Tag Archives: Terrorism

Other tribes’ lives matter

I have been fretting, lately, about which if any 2016 presidential candidate will speak up against America’s ongoing campaign of bombing and shooting up predominantly Muslim countries. Gradually, I have resigned myself to the fact that the answer is “no one on the official candidates list.”

This feels just a bit more disappointing, this year, given how much the official list has been gatecrashed. As Ben Norton opined recently, “both hegemonic parties in the U.S. love war,” and any difference is one of hawks vs. warmongers, rather than doves vs. hawks. Yet Bernie Sanders, who is now in a neck-and-neck chase for the Democratic Party’s nomination, is not even a Democrat! If ever there were a year for a breach in support for the military-surveillance complex, it seems like 2016 might be it.

Apparently, not. Norton wrote that within a two-party universe, “Sanders is almost as anti-war as it gets.” But that isn’t very anti-war, it seems.

This quote from an interview has finally confirmed what I’ve suspected for some time, which is that Sanders would basically continue the Obama administration approach. If only by default, this seems to be the overwhelming verdict of the Democratic Party at present: as long as you don’t put enough “boots on the ground” anywhere that people start using the word “war,” the Pentagon, CIA, etc., can pretty much kill whom they want. Over at Slate, Joshua Keating recently made a great point that in the 21st century this is not really a relevant determiner of “at war” vs “not at war.” We should be at least as concerned with drones in the air and bombs on the ground as we are with “boots on the ground.”

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Guns, bombs and social distrust

I don’t generally have much to say about the “mass shootings” which perhaps half of America regards as an ongoing First Order National Disaster while the other half has hardened its hearts and minds to the phenomenon completely. My view of it remains rather like my view of those other violent episodes, which (unlike domestic mass shootings) everyone agrees to call “terrorism.” They are lamentable, and a civilized society ought to do something about them, but neither one ranks nearly so high on a list of dangers to life and limb that the obsession which our culture chooses to experience is reasonable. As I pointed out a while ago, the “reality” that a handful of people killed by bullets is a tragedy while tens of thousands of people killed by errant automobiles is a statistic is a choice.

Still, I’m not indifferent to either of these phenomena, if separate phenomena they are. It simply frustrates me that we seem to do too much about one, and (in practical terms) not enough about the other. For a while, I have been toying with the notion that America’s embrace of organized armed violence (i.e. the military) as not only the universal answer to terrorism but as the premier guarantor of “our freedom” represents a kind of deeply lazy passivity. The ubiquity of this vague conviction that heavily armed men and women in uniform are “protecting our freedom,” in a society where most people frequently decline to exercise any part in self-government, suggests a kind of self-indulgent outsourcing. We claim to love freedom so much, yet apparently don’t believe that we have any direct personal responsibility for its maintenance, finding it much more satisfying to believe that someone else putting on a special uniform and blowing up some “bad guys” somewhere takes care of the job adequately.

This is tempting. But yesterday, it occurred to me that maybe abdication of personal effort isn’t really the key concept. There’s that strange dichotomy, after all, in America’s broad-based freak-out over terrorism and the determined resistance of maybe half the country to any significant policy response to mass shootings. It occurs to me that in the latter instance, abdication of personal effort is arguably the exact opposite of what’s at work, given that resistance to disarmament seems largely motivated by the idea (however unrealistic) that personal safety is best ensured by an individual wielding firearms in his or her own self-defense. Thinking about this, it further occurred to me that perhaps the key concept uniting these otherwise irreconcilable attitudes is deep societal distrust.

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David Frum: crap jobs keep us safe

I’m beginning to wonder if the best that contemporary American conservatism can offer is interesting trolling.

Of those self-identified conservative writers who make some kind of real attempt at contributing to a wider discussion—rather than just playing to the sealed audience of e.g. Fox news and its talk radio or online analogues—two of the best examples I can think of today mostly seem to engage in some kind of value-added trolling. Reihan Salam appears to have settled into a natural niche at Slate, trolling so consistently that (in combination with Slate‘s basic raison d’être) I have to suspect it’s at least semi-intentional. Occasionally he produces some interesting new wrinkle on familiar controversies, though, rather than just endlessly repeating the exact same ignorant and inflammatory lines over and over and over. Not simple flamebait, i.e., but value-added trolling.

I think that David Frum, by contrast, is probably as sincere as he can be. But through the years of occasional encounters at The Daily Beast or The Atlantic, it seems like in practice much of his output can be summed up as a form of concern-trolling. That isn’t quite the right term, exactly, but it does come close. Frum seems to have found a niche playing that rare, reasonable, moderate conservative; the premise of his articles is frequently a critique of some instance of the mass of conservative politics going overboard. Except, when you read past the click-baiting headline, he generally proceeds into a non-shouty but otherwise standard affirmation that the real bedrock problem, whatever the situation, is liberalism. His reaction to the Conservative party’s wipeout in last month’s Canadian election was a classic example. Setting out from a premise that the Conservatives must avoid the tempting error of deciding that their message was just fine and they just need to continue saying the same things but louder… Frum wasted little time in declaring that the Liberal party has no real answers for Canada and will inevitably bring ruin to the nation, and that essentially the Conservative agenda is still the correct one in all significant aspects. Implying that, basically, they just need to continue saying the same things but louder.

This Friday, however, he may have outdone himself. His article’s headline promised an all-too-precious interruption of wisdom in the mostly brainless reaction to last weekend’s terrorist attack in Paris: “Bombing Syria Won’t Make Paris Safer.” Good for you Mr. Frum, I thought, let’s reward this with a page view… He managed to maintain some tenuous connection with the headline’s promise for three of four whole paragraphs. After that, oh dear heavens, David, have you really been engaging in the most amazingly subtle parody this whole time after all?

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Paris terrorism reality check part two

See also part one.