In one of the comments to my Guy Fawkes Day Musings, anonymous asks:
What exactly is your position on Islamic extremism? … Your other postings about torture, surveillance and profiling are pretty meaningless as well, as you have never articulated your assessment of threat level. …
… A google search of your blog reveals no stated position on the Israel conflict, and little in reference to Islamic extremism. I am somewhat baffled how a discussion of contemporary civil liberties can be had without a statement of position on the threat (if any) to western freedoms posed by what is perceived to be a spreading doctrine of genocidal fascism. At a bare minimum, since a google search also reveals you to be Krugmanite economist, the profound affects on our economic stability (which I assume you'd agree is closely tied to viable liberal civil liberties) certainly bear mention with regards to oil prices.
I'm surprised this needs saying, but here goes: Since I'm not running for office, I feel no need whatsoever to have a position on every issue.
I write about the things that either interest me the most, or on which I think I have some value added to contribute. There are a huge number of issues that I think are important but that I don't write about either because I don't have the time, or because I don't think my opinions are all that likely to be of interest to anyone. I have much more to say about domestic matters than foreign (as opposed to international) because I live and vote here: I'm concerned about and responsible for US policy in ways that don't apply elsewhere, so naturally I write the most about the USA. I think the suggestion that a blogger has some sort of obligation to opine on every good or bad thing that every foreign government or organization does is a fairly risible idea. It's a big world.
In any case, I don't see “Islamic extremism” as a topic, much less one on which I have much that is unusual to say. It's complex, not monolithic. Like, say, “modern capitalism” which is also complicated and varies from place to place.
I do, however, have the following opinions, which you may have free of charge:
- I think it is always wrong to target civilians with violence.
- I disapprove of all non-democratic regimes, Islamic or not. The worse they are to their people, or their neighbors, the more I disapprove of them. I accept that there can be strategic reasons to ally with dictators, but I think that our policy makers take this option too often, because it seems to offer quick and easy results. In so doing, they frequently trade long-term results for short-term gains. See, e.g., the Shah of Iran.
- I think we should make crash efforts to wean ourselves from our dependence on foreign oil for multiple reasons: ecological, economic, and geo-political.
- I think the current administration's attempt to terrify the American people into submission with the fear of Islamic terrorism has done us (as a nation) more economic and political damage than even the violence of 9/11.
- I blame the administration for failing to heed the clear warning they had: they ignored a report given to them entitled “Bin Laden determined to attack inside the U.S.”. That doesn't excuse the 9/11 attackers, of course, but it does suggest that a competent administration, using ordinary tools of intelligence gathering and police work, would have been able to keep us safe. And that the various excesses we've had since, from airport shoe searches to waterboarding CIA prisoners were neither necessary nor appropriate.
- That doesn't mean there is no threat of terrorism. It means that we are still at a threat level where we maximize our benefits by not being seen to respond in a such a panicky fashion. Over-reaction actually encourages terrorism, since they get a bigger bang for their … bang.
- To the extent that there is a “spreading doctrine of genocidal fascism” outside the Balkans and North Korea, the things that most fan those flames are the occupation of Iraq, and the stalemate in the negotiations over the West Bank and Gaza. The administration totally screwed up the first, and failed to make the second a priority (they somehow thought it would be magically resolved once Iraq became a model democracy!).
- I think the the label of “genocidal fascism” does a poor job of capturing much of what might be called “Islamic extremism”. Islamic extremism is in part a religious fundamentalism, in part tied to various nationalism, and in some much smaller part tied to pan-Arabism. It is very very difficult to change people's religious beliefs. It is much less difficult, although not always easy, to have some influence on the conditions that make religious fundamentalism attractive to nationalists. We could, for example, do a little more negotiating and a little less saber-rattling. (Whatever happened to the “speak softly” part of “speak softly and carry a big stick”?) Indeed there is evidence that Islamic-country viciousness is poorly correlated with Islamic religiosity:
statistical analysis indicates little or no correlation between the absence or practice of torture in today's Muslim-majority countries and the degree of commitment these countries profess to Islamic law. Instead, this article concludes, the absence or practice of torture in a given Muslim-majority country today correlates with the same factor with which it correlates in a given non-Muslim-majority country: the absence or presence of democratic government.
In that sense, and in other ways, the lip service that the Administration pays to the spread of democracy could have been justified; it is the means that they use in service of their ostensible end that are so awful.
- I don't claim any special expertise in Middle East diplomacy, but what little I know does not make me optimistic: the current Israeli government is weak, which makes concessions difficult. The current Palestinian government is even weaker, and in the past not even the stronger Palestinian leaders have been particularly able to bring themselves to close deals. The US could help matters by leaning on Israel to stop settlements in disputed territory. I don't know if it has much in the way of leverage on the other side. Until both sides want a deal, there won't be one.
Worth at least what you paid for them.