Category Archives: Politics & Society


2017-03-27

Muslim Profiling and Immigration

by Neil Godfrey

I like Maryam Namazie. I like her work. I like her ideas. I used to like George Galloway, especially for his blunt testimony to US senators ignorantly accusing him profiting from Iraqi oil sales, but in recent years he has alienated me with his support for Islamist ideology. He seems to side with political Islamist regimes and political movements because they are anti-imperialist or anti-American. That strikes me as comparable to supporting Hitler because of his declaration of war on the United States.

Just to be clear: Islamism is not Islam. I have spoken above of Islamist ideology which is a political ideology that denies the legitimacy of Western democracy and Enlightenment values. I consider Islamism as much a threat as politically active Christian fundamentalists and White Supremacist groups. Islamists have dangerous political ideas that need to be combatted as much as any other fundamentalist or extremist Western religious or political ideology. Most Islamists are no more violent than are most people who oppose abortion. Only a minority of pro-lifers blow up abortion clinics and similarly only a minority of Islamists support terrorism.

Most Muslims who are fleeing war-torn regions and oppressive Muslim regimes are fleeing the horrors perpetrated by Islamist ideology. Maryam Namazie — back to her — speaks of what she sees as a “tsunami of atheism” washing through Muslim regions today. I have heard elsewhere that atheism is on the rise in those places. Maryam Namazie herself was taken by her parents from Iran when they could see oppressive Islamists taking over the revolution against the brutal shah in 1979.

Last night I read the transcript of a Skype discussion between Sam Harris and Maryam Namazie and it helped clarify some issues for me. The following is taken from the ideas Maryam expressed there.

So what’s wrong with profiling Muslims? Everything. Most Muslims are Muslims for no reason other than that they were born to Muslim parents. That’s the only reason. Many persons in those countries may in fact be privately atheist or agnostic but by law they are officially identified as Muslims on identity cards or passports. Look at photographs of ordinary shoppers and students in Iran or Afghanistan thirty years ago and you will swear you are looking at modern Western cities. All of that freedom and secularism has been lost in Muslim regions because of the historically recent rise of Islamist regimes. That’s a horrific story that can be told another day.

Profiling people because of their Muslim religion is misguided and dangerous. It is misguided because it ignores individuals and sees only collective identities. It brands people as potentially dangerous on the basis of their being born to Muslim parents and ignores the reality of why individuals are fleeing those countries and what many of them unable to flee are suffering there.

It is dangerous (this is my addition) because it helps alienate collectives of people and makes their assimilation into Western society more difficult than it need be. Alienated groups are vulnerable to anti-social behaviour, crime, terrorism.

What is wrong with special provisions to put a halt to Muslim immigration? Don’t we need to protect our Western culture from being swamped by benighted aliens? read more »


2017-03-23

Terror Attacks and the Quiet Counter-Terrorist Response

by Neil Godfrey

I was wondering why the police spokesman addressing the media about the (presumed) terrorist attack in London had chosen not to reveal the name of the attacker. A day later I read that the media had been asked not to reveal his name. Good. I hope that request is understood to apply not just for the next 48 hours but for some weeks ahead.

The Sydney Morning Herald:

London attack: Police make multiple arrests after conducting six raids

. . . . 

On Thursday morning Assistant Commissioner of Police and Head of Counter-terrorism Mark Rowley revealed that police had raided six addresses and made seven arrests as part of their investigation, which covered London, Birmingham and other places.

. . . . 

He asked that the media not publish the name of the attacker at a “sensitive stage of the investigation”.

Presumably (hopefully) the British are following the French media decision to refuse to publish photos and names of terrorist attackers.

From July last year in The Independent:

Normandy church attack: French media bans terrorists’ names and photos to stop ‘glorification’

and in The Telegraph around the same time:

French media to quit publishing photos and names of terrorists to stop ‘hero’ effect

The Guardian/The Observer has this headline:

Media coverage of terrorism ‘leads to further violence’

The byline reads:

Clear link claimed between reports of atrocities and follow-up attacks

Hopefully the mainstream media will resist the temptation to continue spinning out this latest London attack to generate revenue for advertisers.

 

 

 


2017-03-12

News stories like this leave me angry, despairing . . . .

by Neil Godfrey

Perhaps it’s because I’ve visited Cambodia a few times and have enjoyed some memorable conversations with some wonderful ordinary people-in-the-streets/villages there. Also no doubt because I’ve visited their horror sites, the places where the Khmer Rouge butchered countless people. Or is it because I’ve seen the many orphanages, the many maimed with stories to tell of the Khmer Rouge, the Vietnamese, the US bombing. Or is it because of the so many young people proportionate to old — you know why if you have the slightest knowledge of their history. The poverty, matched only by the friendliness, and the anxiety about criminals furtively working behind the scenes to take advantage of the vulnerable, especially children. Or is it the day I saw that group of “ugly American” tourists loudly demanding discounts at heritage sites because these fat, wealthy white intruders whose government bombed much of their land to a moonscape felt that as “seniors” they were entitled to entry-fee discounts! (I doubt most Cambodians can ever expect to live as long as most Americans anyway, but that’s beside the point.) But for whatever reasons, news stories like this provoke feelings of disgust in my stomach. . . .

US attempt to recoup Cambodian debt ‘cack-handed’: former Australian Ambassador

At the time, Hun Sen said the money his country owed the US was incurred by the Lon Nol government that came to power in a 1970 coup backed by Washington, and that it was spent on arms used against the Cambodian people.

The official US line was that the loan had been for agricultural development and that Cambodia had the means to repay.

Hun Sen raised the issue again this year, with Cambodian media reporting the PM as saying the US had no right to demand repayment of a debt that was “blood-stained” from the brutal US bombing of Cambodian territory during the Vietnam War.

Former Australian ambassador to Cambodia Tony Kevin said American activity in the early 1970s had done great harm to Cambodia, and it was well understood in foreign policy circles that it had contributed to rise of the Khmer Rouge.

Lon Nol was toppled in 1975 by the ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge regime, under which an estimated 1.7 million people died in less than four years, plunging Cambodia into decades of poverty and political instability.

“At the same time the US was giving weapons to Lon Nol, it was bombing the Cambodian countryside into oblivion and creating millions of refugees fleeing into Phnom Penh and destroying all political fabric and civil life in the country,” Mr Kevin said.

“And all of this was simply to stop the supplies coming down to South Vietnam, as it was then, from the north.

“So the United States created a desert in Cambodia in those years, and Americans know this.”

. . . . . .”We all would have thought it inconceivable that the United States would be approaching Cambodia now in 2017, 50 years later, with such a bill,” he said.

A photo from that same news story that brought back powerful memories of my own:

My own recollection was of walking down a street that on one side for many hundreds of meters, perhaps even a few kilometres, were palatial mansions, high rises, exotic architecture, expensive cars in driveway; on the other side, dirt, faded grass planted with sticks and tin, torn canvasses and plastic for “homes” (shelters for sleeping at night), all the way along that same stretch of road: millionaires literally facing the beggars and destitute.

Of course the government protects corruption throughout society. That’s equally obvious to the casual visitor who cares to think for ten seconds about what he or she sees all around. (That’s most people, I’m sure, except for those “ugly Americans” and their ilk.)

And now Trump, and the demands for a paltry sum in the grand scheme of things.

What the hell is a white, western power doing over in this part of the planet in the first place, anyway?

 


2016-12-30

Israel’s Best Friends to Her Rescue

by Neil Godfrey

Before authorizing the UK’s vote in the United Nations condemning Israel’s new settlement program British Prime Minister Theresa May made history by announcing that Britain would formally adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism. The IHRA’s definition is controversial insofar as it draws a very thin line between criticism of the state of Israel and antisemitism today, so May demonstrated courage in so unconditionally embracing it. Theresa May then did a Donald and tweeted:

The altright Breitbart could not avoid her praise of Israel:

Just two weeks ago, in a speech to the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) group, Mrs. May described the Jewish state as a “remarkable country,” a “beacon of tolerance,” and a “crucial” ally for Britain. Breitbart, 27 December 2016

So UK’s Prime Minister is speaking to Israel as a firm friend. About 9 and a half minutes in May also said:

“We must be honest with our friends like Israel because that is what true friendship is about. That’s why we have been clear about building new illegal settlements. It is wrong, it is not conducive to peace and it will stop.”

It is soon after that announcement, about 13 and a half minutes in, when Theresa May further declared that her government will adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism.

If the UK’s stance can be taken as an indication, then the words of an opposition member of the Israeli Knesset, Tzipi Livni, may not be very far astray:

“The entire world is not against the state of Israel, but rather against the settlement policy of the Israeli government. In times of war against enemies, we will stand by the government’s side, but we will not stand beside a government that turns our friends into enemies through its policies.” — as reported in The Algemeiner, 28 December 2016

The American Conservative similarly sends a well-meaning warning to turn Israel from future disaster:

There is a broad international consensus that settlement-building in the occupied territories is both illegal and a barrier to a negotiated resolution of the conflict. No one who is genuinely interested in securing a negotiated resolution of the conflict thinks that continued settlement construction makes a peace agreement more likely. One of the main reasons for continued construction is to establish de facto control over most of the territory that has been occupied while leaving less and less land for the Palestinians so that it becomes impossible for them to have their own state. If that continues, it sets Israel up to rule over a stateless, subject people in perpetuity, and that will be a disaster for all involved. If making an attempt to oppose that dreadful outcome constitutes “betrayal,” I shudder to think what loyalty is supposed to look like.

Calling out Israel for its ongoing illegal behavior becomes unavoidable when there is no progress in resolving the conflict, and the current Israeli government has made it very clear that there won’t be any progress. Criticizing Israel for behavior that has contributed to its increasing isolation in the world is not an unfriendly or treacherous act, and it ought to serve as a wake-up call to warn Israel away from a ruinous path.The American Conservative, 28 December 2016

The same conservative source published a like-minded article by Patrick Buchanan:

Prime Minister Ehud Barak, the most decorated soldier in Israel’s history, has warned his countrymen, “As long as in this territory west of the Jordan River there is only one political entity called Israel, it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic.”

“If the bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote” added Barak, “this will be an apartheid state.” Of John Kerry’s speech, Barak said, “Powerful, lucid … World & majority in Israel think the same.”

Note that General James Mattis is Trump’s appointed Defense Secretary. Trump has also appointed Thomas Friedman as ambassador to Israel, and Friedman has compared Jews who criticize Israel with Jewish Nazi collaborators. But notice that that the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism appears to define such comparisons as worse than illegitimate.

Defense Secretary-designate Gen. James Mattis warned in 2013 that Israeli settlements were leading to an “apartheid” state. The American Conservative, 30 December 2016

No-one wants to see another apartheid state. These are the warnings of friends of Israel, not her enemies.

I have cited mostly pro-Israel conservative sources till now. Indulge me if I quote from a more liberal news service, but one that is nonetheless Jewish:

Kerry’s address was a superbly Zionist and pro-Israel speech. Anyone who truly supports the two-state solution and a Jewish and democratic Israel should welcome his remarks and support them. It’s a binary incidence, with no middle ground. It’s no surprise that those who hastened to condemn Kerry even before he spoke and even more so afterward were Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett and the heads of the settler lobby. Kerry noted in his speech that it is this minority that is leading the Israeli government and the indifferent majority toward a one-state solution.Haaretz, 29 December 2016

A solid majority of the countries that voted for the UN Security Council resolution are not anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic. The message of their vote was simple: It’s the settlements, stupid.Haaretz, 26 December 2016

Israel is in a terrible fix. The Netanyahu government is hostage to the most extreme right wing elements of all, especially the land lobby. To annex the West Bank outright is political suicide. Israelis do not want to add millions of Palestinians to their Jewish state. To do so would mean that Israel could no longer exist as a Jewish state if it were to remain a democracy. (Assuming a democracy based on ethnic qualifications for citizenship is not an oxymoron.)

Let Prime Minister Netanyahu be heard through Breitbart:

“I don’t seek applause, I seek the security and peace and prosperity and the future of the Jewish state,” he continued. “The Jewish people have sought their place under the sun for 3,000 years and we are not about to be dissuaded by mistaken policies that have caused great damage. Israelis do not need to be lectured of the importance of peace by foreign leaders. Israel’s hand has been extended to its neighbors since day one, from its very first day. We pray for peace. We worked for it everyday since then. Thousands of Israel families have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend our country and advance peace. My family has been one of them. There are many, many others. No one wants peace more than the people of Israel. Israel remains committed to resolving the outstanding differences between us and the Palestinians through direct negotiations. This is how we made peace with Egypt. This is how we made peace with Jordan. It is the only way we’ll make peace with the Palestinians. That’s always been Israel’s policy.”Breitbart, 28 December 2016

This is how we made peace with Egypt. Indeed. By withdrawing all occupation forces and illegal Israeli settlements from land captured in the 1967 war. But the Bible never really gave the Sinai to Israel, did it? Not that the UK and US are suggesting that Israel withdraw all settlements from the West Bank today. There is some irony, however, in the fact that the Egypt-Israel peace treaty signed on 26 March 1979 followed hard on the heals of the United Nations Security Council resolution 446, also condemning Israel’s illegal new settlement activity in the West Bank, adopted 22 March 1979 — again with the United States abstaining.

The point is that it is Israel’s friends, nations opposed to antisemitism and pro-Israel in other respects, who are trying to save Israel as a Jewish state and a democracy, who are among those speaking out through the United Nations Security Council resolution 2334. If antisemitism is on the rise once again, and there are indications that it is, then it is encouraging to see that Israel does have such friends today who will speak out against the acts of an Israeli government under the influence of a radical right wing settlement lobby, and who will seek to bring Israel back from isolation into a community of nations made up of many good and strong friends.

 


2016-12-21

They Love Trump Because You Hate Him

by Tim Widowfield

The French smoke because Americans don’t. Or at least that’s what they used to tell us, only partly joking. But nobody would injure himself just to spite someone else, would he? Seems unlikely.

But if you skim the web looking for reasons why people smoke, beyond the typical reason (they enjoy it), you’ll find a surprising number say that they do it because they know it’s bad. If it annoys others, then so much the better. In a world where people have precious little control over their own lives, smoking can become an act of individuality and rebellion.

In the first episode of True Detective, Rustin “Rust” Cohle asks for “a sixer o’ Old Milwaukee or Lone Star, nothin’ snooty.”

 

When I heard him say that, I immediately thought, “I know this guy.” I grew up when mainstream beers in the U.S. were pretty tolerable. Did they become more watered-down and more bitter over the past few decades? I would argue that they did. Some of the low-calorie beers that people drink by the gallon every weekend barely taste like beer to me.

Just the fact I admitted publicly that I hate cheap American beer shows that I’m outside of Rust’s circle. Only a fool would pay more than he needs to to get drunk. Only a snob would ask the bartender, “What’s on draft?” Authentic people see value in bad beer, bad coffee, and gummy white bread.

That’s one of the keys to unlocking the mystery behind Donald Trump’s winning the presidency. If you didn’t vote for him, you can probably rattle off a hundred reasons why you think he’ll be a disaster. You may even be in the middle of “explaining it” to somebody on Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit right now. Or maybe you’re laying out your case in an strongly worded email email to an uncle who doesn’t have the good sense to keep his racist comments to himself. read more »


2016-10-07

Something Rotten in the Lands of Islam

by Neil Godfrey

The survey of Muslim religiosity was carried out in

  • Indonesia,
  • Pakistan,
  • Malaysia,
  • Iran,
  • Kazakhstan,
  • Egypt
  • and Turkey.

It included statements on the respondents’ image of Islam. The survey listed forty-four items that examined religious beliefs, ideas and convic­tions. These statements were generated by consulting some key sociological texts on Muslim societies by authors such as Fazlur Rahman, Ernest Gellner, William Montgomery Watt, Mohammad Arkoun and Fatima Mernissi. Respondents were asked to give one of the following six responses to each of the statements presented: strongly agree, agree, not sure, disagree, strongly disagree, or no answer. More than 6300 respondents were interviewed. (Hassan, Inside Muslim Minds, p. 48)

This is post #5 on Inside Muslim Minds by Riaz Hassan. We are seeking an understanding of the world. If you have nothing to learn about the Islamic world please don’t bother reading these posts since they will likely stir your hostility and tempt you into making unproductive comments.

We have looked at a historical interpretation of how much of the Muslim world became desensitized to cruel punishments and oppression of women and others. But what does the empirical evidence tell us? Here Hassan turns to a study explained in the side-box. Each question was subject to a score between 1 and 5, with “very strong” being indicated by 1 or 2.

Following are the 20 questions (out of a total of 44) that generated the highest mean scores.

Overall the results tell us that Muslims feel strongly about “the sanctity and inviolability” of their sacred texts. There is a strong belief overall that all that is required for a utopian society is a more sincere commitment to truths in those texts.

In other words, there is a large-scale rejection of modern understandings of the genetic and environmental influences upon human nature.

The evidence indicates very strong support for implementing ‘Islamic law’ in Muslim countries. (On “Islamic Law” see Most Muslims Support Sharia: Should We Panic?) Respondents strongly support strict enforcement of Islamic hudood laws pertaining to apostasy, theft and usury. The purpose of human freedom is seen not as a means of personal fulfilment and growth, but as a way of meeting obligations and duties laid down in the sacred texts. This makes such modern developments as democracy and personal liberty contrary to Islamic teachings. The strong support for strict enforcement of apos­tasy laws makes any rational and critical appraisals of Islamic texts and traditions unacceptable and subject to the hudd punishment of death. The strength of these attitudes could explain why hudood and blasphemy laws are supported, or at least tolerated, by a significant majority of Muslims. Strong support for modelling an ideal Muslim society along the lines of the society founded by the Prophet Muhammad and the first four Caliphs is consistent with the salafi views and teachings discussed earlier. (p. 54)

But notice: read more »


The Poisonous Cocktail of Salafism and Wahhabism

by Neil Godfrey

insidemuslimmindsContinuing from Muslim Nations and the Rise of Modern Barbarism . . . .

According to Abou El Fadl, characteristic features of salafabism (combination of salafism and wahhabism) include the following:

  • a profound alienation from institutions of power in the modern world and from Islamic heritage and tradition
  • a supremacist puritanism that compensates for feelings of defeat­ism, disempowerment and alienation
  • a belief in the self-sufficiency of Islamic doctrines and a sense of self-righteous arrogance vis-a-vis the ‘other’
  • the prevalence of patriarchal, misogynist and exclusionary orien­tations, and an abnormal obsession with the seductive power of women
  • the rejection of critical appraisals of Islamic traditions and Muslim discourses
  • the denial of universal moral values and rejection of the indeter­minacy of the modern world
  • use of Islamic texts as the supreme regulator of social life and society
  • literalist, anti-rational and anti-interpretive approaches to reli­gious texts.

(Hassan, Inside Muslim Minds, p. 46, my own formatting and bolding in all quotations)

There is little room for me to go beyond Hassan’s own outline of El Fadl’s account:

Salafabism has anchored itself in the security of Islamic texts. These texts are also exploited by a select class of readers to affirm their reactionary power. Unlike apologists who sought to prove Islam’s compatibility with Western institutions, salafabists define Islam as the antithesis of the West. They argue that colonialism ingrained in Muslims a lack of self-pride and feelings of inferiority.

For salafabists, there are only two paths in life: the path of God (the straight path) and the path of Satan (the crooked path): The straight path is anchored in divine law, which is to be obeyed and which is never to be argued with, diluted or denied through the application of humanistic or philosophical discourses. Salafabists argue that, by attempting to integrate and co-opt Western ideas such as feminism, democracy or human rights, Muslims have deviated from the straight to the crooked path. (pp. 46-47)

And it gets worse . . . . read more »


2016-09-28

End game

by Neil Godfrey

A neat summing up, imho, of where we are at with the United States political scene right now:

How Did We End Up With Such Unpopular Candidates?

And do notice it’s published in The American Conservative. It’s true, I do subscribe to feeds from a range of media, including those on the opposite side of the ideological room from where I generally feel more comfortable. The article may contain nothing new for most of us, but it is a neat encapsulation of the what and why behind the Sanders-Clinton-Trump show this year, and a neat statement of the pits to which American “democracy” has finally descended.

Peter Van Buren’s conclusion:

Clinton is the ultimate end product of a political process consumed by big money. She is the candidate of the 1 percent. She believes in nothing but the acquisition of power and will trade anything to get it. The oligarchy is happy to help her with that.

Trump is the ultimate Frankenstein product of decades of lightly shaded Republican hate mongering. He is the natural end point of 15 post-9/11 years of keeping us afraid. He is the mediagenic demagogue a country gets when it abandons its people to economic Darwinism, crushes its middle class, and gives up on caring what happens to its minorities.

Both candidates are markers of a doomed democracy, a system that reached its apex somewhere in the past and has only now declined enough that everyone can see where we are. They’re us . . . .

And then I hear a surprising number of young people saying they don’t really care for democracy. Meanwhile in the background our planet’s climate is changing . . . .

Optimism, anyone? Is there any Optimism on today’s menu?


2016-09-16

Tom Holland: Still Wrong About Christianity

by Neil Godfrey
holland

Tom Holland

Historian Tom Holland has made a public confession that when it comes to his morals and ethics he is “thoroughly and proudly Christian”. (Tom Holland is a very talented writer and historian whose study of the rise of the Arab empire and birth of Islam I have discussed here. I was also fascinated by another work of his, Millennium: The End of the World and the Forging of Christendom — a period of history I specialized in when studying history as an undergrad.)
Now Christian blogs are crowing that the renowned historian has “come out” in defence of Christianity. The Enlightenment philosophes got the Church all wrong, he implies.

Dr. Platypus, Darrell J. Pursiful’s Bible and Faith Blog, posts Tom Holland Was Wrong about Christianity and Michael Bird on Euangelion posts Tom Holland: Why I Was Wrong about Christianity. I imagine there will be many more to follow. The excitement is over Tom Holland’s article just published in New Statesman, also titled Tom Holland: Why I Was Wrong about Christianity.

Holland tells us of his younger fascination with the great empires and generals of ancient history (an interest he says morphed out of his boyhood love of dinosaurs) and how they made the Bible’s heroes looked so anemic in comparison.

He had long embraced the view of history bequeathed us by the Enlightenment era (via Gibbon, Voltaire, etc) that Christianity ushered in an age of intolerance, superstition and ignorance. One had to look further back to the ancient “classical era” to find values more worthy of humanist ideals.

His epiphany dawned over time as he reflected upon the barbarism of Sparta and Rome:

The longer I spent immersed in the study of classical antiquity, the more alien and unsettling I came to find it. The values of Leonidas, whose people had practised a peculiarly murderous form of eugenics, and trained their young to kill uppity Untermenschen by night, were nothing that I recognised as my own; nor were those of Caesar, who was reported to have killed a million Gauls and enslaved a million more. It was not just the extremes of callousness that I came to find shocking, but the lack of a sense that the poor or the weak might have any intrinsic value. As such, the founding conviction of the Enlightenment – that it owed nothing to the faith into which most of its greatest figures had been born – increasingly came to seem to me unsustainable.

For once I can say something I have never written before and never imagined myself saying. A historian from outside the guild of biblical studies can learn something from a Professor of New Testament; in this instance the professor is Gregory J. Riley. (There are surely many others; but as an outside amateur I think of Riley as the most well known scholar addressing the contribution of ancient “classical” values to Christianity.)

Christianity was not born mysteriously out of a womb unrelated to the body of which it was a part. Every human creation is a product of a human environment. It would be unique, unnatural even, if Christianity emerged from a virgin birth.

gregory-riley

Gregory Riley

By way of explanation I think the titles of two of the following posts on Gregory Riley’s works should tell the story, though the titles are also hyperlinked to their original content:

See also Peter Kirby’s page: Historical Jesus Theories: Gregory Riley

Then there are the scholarly works addressing Paul’s debt to classical ethics with nary a word of credit to Jesus. I mention just a handful that I can identify quickly from my own collection:

  • Engberg-Pedersen, T. (2000). Paul and the Stoics. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press.
  • Engberg-Pedersen, T. (2006). Paul’s Stoicizing Politics in Romans 12-13: The Role of 13.1-10 in the Argument. Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 29(2), 163–172. http://doi.org/10.1177/0142064X06072836
  • Lee, M. V. (2009). Paul, the Stoics, and the Body of Christ. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Malherbe, A. J. (1989). Paul and the popular philosophers. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
  • Rasimus, T. (2010). Stoicism in early Christianity. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic.
  • Thorsteinsson, R. M. (2006). Paul and Roman Stoicism: Romans 12 and Contemporary Stoic Ethics. Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 29(2), 139–161. http://doi.org/10.1177/0142064X06072835

Julius Caesar and Leonidas were not the only figures to speak for ancient values. Seneca was ordered by Nero to commit suicide, if my memory serves.

And as for the utter callousness of Caesar’s treatment of the Gauls and Sparta’s legendary treatment of helots, yes, it would be soul-destroying to think humanity has made no progress in two thousand years. Yet we do ourselves a serious injustice if we fail to recognize that our Christian nations have on the whole fully approved the extermination of entire cities of innocents for what they believe was the purpose of saving the lives of their own soldiers, and continue to approve of the slaughter of innocents in order to achieve specific national and strategic goals.

Tom Holland might be advised to turn his attention to historians of modern realities (his compatriot Jason Burke comes to mind) and learn that enormous strides in propaganda and hypocrisy have possibly exceeded advances in morality. No, that’s not quite fair or true. It really is a lot harder today for national leaders to do what they want without regard for public opinion and I have little doubt that leaders today really do have consciences more refined than those of their ancient counterparts (except for the psychopaths, of course). But, but…. it does pay sometimes to look behind the headlines.

 


2016-09-11

“America, the most propagandised of all nations”

by Neil Godfrey
This post is a sequel to Propaganda in Modern Democracies

Man is essentially more rational than irrational when he has access to adequate knowledge. When issues are clearly understood, a generally sound judgment is in evidence. The tragic fact remains, however, that he still lives in a world which seldom allows him the full information he needs to display consistently rational behavior. . . . The American man in the street is, as Childs contends, the most propagandized person of any nation . . . (Meier 1950:162)

Nor do other nations that have come increasingly under the influence of the United States have room for complacency and future posts will look at instances where American propaganda techniques have become established in other countries.

Propaganda in a democracy has been most commonly channeled through commercial advertising and public relations.

In the United States over a very long time now these methods have been honed by incomparably more skill and research than in any other country. In the 1940s Drew Dudley, then chief of the Media Programming Division of the Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion, not only observed with satisfaction that ‘advertising is peculiarly American’, but added on a note of (perhaps rather less well founded) pride that ‘Hitler … employ[ed] the technique of advertising during the pre-war and war years, frequently referring to America’s advertising in glowing and admiring terms in Mein Kampf, and later utilising advertising’s powerful repetitive force to the utmost’ (Dudley 1947:106, 108, cited in Carey 1997:14).

Traditional media deployed: film, radio, TV, even comic strips, and now, of course, our new communication technologies daily vying for our attention.

Recall Jacques Ellul’s definition from the previous post to keep in mind what is at work through these media:

Propaganda is the management of collective attitudes by the manipulation of significant symbols.

There are certain characteristics of American society that has made it particularly fertile ground for the creation of durable emotional symbols charged with power to manipulate public attitudes.

goodevilOne of those characteristics is the historical predisposition of American society to fall in line with a dualistic or Manichean world-view.

This is a world-view dominated by the powerful symbols of the Satanic and the Sacred (darkness and light). A society or culture which is disposed to view the world in Manichean terms will be more vulnerable to control by propaganda. Conversely, a society where propaganda is extensively employed as a means of social control will tend to retain a Manichean world-view, a world-view dominated by symbols and visions of the Sacred and the Satanic. (Carey 1997:15)

Another quality is the pragmatic orientation of US society.

This is a preference for action over reflection. If the truth of a belief is to be sought in the consequences of acting on the belief, rather than through a preliminary examination of the grounds for holding it, there will be a tendency to act first and question later (if at all — for once a belief is acted upon the actor becomes involved in responsibility for the consequences and will be disposed to interpret the consequences so that they justify his belief and hence his action). If it is that American culture, compared with most others, values action above reflection, one may expect that condition to favour a Manichean world-view. For acknowledgement of ambiguity, that is, a non-Manichean world where agencies or events may comprise or express any complex amalgam of Good and Evil — demands continual reflection, continual questioning of premises. Reflection inhibits action, while a Manichean world-view facilitates action. On that account action and a Manichean world-view are likely to be more congenial to and to resonate with the cultural preference found in the United States. (Carey 1997:15)

read more »


September 11 and the Surveillance State

by Tim Widowfield

There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. but at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You have to live – did live, from habit that became instinct – in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized. (George Orwell, 1984, Chapter 1)

Our world, sixteen years after 11 September 2001, has changed dramatically in both subtle and obvious ways. We scarcely notice one of the most all-encompassing changes, namely the loss of privacy in almost every facet of our lives. Cameras track us everywhere we go. Our credit card payments betray our every purchase. Our cell phones share our GPS locations. We voluntarily tell people where we are, where we’re going, what we’re eating, and what we’re thinking on social media platforms.

Mostly, we relinquished our illusion of privacy without a peep. Our language shows the voluntary nature of our loss: We share with people, and simultaneously, we share with our governments. Once upon a time in the West, we trusted our governments to spy only on suspects. If they gathered enough evidence, they might arrest those suspects. But now our governments “surveil” those whom it deems “persons of interest.” If those persons act “suspiciously,” they may be “detained.”

Presumably, we allowed these changes to occur because of 9/11, specifically, because our intelligence agencies had failed. Surely, if a small band of terrorists could bring down skyscrapers in Manhattan and strike the Pentagon, someone must have failed somewhere. We can’t deny that. But exactly where did that failure occur? read more »


2016-09-10

Propaganda in Modern Democracies

by Neil Godfrey
Ellul, author of Propaganda, The Formation of Men's Attitudes

Ellul, author of Propaganda, The Formation of Men’s Attitudes

It is a remarkable fact worthy of attention that modem propaganda should have begun in the democratic States. During World Was I we saw the combined use of the mass media for the first time; the application of publicity and advertising methods to political affairs, the search for the most effective psychological methods. But in those days German propaganda was mediocre: the French, English, and American democracies launched big propaganda. Similarly, the Leninist movement, undeniably democratic at the start, developed and perfected all propaganda methods. Contrary to some belief, the authoritarian regimes were not the first to resort to this type of action, though they eventually employed it beyond all limits. This statement should make us think about the relationship between democracy and propaganda. (Ellul 1973:232f)

Propaganda began in modern democratic states? Surely those of us who are so fortunate to live in open democracies are free to think for ourselves and make informed decisions for the greater good. We have a free press, publicly accountable education and the secret ballot. After all . . .

In 1942 Henry Wallace coined the phrase ‘the century of the common man’ to epitomize his belief that American (and world) society would come under the influence of the needs and aspirations of the great mass of ordinary people. He foresaw a society where education, science, technology, corporate power and natural resources would, to an unprecedented extent, be controlled and used in the service of large humane ends rather than in the service of individual power and class privilege (Blum 1973:635-40 cited in Carey 1997:11).

Comparable predictions have been made of the age of the internet.

“If you want to see propaganda in action look at North Korea,” we think. The idea that those of us living in free and open democratic societies are influenced by propaganda seems laughable by comparison.

There’s a catch, however. Crude propaganda is a very blunt instrument. It’s the sort of obvious propaganda we could see practiced by the Soviet leadership. It made little use of social science or psychology to shape its techniques and many of its intended targets could see right through it. People would in private roll their eyes or seek out foreign media instead. When the authoritarian system collapsed people no longer had to pretend to believe it. As I’ll discuss in future posts, sophisticated propaganda techniques that did make use of research in the social sciences and psychology began in the United States and they have proved far more effective. Expensive policing, spying and dictatorial intimidation and coercion are not needed. In place of a Goebbels-led Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda we have Public Relations and Human Relations departments. We have the ever-helpful Press Releases put out by corporations and government departments. Media Management has become a major part of political party and corporate business. Not that “information services” are themselves propaganda. There is more to it than that.

So let’s back up and understand what propaganda is.

Harold Lasswell

Harold Lasswell

A leading figure in the development of propaganda in the United States was Harold Lasswell. We’ll talk more about him later. For now, here is his definition:

Propaganda is the management of collective attitudes by the manipulation of significant symbols . . . Collective attitudes are amenable to many modes of alteration . . . But their arrangement and rearrangement occurs principally under the impetus of significant symbols; and the technique of using significant symbols for this purpose is propaganda. . . .

Literacy and the physical channels of communication have quickened the connection between those who rule and the ruled. Conventions have arisen which favor the ventilation of opinions and the taking of votes. Most of that which formerly could be done by violence and intimidation must now be done by argument and persuasion. Democracy has proclaimed the dictatorship of palaver, and the technique of dictating to the dictator is named propaganda.

(Lasswell 1927:627-631)

The public may believe it is the ultimate ruler (dictator) in a democracy but Laswell is saying that those in power, business, corporate and political, have the means to shape the public’s values, beliefs, actions by methods far more sophisticated than those used by Goebbels.

Lest the comparison with Goebbels sound overblown, note what Drew Dudley (1947: 107) wrote for the American Academy of Political and Social Science shortly after the war:

It is rather amazing that during all the war years of government advertising, virtually no one raised the cry, Propaganda! One might have expected to hear someone label the use of advertising techniques by government as “Hitlerism.” Actually, Hitler did employ the technique of advertising during the prewar and war years, frequently referring to America’s advertising in glowing and admiring terms in Mein Kampf, and later utilizing advertising’s powerful repetitive force to the utmost.

read more »


2016-08-21

“All Jihad is Local”

by Neil Godfrey

alljihadislocalSome interesting research datasets relating to who joins ISIS have been published by Nate Rosenblatt. They make interesting reading alongside other research into the motivations and profiles of who are the most likely candidates for extremist radicalization. The data was supplied by an ISIS defector so of course must be assessed with that in mind.

Nate Rosenblatt sums up his findings in three points:

Anti-government sentiment and poor local-federal relations are common threads among provinces sending high rates of fighters. Recruits join ISIS from regions with long histories of resisting the influence of state institutions. 

Foreign fighters joining ISIS are geographically, demographically, and socioeconomically diverse. Fighters from Xinjiang, China are generally older and poorer and tend to travel to ISIS territory with their families, while fighters from Muharraq, Bahrain are far younger, relatively wealthier, and unmarried. 

Local interventions could prevent the spread of radical ideology before it takes root. Motivations for foreign fighters are derived from highly specific local conditions, and so must the solutions.

The first point carries an echo (I won’t say anything stronger than an echo) of what Robert Pape’s research into suicide terrorism between 1980 and 2003 found. The second point coheres with what has become common knowledge by now, but what Rosenblatt has done is to examine the data at subnational (regional) levels and found that at that level the diversity at a national or global level disappears. And that leads in to the third point which reinforces other findings that point to personal grievances, feelings of social isolation and craving for a meaningful and adventurous life in a cause bigger than oneself are highly significant factors.

[Please, if anything in that paragraph offends you enough to want to leave a hostile comment I would ask you to by all means comment but do not just do so as a troll. Be prepared to engage in a discussion of the details of the evidence behind our respective views.]

The report is titled All Jihad is Local: What ISIS’ Files Tell Us About Its Fighters — The link is to a 13 MB, 44 page PDF file.

Few pages, many megabytes — that’s because there are lots of cool and colourful maps and tables to make for easier cerebral digestion.

Voice of America has a website discussing the report, too, and there it is stated:

But a new analysis of the terror group’s own entry records suggests while those flocking to the self-declared caliphate come from diverse regions and from a variety of socio-economic background, many share a deep-seated resentment of where they live.

And the study suggests it is a sentiment that IS managed to expertly exploit once and could possibly exploit again.

“I think this grievance narrative is a common thread that you can knit across a lot of these places,” said Nate Rosenblatt, an independent researcher and author of the New America Foundation report, All Jihad is Local.

“It’s not just that these frustrations drive people to go join ISIS in these areas but that ISIS also actively recruits based on that same narrative,” he said, using an acronym for the terror group.

So ISIS market their barbarism with high tech methods and up to date targeted marketing techniques.  There is a Loopcast audio interview with Rosenblatt in which he describes families migrating together from Xinjiang province in China as a response to ISIS film showing them images of better lives for their children in the ISIS Caliphate, whereas younger individuals leave from Bahrain in response to videos playing on the injustices of the monarchical state there.

Nate Rosenblatt

Nate Rosenblatt

 


2016-08-12

Is fear of Islam a healthy fear?

by Neil Godfrey

I have enjoyed or found profitable a recent exchange with a commenter calling him/herself pastasauceror in relation to my post, Why Petty Criminals Can Radicalize within Weeks and Kill Dozens of Innocents. As the conversation has proceeded we have found it increasingly difficult to keep our comments brief. It’s so damn hard to read walls of text in the comments, so I have moved the most recent exchange to this post for a fresh start. I know I have sometimes put my foot in it and expressed myself in ways that have been offensive and I have tried to backtrack and learn from those mistakes. I do appreciate pastasauceror’s patience in continuing with the conversation. I have been attempting to understand if conversation between such opposing views is possible, and if not, why not, etc. I do hope it is.

I copy here the most recent exchange, slightly edited. Indented sections are pastasauceror’s words. friction

Weekend is here and I have a little more time to respond.

I think the research you are using is flawed; interviews are a flawed method for judging motivation, as the way the questions are asked cannot help but effect the answers provided. Have you read any research that shows that Islam might be the cause? (it’s not like there isn’t any, as you seem to be suggesting) Or have you written it all off as being from racist bigot Islamophobes?

Whose research, or what research, do you believe is flawed? What works are you thinking of exactly?

[I have since added a bibliography of the major books on terrorist and radicalization studies that I have used in previous posts here. I have not included scholarly research articles in non-book formats.]

What research are you referring to that identifies Islam as “the cause” of terrorist acts? And what research undercuts or belies the research you say I have been using? I really don’t know what research you are thinking of. (The researchers I use are in good standing with the United Nations, and US and European government agencies that are set up to fight terrorism, and of course it is all peer-reviewed. Do they all have it wrong?)

All research I have read regarding Islamist terrorism is clear about the role of Islamist beliefs. Very often they play a critical role but the research explores why people embrace those beliefs and how radicalization happens. Not dissimilar, in fact, to the way a person comes to embrace a religious cult. And often the very heavy indoctrination in the most extreme religious beliefs comes after a person has made the decision of no return.

I only have an interest in identifying the actual problems that cause terror so that an appropriate response can be made in order to effect a reduction in the scale and number of attacks (even if that response is to actively do nothing, including reducing our current responses, as your research would suggest for a solution).

sternThe research that I am referring to (and that I have addressed or linked to here) certainly does not recommend doing nothing. My recollection of some of it is that current responses should be maintained (i.e. targeted military action) but other things need to be done in addition to that. I don’t know of any research that says there should be no military action against ISIS.

What concerns me is the way critics like Harris and Coyne mock and dismiss the research because they have some vague idea of some aspects of its findings yet they clearly have not read it and their characterizations of it denying any role of religious beliefs are simply flat wrong.

[Next, pastasauceror is responding to my question whether he feared Islam — the context was the place of the term “Islamophobia” in the discussion]

I do not think anything needs to be feared in the current situation. I am certainly not afraid of Islam or Muslims. . . . After all, if the majority of people living in the west feel fear or threat then it doesn’t matter whether there is an actual threat, things will start to happen that I’m sure both of us don’t want (reprisals, ultra-right wing governments gaining power, etc.). Who knows, maybe the best solution to this problem is to stop the media from reporting on terrorist attacks. But then, that will cause other problems and go against core western values. Oh well, I never claimed there’d be an easy solution.

If you don’t fear Islam then I don’t understand the problem. Terrorism is feared by its very definition. Surely it is healthy to fear anything that gives rise to terrorism. I fear terrorism. I fear Islamism (the belief that Islamic laws should rule society). I have argued against Islamist comments on this site and eventually asked those responsible to stop spreading their arguments here. I fear what might very well happen to members of the second generation of Muslim immigrant families in Australia who are alienated largely by overt racism here. I fear the inability of older Muslims to relate to that second generation and help them. I fear what one convicted terrorist sympathizer who was not jailed here might do and am very glad that he is being closely monitored daily by police. (He was not jailed because it was argued that jail would most likely harden his terrorist sympathies — as it is known so often to do.)

I fear the situations and groups who make terrorism more likely than not. If you speak out against what you believe is a cause of terrorism and many believe you then surely you are encouraging a fear, whether a healthy or unhealthy fear, of that cause of terrorism. read more »