasy. He has moved against people he perceives to pose a threat to the security of the United States. That is part of the job of the President. Arguably, his main appeal to the electorate lay in his contention that his predecessor had been negligent in this aspect of his duties.

But here’s the rub. When considering impeachment against the President, Brooks enthuses, “the good news is that Congress doesn’t need evidence of actual treason or murder to move forward with an impeachment,” exactly what Trump maintains when he moves against all Muslims. I would grant that Ms Brooks is “not actually insane,” despite her sharing this excitement for extra-evidential coercion with Mr Trump.

Of course Americans are right to protest what they perceive as the excesses of their government, whether holding placards or writing articles in magazines. It is something the intelligentsia have both the skills and the time for. One wonders what scenes will have unfolded on the streets and in the airports of America, had those who were distressed by the previous elected President’s policies and actions had the skills and the time to vent their spleens likewise. We’ll, they have neither the skills nor the time, and what we saw was white rage, the only avenue open to the inarticulate poor. Until Bernie Sanders came along, that is.

The Bernie Sanders campaign reminded us that the working class is not inherently socially backward, and also that they’d been abandoned. The way I see it is, firstly, why would the party of finance capital want to open that particular can of worms? Secondly, why would the liberal intelligentsia, especially its regressive and more vociferous elements, want to rock their very comfortable multiculturalism and diversity boat? The key lesson that I take from the Sanders campaign is that the answer lies not in taking over the Democratic Party, as some propose, but in rendering it irrelevant. That came very close to actually happening, until the diversity button got pressed and all energy had to be diverted to putting a woman in power, even if she was the crooked mouthpiece of finance capital.

And now that same identity politics with its multicultural mind-set, having indirectly put Trump in power, instead of taking a good hard look at itself, doubles down to entrench multiculturalism still further. It is the whine of the regressive liberal, all sound and fury, signifying petulance.

Where I turn to

I’ve been a bit quiet over the last two months. This is partly because I’m devoting more time to developing my writing (fiction), and partly because there’s been quite a lot to think about lately.

What I’d like to share at this point is where I turn to when I’m struggling to figure things out. Honesty, humanity and steadfastness are what attracts me to those I turn to for clarity. The two people who, more than any other, provided that clarity over the last few years have been Maryam Namazie and Yifat Susskind. This does not mean that they are my prophetesses or that I hang onto every word they say or praise everything they do. I am still me, not them. But what wonderful mentors! If you’re not familiar with them, let me share a piece by Maryam that is particularly poignant at present: a debate she’d recently had with Sam Harris. Yifat’s organisation MADRE shows that no darkness is too dark for light to penetrate. For me, their significance lies not only in their boundless energy and unflinching commitment, but that they are, first and foremost and above all else, human. Regardless of the particular theatre or issue or beneficiaries of their efforts, those efforts serve the preservation of humanity in the face of the curse of “us versus them” and the prevailing orthodoxy of infinite social fracturing that ultimately pits all against all. I help them both in whatever modest ways I can. Perhaps you’ll see why, and perhaps you’ll do the same.

I’ll be posting a little less frequently for the time being, but please stay connected.