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November 14, 2015

Posted by Abi Sutherland at 03:13 AM * 171 comments

I don’t have anything new and useful to say about this, or about the attacks in Beirut and Baghdad that preceded it.

I note that in Paris they struck at cosmopolitan venues: a concert by an American band, a football game with Germany, places with tourists and people who move easily from culture to culture. They struck not just to kill, but to hurt and terrify, and they did all of those things.

There was also generosity, because people open their doors to strangers; taxi drivers get people home safe and worry about the money another day. More people do this, and do it more consistently, than those who kill and harm.

And now others with no skin in the game are all over the place being awful, furthering the murderers’ cause of dividing us all, blaming this easy target or that. There will be hate crimes, and hate. Because—particularly outside of the moment and venue of the crisis itself—there are many who are afraid and vulnerable, and there are some terrible seed crystals floating around in our culture, looking to grow.

This last point makes me tense on a more immediate level as well. My village (which, even if you know its name, please do not identify in the comments) is hosting about 100 refugees next week. The meeting to discuss whether to do so was divided between the civil majority arguing for their stay and the rather alarming minority arguing against it*. The meeting to coordinate volunteers was full and a little overwhelmed†, but that minority is still among us. What will happen next week? Can we keep these vulnerable, hurt people from being further traumatized?

And on a broader basis, can we, how can we, keep all our vulnerable, hurt selves from being further traumatized? Both the ones who turn to grief and the ones who turn to hate? I don’t know of any answer but solidarity. So if you’re the prayin’ type, pray with me; if you’re the crying sort, I have tissues. If you’re a talker, come here and talk.

I’m afraid that if you’re the hating type, the shouting kind, the angry sort, I’m going to ask you to leave. And I’d urge you to think where the road you’re walking down leads, and whether you want to build your life in the place where it ends. I hope you have the courage and strength to find a better path.

* plus a third set of people who wanted to have a go at the city council.
† Martin went, but I didn’t, because other overwhelm. So I didn’t get any of the prized “actually help out in the shelter” slots. I’ll do laundry and clothing repairs offsite.

Comments on Paris:
#1 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2015, 06:18 AM:

I'm not sure where this might fit, but on the night of the 14th November 1940, 75 years ago, the Luftwaffe bombed Coventry. Everyone in Europe spend the next five years trying to terrorise everyone else. The War ended with two cities being destroyed by nuclear weapons, which rather looked as if they were terror weapons that worked.

Europe lived with terror for the next half-century.

More recently, it has lurked on the fringes, but most of us have learned better. Maybe not the politicians, terror can be so useful to them as an excuse, but the last Armies to make assault crossings of the Rhine did it 70 years ago.

Europe has landed a spaceship on a comet and put a coffee machine in orbit.

We've come a long way, There's a long way to go, but we're going the right way. The road twists and turns, and we may have to make our way to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.

Stick to the road.

#2 ::: Andrew Wells ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2015, 06:55 AM:

Dave @1, well said. We need to keep going.

#3 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2015, 07:00 AM:

Abi and Dave Bell said it better than I could have.

#4 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2015, 09:17 AM:

Just to add to what Dave Bell said: perhaps the best sign of hope is that when all this happened the French and Germans were playing a friendly football match.

(We're finding this very hard: Mme Barebones and I both have sisters who live and work in Paris, fairly near to where all of this happened. They're both safe and sound; but the Bataclan is somewhere where my sister-in-law, who is a music and pop-culture journalist, goes for work. Mlle. Barebones was in Paris a couple of weeks back, visiting her aunts, and also going to Paris Comic Con, which seems like the kind of thing which might have been a target if the attacks had happened then

Meanwhile, a significant number of my students are still wearing black in the wake of the 10/10 bombing in Ankara. It's been noted in my Facebook time-line that the French police managed *not* to teargas those who survived the terrorist attacks, and that the President of the Turkish Republic was a lot quicker to release a statement about terrorist attacks in France than he was to talk about the attacks in Turkey.

#5 ::: Cat ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2015, 09:24 AM:

Well said, Abi and Dave.

Maybe it is a function of wrapping myself in my own insular bubble, but I've seen a lot more people wanting to help, and mentioning others who want to help, than wanting to harm.

May it be so more widely.

#6 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2015, 11:44 AM:

Abi and Dave, you've hit the nail on the head.

I am upset by these acts of terrorism, they are truly, truly vile. But what deeply outrages me is the stupidity of those people whose immediate response is to blame the refugees and to demand that all doors be closed to them. That is not merely stupid, it is altogether evil.

#7 ::: LadyKay ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2015, 12:52 PM:

Today's class in intermediate Spanish was on the theme of "pray for peace". It's hard in a secular environment to bring that up, but the fact is that prayer is part of the culture of Spanish-speaking countries and naturally comes up when talking about an event like this.

The other important idea that comes up in most people's minds is "how can I help?" Abi has a role in her village, that lets her express her concern, her care and her hope for the future in work. This is a good time to donate clothes that you are done with, no matter what country you live in. The number of refugees is high.

#8 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2015, 12:53 PM:

I forget where I saw it (it might have been another thread here, even), and therefore don't have the link: but someone on Twitter commented that one shouldn't blame the attack on the refugees because the attackers are precisely the people whom the refugees were fleeing from. That's worth remembering if someone tries to blame the refugees in your hearing.

#9 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2015, 12:55 PM:

Tonight is Observatory night, and I'll take my telescope out and, along with other volunteers, show the sky to the public. It's been a long hot summer but now it's cool, and the weather is decent, and I'm feeling better after a too-long bout with bronchitis, and I'm photon-starved. It's time to look up.

#10 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2015, 01:19 PM:

As Rick says in Casablanca, "It's not particularly MY beloved Paris," but as with all the great cities it belongs to the world. My heart hurts, even though no one I know was there.

And more hate is never, never, never the answer. Hate never made anything better.

#11 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2015, 01:19 PM:

Sorry, I meant for that to go into the Not Paris thread.

#12 ::: Sarah E. ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2015, 03:11 PM:

#6 and #8:

Even the most cynical and self-serving part of my brain agrees that we should side with the refugees: they're the best allies *against* Daesh the rest of the world could have.

#14 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2015, 04:42 PM:

Abi: is it worth standing up and reminding the folks who don't want to take in refugees that the refugees are here because they're fleeing from the organization behind these attacks? That they're leaving their homes because the same people are trying to kill them?

(Maybe it'll help, maybe it won't, but that's the point that has me grinding my teeth over the idiots calling for us to lock out all immigrants.)

#15 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2015, 04:59 PM:

Charlie @14:

I am not the best person to make any effective argument against the kind of people who were speaking in the meeting week before last. Not with my accent in Dutch.

Picture the most swivel-eyed of British loons, but creepily charismatic with it. Would they listen to someone with a strong foreign accent telling them how to run their country?

#16 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2015, 05:22 PM:

I've been praying the Office for the Dead ever since I heard the news last night, and lit candles as well.

Prayers for the survivors too...

Trying not to give in to despair.

#17 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2015, 05:29 PM:

It seems like almost everyone uses the latest tragedy to argue for whatever they were in favor of before the tragedy happened. I'm sure that's not universal, but that's what I always see. Thus, the next mass shooting will convince lots of people who've been in favor of gun control forever that we need more gun control, the next Islamic fundamentalist terrorist attack will convince the people who want to bomb someone in the Middle East that we were always right to bomb whomever they wanted to bomb, etc. I'm not sure how much this is true of people in general, but it seems to be almost always true among people who write opinion pieces or blogs.

I'm not sure how Europe should handle the huge number of refugees from Syria and other places who want to come in. (Since neither the source nor desitination of the refugees is my country, I'm actually pretty okay with not knowing, though I'm not really sure how we should deal with a lot of immigration issues that apply to the US either.)

It's pretty plausible to me, as a not-terribly-informed outsider, that ISIS could slip attackers into the huge flow of refugees into Europe, just as they likely did into Turkey and Lebanon. If I were an ISIS commander trying to slip future attackers into Europe, much of which is currently at war with ISIS, I'd certainly try it. It's pretty normal for refugees to have few documents and no way to formally accoujnt for where they've been and what they've been doing for the last few years, which seems like it would make slipping through any security checks a lot easier.

Now, I think as a rule, everyone puts too much weight on rare spectacular things like terrorist attacks, and too little on boring nonsexy stuff that doesn't make the news like details of education or tax policy, so maybe this concern shouldn't drive a change in migrant or refugee policy. But I don't think that security concern is a crazy or unreasonable one to raise if you're also talking about more domestic spying or more powers for the secret police or tougher laws on what inflamatory things people can say, all of which I expect will come out of the Paris attacks.

#18 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2015, 05:41 PM:

Charlie, #14: My American take on it is going to be pointing out that shutting out the refugees is what the terrorists want us to do. With a side of "As the leaders of the free world*, it's our duty to step up to the plate."

* Not necessarily my personal opinion, but a trope that stands some chance of reaching... the kind of person who would say something like that.

#19 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2015, 06:08 PM:

albatross @17:

I'm certain that ISIS/ISIL/Daesh has tried, and probably succeeded, to get some adherents and trainees into the stream of refugees into Europe. Bluntly, that's one of the risks of living in a broken and unsettled world.

But the attacks in Paris required things new refugees don't have, like local knowledge, access to motor vehicles, and weapons. In other words, these weren't, or weren't entirely, foreign insurgents with no local base. Stopping refugees coming into the continent was, therefore, not going to stop the problem.

I don't know that there's anything we can do that will stop the problem of people wanting to blow shit up for their own causes, except the boring tasks of talking, listening, and eroding their support bases by treating people decently. Our attempts to solve these issues by bombing foreign places or spying on our own people have certainly not been a resounding success. But it's not easy to convince politicians of these things.

But these people are coming, whether residents and politicians like it or not. There is no stopping them while their homes are unlivable. And given climate change, that may be forever. Other solutions, like letting desperate refugees drown in the Med or fencing them off Australian style are quite simply not acceptable. Seriously, if that's the Western civilization that Geert Wilders is trying to rescue from any Muslim influence, it's not worth the saving.

So we find a way to live with them, to live with the danger of disagreement turning into violence. And if that's the world we live in, I'd rather live in it charitably and lovingly.

(Besides, we need these people for purely demographic reasons. We're below replacement birthrate here in Northern Europe, so we gotta get our young and energetic people from somewhere. These people are human wealth and cultural prosperity, knocking at our doors.)

#20 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2015, 06:54 PM:

Sarah E #12 & Charlie #14: I really do not understand the deep hostility towards the refugees. They are as much, if not more, the enemies of Daesh as the Western world are. This 'only good Muslim's a dead one' attitude is deeply annoying.

#21 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2015, 07:08 PM:

Here's an interesting possibility for weakening Daesh-- discourage the Gulf states from sending money to terrorists.

#22 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2015, 07:47 PM:

Well, I am the angry sort, but I'll avoid venting it here.

After 9/11, the Muslims who run the local Middle Eastern restaurant activated their mosque's phone tree and got a group of men to go down and get their hands dirty in the rescue effort at Ground Zero. They were given one of the Ground Zero flags, and displayed it in the restaurant for a few years after that.

It's been that way every time there's been an attack by Muslim extremists. Every Muslim I've ever talked to has denounced such acts. One at my father's memorial told me his reaction to 9/11 was "What are they doing to my country?!?! What are they doing to my religion?!?!" He meant Al Qaeda, and what he thought they were doing was twisting it into a shape he didn't recognize.

One of Daesh's stated goals is to make Muslims unwelcome in the West. If we, on the home front, refuse to let that become the case, we are fighting them as surely as any targeted bombings can do, and with less chance of collateral damage.

I hope and pray that enough of us see that in time.

#23 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2015, 08:01 PM:

One of Daesh's stated goals is to make Muslims unwelcome in the West.

I just used that in an answer to a guy at dKos, who is railing against Muslims (and not making any friends).

#24 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2015, 09:27 PM:


It probably helps a lot to know some Muslims. I think for a lot of people spouting hatred about them, and even more consumers of that hatred, Muslims are entirely foreign to their experience. It's probably easier to believe all Muslims are fire breathing fanatics if you've only seen them as the villain in movies or something.

Familiarity isn't a cure-all for prejudice, but I think it vaccinates you against the more extreme bizarre stories about the Other.

#25 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2015, 09:54 PM:

Serendipitously, watched The Freedom Writers this afternoon. There is a solution. Now if we could just figure out how to get it to scale....

#26 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2015, 11:32 PM:

albatross, #24: True in the main, but unfortunately not a guarantee. The "Oh, I don't mean YOU" bingo square is alive and well.

#27 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2015, 02:49 AM:

Albatross @17

'It's pretty plausible to me, as a not-terribly-informed outsider, that ISIS could slip attackers into the huge flow of refugees into Europe, just as they likely did into Turkey and Lebanon.'

There's a fair amount of evidence that 'slipping attackers into the huge flow of refugees' is not the best explanation of how the ISIS related bombers who blew themselves up in Ankara got into the country: they were Turkish citizens, their families had reported concerns about them to the police, they were connected with people who had carried out similar attacks in the past few months, and they were connected to what looks like a terrorist cell based in the Turkish city of Adiyaman that several Turkish newspapers had reported on.

The best case scenario here is official incompetence (especially in the light of lots of senior police officers having been sacked since 2013 for political reasons), but there are a lot of people who suspect official complicity, not least in the light of the hastily imposed news black-out that happened immediately after the bombing.

#28 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2015, 03:36 AM:

In a way, I wish I could understand the kind of despair that results in things like 9/11 and Paris. On the other hand I'm really grateful (and confident I'm not grateful enough) that I don't.

#29 ::: Steve Wright ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2015, 05:09 AM:

:: remembers hearing someone ask "Where are all the moderate Muslims?" and answering "Well, some of them are in the high street right now, behind a banner that says TERRORISM IS AGAINST ISLAM". ::

There are people of goodwill on all sides of every religious and political and cultural divide, and I have faith that, ultimately, there will be enough of them.

#31 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2015, 07:03 AM:

I'm sorry, I was much too fast with the post button.

Jacque 28:

This might be of interest. about the specific kind of despair which makes ISIS look attractive-- despair about mattering.

That's pretty much what I already believed, so I might be biased in favor of the essay.

I also think that the emotional drive behind terrorism includes "If I feel no peace, you will feel no peace".

#32 ::: Nickelby ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2015, 07:32 AM:

It would be useful if Big Media would put as much emphasis on the pain and anger of moderate Muslims as they do on victims and haters.

#33 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2015, 07:54 AM:

Nancy #30: And also: Interviewing ISIS prisoners.

#34 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2015, 01:20 AM:

Nancy Lebovitz @30 & 31: At the risk of taking the parallel too far, Dear Sweet Ghu, I hope the Mess in the Middle East doesn't turn out to be the run-up to WWIII.

#35 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2015, 06:51 AM:

#33 ::: David Harmon

I now believe *some* Islamist terrorism is related to poverty, though it's not the sort of poverty that just needs aid.

#34 ::: Jacque

For what little it's worth, I think China is amping up the risk of WW3 more than Daesh is.

Details about how Daesh is a many-pronged insult.

#36 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2015, 09:26 AM:

Jacque @34: I find it helps to keep a perspective by using WWII as a yardstick.

In WWII we were confronted by an expansionist empire with a batshit-insane apocalyptic ideology that espoused genocide for Jews and other perceived enemies, and who were bent on global domination.

Today in the middle east we are confronted by an expansionist empire with a batshit-insane apocalyptic ideology that espoused genocide for Jews and other perceived enemies, and who were bent on global domination.

The difference is that in 1939 the enemy was the world's second mightiest industrial power and had over 100M subjects. Today's enemy, in contrast, have 10 million people under their control and notional income on the order of $2.9Bn in 2014 -- meaning their entire income is about 5% the size of the British defense budget.

This is not total war. If it was total war? France alone could reduce the Caliphate to a smoking radioactive wasteland in about twenty minutes flat. The problem the west faces is not how to crush Da'esh, it's how to deal with Da'esh in such a way that the hydra doesn't grow new heads to replace the dead ones.

#37 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2015, 10:30 AM:

I was rather bothered by an article going around about what's behind ISIS's action - that ISIS actually is the real Islam religion and that moderate Muslims are politically correct folks with a sugar-coated vision of their own religion.

#38 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2015, 10:33 AM:

"These things happened. They were glorious and they changed the world... and then we fucked up the endgame."

- 2007's "Charlie Wilson's War", about how, after contributing to the Soviet defeat by Afghans, America walked away.

#39 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2015, 10:50 AM:

Serge, I believe that the map is not the territory and the holy text is not the religion.

You can learn something about a religion from its holy text(s), but there are wildly divergent religions derived from the same text(s).

What the hell, I will bring up a contentious topic. When I was reading usenet, I read many discussions of what science fiction is. They were long discussions, and failed to come to conclusions.

Eventually, I decided that people have prototypes of emotionally important things, and those prototypes happen fast and subconsciously and seem like absolute truth.

Whether you think Pern is science fiction is a result of your first experiences with science fiction, possibly what you've been told about science fiction, and probably some things about what you already believe and your temperament.

These definitions aren't completely arbitrary, and they're partially shared between people. It's not completely worthless to discuss them, but I think they should be discussed as things in people's heads rather than facts about the world.

On the other hand, these prototypes also guide action, and the stakes for what people think their religion really is are a lot higher than the stakes for what science fiction is. It may not be worth the trouble to try to convince people that they're making their version of their religion and it isn't coming direct from God.

I don't seem to have a conclusion, but I stay far away from discussion of what a Jew really is.

#40 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2015, 11:24 AM:

Nancy Lebovitz @ 39... Oh, I wholeheartedly agree with you. Problems arise when some folks have a definition that is either too narrow or too literal. Me, I always prefer flexibility and width. Also, I'd have liked to ask the author of that article if, by his own definition, only Bible literalists are true Christians.

#41 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2015, 12:44 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @35: Daesh

I like it!

Charlie Stross @36: True, true. OTOH, Hitler didn't walk right out of WWI straight into power.... But you're right; I think the general consensus about these jokers is...unflattering.

#42 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2015, 12:46 PM:

Charlie Stross @ #36 - That's a succinct and I think accurate take on the problem.

One thing I'm wondering about is how much of the money that Da'esh has is in the form of the US currency we slathered all over Iraq. And how much is being electronically laundered?

#43 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2015, 12:52 PM:

#40 ::: Serge Broom

Which article?

#44 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2015, 12:54 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz... I'll have to dig it up again in Facebook tonight, since my employer blocks off the likes of it.

#45 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2015, 03:34 PM:


I'm pretty sure you would find it impossible to predict what any given subset of organized Christianity looks like, based only on reading the Old and New Testaments. Though I suppose you could also figure some of that out by looking at how different the different bits of organized Christianity look. It's not like the Southern Baptists, the Amish, and the Roman Catholic Church look all that similar.

I also think that if you start, as an outsider, looking for justifications for why you ought to hate and fear all Christians, you can probably find plenty of reasons in our holy books and statements by prominent Christian leaders over the years.

More broadly, I imagine that there's little in the world easier than convincing people who already hate some group that their hatred for that group is totally justified. That's just as true if you're wanting to justify hating Christians or Muslims or blacks or Jews or white men, or atheists or Republicans or policemen or scientists or Russians or whomever. This makes up a really depressingly large amount of political and social commentary, in one form or another.

#46 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2015, 06:49 PM:

albatross @45: It's not like the Southern Baptists, the Amish, and the Roman Catholic Church look all that similar.

Compared to what? Classic Roman Pagan worship? Classic Maya religious practice? :-)

you can probably find plenty of reasons in our holy books

Wasn't it Mark Twain who had a stage show that involved backing up the most outrageous assertions with quotes from the Bible?

#47 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2015, 06:50 PM:

me: Compared to what?

(Yes, I'm being silly, in case that's not obvious.)

#48 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2015, 08:31 PM:

Nancy Ldbovitz... Here is the article:

#49 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2015, 08:32 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz... argh... cursed misspelling...

#50 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2015, 09:42 PM:

Charlie Stross #36: And, of course, the most important similarity: In both cases, the enemy was created by the West screwing up the endgame for the last war. The problem is, this time we don't have the position (and possibly not the funds) to manage the equivalent of a Marshall plan, even if we could get such a thing past our own batshit contingent.

#51 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2015, 11:18 PM:

We've had an arson at a mosque in Peterborough, Ontario. A crowd-source fundraiser is oversubscribed, nice to see that.

#52 ::: Sica ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2015, 08:57 AM:

I didn't see that article (what Isis really wants one) as being about how ISIS was the real religion etc.

My interpretation was that there is a way of reading the books (just like there are ways of reading the bible) that is utterly bonkers and can lead to much horribleness, and that ignoring the (hugely HUGELY wrong) interpretation that the ISIS monsters are going with would be a mistake.

Could have been wishful reading on my side I don't know but I did find that article quite interesting and worth reading.

Basically it's as if someone set up a "state" based on hardline Christianity, complete with stoning and slavery, no mixed fibers in clothes or tattoos etc.

Saying that those things had no basis at all in the bible would be wrong, however at the same time it's not right to say that that's the "real" Christianity

#53 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2015, 09:08 AM:

David @50: actually, the west screwed up the end-game for the first world war, leading to this mess: personally I blame M. Picot and Mr. Sykes. (Although we can probably lay some of the blame at the feet of Napoleon Bonaparte -- if he hadn't started the ball rolling by invading Egypt, who knows what the Middle East would look like today?)

#54 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2015, 09:33 AM:

One thing I find frustrating is that all the discussions about what to do about ISIS I have seen seem like they're rehashes of the same stuff we've been doing for the last couple decades, which have ultimately led to the problems we have now with ISIS. I don't see why doing the same stuff, or more of the same stuff (perhaps with more brutality) is going to lead us to a better place.

I am not convinced it is in our power to remake the middle east in an image we like, yet that seems like a premise of almost everyone I see discussing our response. It's been a premise of US political rhetoric since before 9/11--we're going to turn the middle east into a bunch of liberal democracies, we're going to make Iraq into a democracy, etc. There are a lot of partisan talking points going around about how it's all Bush's fault or Obama's fault that ISIS exists, but it seems to me that there's a broader lesson here--we're not very good at shaping foreign countries via military intervention, drones, bribes, blackmail, diplomacy, special-forces raids, handing weapons to our favored people, etc. ISIS has risen from the ashes of our attempts to reshape Iraq with bombs and soldiers, and Syria with spies and bribes and threats. None of it has worked out too well, and in fact, this sort of thing usually goes pretty badly. Afghanistan isn't a commercial for our ability to reshape countries from above. Nor is Yemen. Nor is Libya.

I *am* pretty convinced that terrorism is a lever by which people with relatively few resources manage to move the biggest military forces on Earth around and get them bombing and shooting people. I don't know what the solution to that is--if someone kills a bunch of your citizens, you pretty much have to respond somehow--but it's not a great idea to announce to the world that the way to exert some control over your gazillion-dollar military is to kill a bunch of your civilians in some bloody and spectacular attack. Right now, anyone who can get 20 armed men together to attack us can probably force us, for domestic political reasons, to bomb someone, increase the reach of our spy agencies, suppress more free speech, etc. This is a really awful way to run things.

My impression is that ISIS wants the US, UK, France, etc. to attack it, probably because being our enemy inflates ISIS' image among the people they recruit to their side. It seems completely backward and unintuitive that this can pay off for them, but the way they released beheading videos of Western captives (instead of ransoming them back for cash or just shooting them in the head off-camera) makes it clear that they want our response. I suspect that this is a strategy that will work until it abruptly doesn't, for example when someone decides to burn down every major city ISIS holds. But I'll admit I have no expertise in any of this.

#55 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2015, 09:38 AM:

There was a story on NPR this morning talking about local police preparing for Paris- or Mumbai-style attacks (basically mass-shooter attacks witih multiple mass-shooters at once). It struck me that one of the most important steps in your response, here in the US, should probably be to send a couple cops to stand outside the local mosque and make sure some knucklehead doesn't decide to burn it down. That's not what you do while the attack is happening, but I suspect it should be one of the first things you do once the shooting stops.

#56 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2015, 09:49 AM:

Sica @ 52... Basically it's as if someone set up a "state" based on hardline Christianity, complete with stoning and slavery, no mixed fibers in clothes or tattoos

Which is what I meant, about asking the author if Bible literalists should then be considered the only true Christians. Besides, it raises a flag - for me anyway - when someone writes that if you disagree with him (in this case that the hardline Islam interpretation by ISIS is the real religion), you're being politically correct.

#57 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2015, 01:54 PM:

albatross, #54: One of Daesh's stated goals is to make all Muslims unwelcome in Western countries, so that they will have nowhere to go to escape. It's the classic abuser's isolation strategy. ISTM that this makes a lot of their actions much clearer -- they are trying to stir up exactly the response they're getting from many of our Republican politicians.

#58 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2015, 03:22 PM:

Has it occurred to anyone else that these refugees, if made welcome, will become some of our strongest allies against the terrorists? They understand, bone-deep, all the things albatross was saying that our pundits don't seem to get; they will be able to offer insights and approaches we won't get from anyone else. But ONLY if we don't shove them back into the arms of the terrorists!

#59 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2015, 04:52 PM:

#58 ::: Lee

I think a large part of the problem is people trying to get absolute safety in a world where it just isn't possible. They don't want to think about trade-offs.

#60 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2015, 06:57 PM:

Lee #57: Yup, as with Al Quaeda, they are convincing us to attack our own values and our best interests.

#61 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2015, 09:45 AM:


I don't think that works out all that well w.r.t. terrorism. The average refugee will be quite US-friendly and very hostile to ISIS (as is pretty much everyone with their head screwed on straight), but terrorist attacks come from extreme outliers. It's possible to simultaneously have the majority of refugees be strongly anti-ISIS, and still have a couple of guys who are willing to carry out suicide attacks on ISIS' behalf. (This applied much more broadly than the refugees from Syria.)

I think this is one of the things that makes terrorism really hard to stop--you're dealing with a really small number of extreme outliers. Any procedure you develop to try to screen out or detect those guys tends to get swamped with false positives, since even most people with really vile beliefs and political associations would never have actually strapped a bomb to themselves and blown up a bunch of strangers.

#62 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2015, 09:53 AM:


Yeah, at least in the US' case, I think the measures we've taken against terrorism have probably imposed way more costs than any terrorist attacks they prevented, though obviously, it's impossible to prove a counterfactual.

I think there's an advantage for political rhetoric in sounding certain and promising certain outcomes. "If we do these things (whose costs will conveniently only fall on people you don't like), we will be safe from terrorist attacks" is better for getting votes than "We can do a bunch of expensive and unpleasant things to decrease the chances of a terrorist attack, but there's no way to prevent all such attacks, and it's very hard even to measure whether some measure is having any effect at all."

In practice, I suspect we'll take the small number of Syrian refugees we've committed to taking, and that's probably the right policy. I also suspect it will not be politically viable for most of Europe to keep allowing the huge influx of refugees (largely from Syria, but also substantial numbers from Iraq, Afghanistan, North Africa, Southeast Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa) after these latest attacks. The terrorist theat from those refugees is probably not any of the ten biggest impacts they're going to have, but I suspect it will be a powerful wedge politically.

#63 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2015, 10:13 AM:

albatross #61: The problem is, that argument applies to our own citizens too: Notably, the folks who feel completely disenfranchised, have economically gone from "barely making it" to "not making it", or are frustrated that their designated punching-bags (blacks, gays, etc) are being taken away.

Buf of course, when white folks do it, it's not "terrorism", just one of those random things, totally incomprehensible. </sarcasm>

#64 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2015, 01:01 PM:

David Harmon @63: Unless, of course, it's in Ireland. (The terrorist activity, that is.)

#65 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2015, 01:56 PM:

albatross @54: when someone decides to burn down every major city ISIS holds.

My pie-in-the-sky fantasy is that I'd like to movie in with enough money, materiel, and personnel to really truly set things straight: get functional police happening, feed everybody, and get the infrastructure up and running. Then let people start working out what kind of governance they want, once everybody's belly is full and they've had a good sleep. (Which, I gather, was what the Marshall Plan* was all about.)

Problem is, that's probably much more expensive than anything Western demoncracies would be willing to put forth, nowadays.

* Also, the Marshall Plan was aimed at well-defined polities. We might have had a chance with a MP-like approach back when Iraq was still a reasonably discrete nation. Now...?

#66 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2015, 02:40 PM:

#65 ::: Jacque

Also, what you're proposing would meet armed resistance. What would it take to succeed?

#67 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2015, 04:33 PM:


I don't claim any deep expertise here, but my impression is that a lot of the insurgent/terrorist/whatever groups in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, etc., target a lot of international aid workers who are generally trying to do exactly what you suggest, albeit on a smaller scale[1]. I think this is for a variety of reasons:

a. They're outsiders, and the insurgents may be trying to get the outsiders to go away so their influence diminishes.

b. They may dislike those groups providing whatever services they're providing. To use a pretty obvious example, not everyone is on board with providing girls with a free education, or feeding hungry kids from the ethnic minority the local majority is trying to ethnically cleanse.

c. I think a lot of insurgent types buy into the "the worse the better" line. My impression is that ISIS has been pretty successful largely because they often can restore a certain amount of order and functionality to places that have been dysfunctional and chaotic for many years.

d. It would be natural for insurgents (or maybe most locals) to assume that Western do-gooders were there to establish influence that would later be used to exert some control over the locals. Indeed, that would probably be true.

e. They're easy and obvious targets without many friends. Shooting the local Sunni warlord's brother in law is liable to start a war you may not win, but killing some well-intentioned but clueless aid workers is probably pretty safe.

[1] We'll just ignore the fact that *we* recently bombed the hell out of an MSF hospital, and that MSF is still calling for an independent war crimes investigation over the whole thing. Down the memory hole with that incident!

#68 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2015, 04:42 PM:


I guess another take on that is that it kind-of describes a lot of what the US was trying to do in Iraq and Afghanistan. And in both cases, there were some successes--eventually there were elections which weren't complete farces, and some kind of governments were put into place. But this doesn't seem to have settled matters long-term.

My impression is that Iraq soon after we toppled Saddam was more-or-less a functional place--people were mostly not starving, power and basic services were coming back online. And at some point over the next few years, this dissolved into a civil war, with Shia and Sunni militias fighting it out, and massacres and ethnic cleansing a pretty normal occurrence. I doubt that this was driven by hunger or failed services so much as by bone-deep hatred of the kind that's been inspiring one guy to bash another guy's brains in since we climbed down out of the trees.

#69 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2015, 06:07 PM:

As I say, I don't know how this could work in the current situation. Given enough resources, it might have worked back when we'd just freshly toppled Saddam—and I gather that, in fact, that was what everybody* was expecting us to do. It's heartbreaking that Bush basically just dusted his hands, said, "Okay! All better now!" and (for all practical purposes) walked away.

Nancy Lebovitz @66: Also, what you're proposing would meet armed resistance. What would it take to succeed?

A few orders of magnitude more money, complete cooperation from all coalition members, and a lot more strategic intelligence than seems likely to be brought to bear on the situation.

The West doesn't really seem to know how to deal with major armed insurrection beyond clapping our hands over our ears and shrieking "Make it stop!!!"

* Except those who actually looked at the tab for such a thing, looked at TPTB, sighed, and correctly predicted, "Nah, never happen."

#70 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2015, 07:41 PM:

Jacque@69 looked at the tab for such a thing

Although considering how much we spent on the occupation...

Of course the money would have needed to be spent intelligently, and I doubt if the Bushies were capable of that even if they had tried.

#71 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2015, 07:50 PM:

Michael: I think this one falls under the heading of "There's never enough  time  money to do it right, but there's always  time  money to do it over. :-/

#72 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2015, 08:13 PM:

David H., #63: Also, there is no one group in the US with an over-arching connection to the pool of entitled white male rage, no equivalent to Daesh. It's all scattered out over dozens of hate groups ranging from the KKK to WBC to various MRA gangs, and some of our entitled white male terrorists aren't actually members of any specific group but follow a bunch of them online. So it's much easier to pretend that these are all "independent, random" incidents, rather than part of an ongoing pattern.

#73 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2015, 08:17 PM:

Michael I #70: Remember, it was already a major Republican theme that "the government can't do anything right" ("... and now that we're in charge, we'll prove it to you!") Not to mention any such project would have required listening to the "reality-based community".

#74 ::: Bob ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2015, 07:22 AM:

Times like these I just turn off the radio and listen to people who make sense. And by "sense" I mean peaceable, merciful, wise, and weird (which invariably seems to catch the other three).

Just not worth being eaten up with fear. Been there and done that: an addiction like every other addiction, eaten up and wasted away.

Walk with a limp now, as it were, but I confess my limp just like Jacob had to confess his.

#75 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2015, 11:21 AM:

albatross @ 68: that was not my impression; the news I remember was of continuing failure to restore basic services.

and Jacque @ 69: If Shrub/Rummy had just walked away things might have been better; instead, "de-Baathification" displaced an educated minority, encouraging cleansing of an entire ethnicity -- not just those complicit with Saddam. That didn't help with service deficits....

#76 ::: LadyKay ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2015, 11:45 AM:

#74 ::: Bob I do agree that listening to and emotionally responding to (the news/the pundits/the angry) is an addiction. It's the someone is wrong on the Internet feeling, I can feel successful/better than someone with little investment of energy. Learning when to do it, and more importantly when not to do it is part of growing up in this age.

My governor is proving yet again that he didn't run for or get my vote. Adding our state to the shameful list of refusals. I am glad that it has no effect in law, and sad that it contributes to the level of nasty discourse.

#77 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2015, 03:55 PM:

I am not any kind of expert on ISIS or Islamic scholarship, but I found this article in The Atlantic fascinating and disturbing in equal measures. I'd love to hear what people who know more about the subject think.

One thing really struck me: Most people, including our political leaders, have a *really* hard time putting on a fundamentally different worldview and understanding how someone very different from themselves thinks. So it's often quite hard for American decisionmakers to really get, all the way down, the mindset that drives people to ISIS.

This is my very rough attempt at building a parallel to ISIS that has some resonance for me: Imagine the Vatican was destroyed centuries ago, and since then there's been no pope and all the different diosceses have more-or-less run themselves, making different levels of accomodation with local leadership and conditions and new ideas. A huge and horrible civil war runs through Italy for many years, with Catholic militias fighting Protestent militias, Atheist Communists, and various others. A particularly brutal Catholic militia conquers a chunk of the old Papal States, throws together some process that looks plausibly like the election of a pope, and the leader declares himself pope. His militia has long since been carrying out the tactics of the Church in its darkest days--burning witches and apostates, hunting down heresy and secret Jews/Muslims via a new Inquisition, etc.

Now, imagine being a Catholic. Lots of people loudly proclaim that this is not authentically the Church, because torture and witch-burning is against everything the Church stands for. But of course, you know the history of the Church, so you know that's nonsense--you're revolted by it, but there's no point pretending the Church didn't warm up the red hot irons for a fair number of suspected heretics.

Imagine that since the fall of the Papal States, most Catholics live in really badly governed, impoverished places, and that lots of non-Catholic places treat Catholics pretty badly. They're divided on doctrine, often fighting wars against one another. Imagine that you *long* for the return of the pope and a nation ruled by Christ's vicar on Earth.

I find it hard to put myself in that mental place, but it's perhaps the closest I can get to the mindset that this article portrays for the appeal of ISIS. Most Muslims presumably find the call of the self-proclaimed caliph about as appealing as most Christians do the call of the Westboro Baptist Church. But there is a subset of Muslims that find that call extremely important and powerful.

That call has little to do with rational expectation--the obvious rational prediction for a full-on war between the Islamic world and the West is a formerly-Muslim world full of radioactive ruins and populated very sparsely. Short term, your expectation as a new ISIS fighter ought to be that you'll endure a lot of hardship and die sooner or later. And I think that's actually what a lot of those guys expect, both short-term and long-term.

I have no idea what response makes sense w.r.t. this, and I don't remotely imagine that the few articles I've read on ISIS make me any kind of an expert. But it's hard to imagine that, say, the rational threat of deterrence is going to work especially well. (I expect French bombs falling on ISIS right now have more to do with the French public than with ISIS.)


#78 ::: Robert Glaub ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2015, 04:54 PM:

I've been spending the past week in teleconferences with Berlin, Paris and London. And I've bee spending time Downtown getting into shouting matches with damn fools who want to send the entire army into Syria. These are always people who have never served in the military and don't have a damned clue as to which end of a weapon is what, much less seen a battlefield up close.

#79 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2015, 04:56 PM:

albatross @77:

That's the article that Serge mentioned above. I have the same problem with it Serge does, and this paragraph is a good example of what I have a problem with:

According to Haykel, the ranks of the Islamic State are deeply infused with religious vigor. Koranic quotations are ubiquitous. “Even the foot soldiers spout this stuff constantly,” Haykel said. “They mug for their cameras and repeat their basic doctrines in formulaic fashion, and they do it all the time.” He regards the claim that the Islamic State has distorted the texts of Islam as preposterous, sustainable only through willful ignorance. “People want to absolve Islam,” he said. “It’s this ‘Islam is a religion of peace’ mantra. As if there is such a thing as ‘Islam’! It’s what Muslims do, and how they interpret their texts.” Those texts are shared by all Sunni Muslims, not just the Islamic State. “And these guys have just as much legitimacy as anyone else.”

In other words, the article is basically hanging ISIS/Daesh around the necks of all Muslims. It's been a touchstone for a lot of the more genteel religious bigotry I've heard lately, from people who don't consider themselves Islamaphobes, not really, but....

This is shaped a lot like a conversation I just had with my father about the current Pope, and the state of the Catholic Church in general.

There is a wing of our church that maintains that compliance with all of the traditions of the Church is required to be a Really True Catholic. Going to Mass on Holy Days of Obligation, abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent (or Lent and Advent, or all Fridays), going to Confession at x intervals, not using birth control, listening to the Magisterium, believing in the Assumption rather than the Dormition.

There's another wing who say that being Catholic is about the communion of saints, the mystery of the Sacraments, the power of charity and forgiveness, the ecstasy of Teresa and the soft click of the rosary beads, the profound and humbling search for intimacy with God within the two thousand year old tradition, using what leads you deeper and leaving the rest aside.

If you, like me, are in the latter tradition, it's not that the rules aren't there; I don't deny that they exist. It's that the rules are not the most important thing; indeed, they're so far from being the focus of my life as a Catholic that I can't name or list them all. I have limited time and attention, and if I spend it checking if I'm in compliance with those rules I'm not pursuing what is, for me, the real point of the exercise.

I reject the notion that the people who focus so intensely on those rules represent Catholicism*. I reject that theirs is some kind of "true" Catholicism, latent and lurking in my Catholicism, and that any denial of that is "preposterous" and "sugar-coated". No, further: I think anyone who has become so eaten up with the rules as to lose the heart of the faith does not represent true Catholicism, however much they perform a kind of dance of technical compliance. And I maintain this even (especially!) in the face of the Church's intermittent history of enforcing technical compliance at the point of a red-hot poker.

So yes, Daesh fighters quote the Koran and enforce a subset of the rules that Islam has used at times in history. That doesn't mean that they represent true Islam. I'm willing to listen to a wider variety of voices than one academic...particularly one who disputes that the article even represents his views.

* so does the Pope

#80 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2015, 04:58 PM:

Robert Glaub @78:

Strength to your vocal cords; thank you for lending your expertise to the no doubt exasperating discussions.

#81 ::: Jim Parish ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2015, 06:17 PM:

abi@79: Have you read Avery Dulles' Models of the Church? It's a slim book, laying out four (I think) maps of what the church is and pointing out their strengths and weaknesses. (Dulles was one of the few people I've seen who recognize that the best response to "The map is not the territory" is to collect lots of maps, switching from one to another as needed.)

#82 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2015, 06:20 PM:


Thanks for the link!

When I read the Atlantic article, I did not remotely get the sense that most Muslims would find ISIS appealing, or that ISIS is somehow the only true version of Islam. I can see how someone going in with that belief might try to confirm it with this article, but I think it's quite a stretch. I understand perfectly well that the overwhelming majority of Muslims want nothing to do with ISIS.

Instead, what I got from the article was a better mental model (I think) for understanding the mindset of Muslims who decide to join ISIS. I think he captured a sense of the belief that leads you to decide to leave a safe middle-class existence in the UK or Australlia or the US and head to Syria to join ISIS, from several of the people he talked to. I also got a sense of why ISIS seems to be openly seeking war with very powerful countries like the US, UK, and France.

I don't know the intentions of the author of the piece, but I very much doubt his goal in writing it was to somehow blame all Muslims for ISIS. That sure wasn't what *I* got out of it,

#83 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2015, 10:17 PM:

Except that he referred to moderate Muslims as politically correct and harboring a rosy view of their own religion.

#84 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2015, 12:16 AM:

Slacktivist is on a roll about the refugee issue, and particularly about the hypocrisy of people who never give a shit about America's homeless veterans until it gives them an excuse to be equally hateful to someone else. If you need some Righteous Rants to mine for rebuttal material, check out the most recent days' posts.

Also, if you're on Facebook and not following Jim Wright of Stonekettle Station, you should be. He's got a Righteous Rant up as well over there.

#85 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2015, 01:20 PM:

Robert Glaub #78: Are there really fools who think that the way through a swamp filled with crocodiles is straight through the deepest part on foot?

#86 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2015, 06:07 PM:

Fragano Ledgister #85: Oh yeah... especially when it's somebody else who's supposed to get through the swamp.

#87 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2015, 09:59 PM:

...we were waist deep in the Big Muddy,
and the big fool said to push on..."

#88 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2015, 10:33 PM:

Two more interesting ISIS-related links via Juan Cole. (I am definitely not an expert on this sruff, but Cole is.)

Quotes from the Koran against terrorism

A discussion of the role of Islamic thinkers in fighting terrorism..

#89 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2015, 11:49 PM:

Lee @ #84 -

Also, if you're on Facebook and not following Jim Wright of Stonekettle Station, you should be. He's got a Righteous Rant up as well over there.

Agreed. He cuts through the crap admirably.

#90 ::: Robert Glaub ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2015, 09:41 AM:

Fragano Ledgister #85 Yep. Especially when it is someone else's kids who will be going into harms way.

#91 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2015, 11:38 AM:

Abi @79: If you, like me, are in the latter tradition, it's not that the rules aren't there; I don't deny that they exist. It's that the rules are not the most important thing

That's spoken like a Christian. Trouble is, we're not talking about Christianity.

There are several different major traits that you can identify religions by, and while all religions exhibit one or more of them, very few religions exhibit them all. Going by memory, the main traits are: evangelism, rules/legalism, territoriality, ethnic identity/generality, and compatibility with other religions.

Judaism, for example, is highly focussed on rules/legalism and it's an ethnic identity; it's very low on compatibility with other religions and evangelism, and quite low on territoriality (except for the holy places in Israel it's basically not territorially oriented).

Christianity is highly evangelical, not an ethnic identity at all, mostly low on rules/legalism (although it varies by sect), low on compatibility with other religions, and not territorial (at least, since the Crusades).

An example of a religion that's high on compatibility with others would be Buddhism in Japan; you often find Shinto temples inside the grounds of Buddhist shrines, tended by the monks.

And Islam? It's not like Christianity at all. It's evangelical, it's as high on legalism/rules as orthodox Judaism, it's incompatible with other religions, and it's quite territorial -- at least insofar as the territories of the original Caliphate are a flashpoint for violence when they're occupied by non-muslims (consider Osama bin Laden's original motivation for attacking American interests: to get the infidels out of the Holy Places, i.e. Saudi Arabia).

(Apologies if this is a case of me teaching my grandmother to suck eggs; I find that it's not universally appreciated by people who didn't grow up among non-co-religionists.)

The thing is, the Salafis, of whom Da'esh are simply the most toxic current version, are an exaggerated expression of tendencies that make sense in the context of Islam -- evangelical rules-obsessed and territorial. The violence with which they express themselves is both deplorable and extreme, in the view of other muslims, but it's a logical conclusion that arises from their beliefs when they feel they're backed against a wall by external threats (a perception which may or may not be justified, but which tends to drive any group of people towards increased radicalism and violence).

#92 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2015, 11:48 AM:

Charlie @91:

I think in this conversation it's wise to have citations, preferably to knowledgeable sources, for assertions about religions of which we are not members or acknowledged experts.

But you also miss the point of my analogy (because it was an analogy, not a direct equivalence). All religions (because humans) are subject to multiple varied interpretations, and it's really down to the members of the religions in question to determine whether x tendency is The Real True Thing or not.

And when there's disagreement, one cannot dismiss the members who say NOPE out of hand, or pick one set arbitrarily. Because a religion is not just the sum of its published doctrines and its holy books; it's the product of a body of practice and incohate belief, a summation of the actions of a large community (or rather, multiple communities) across great distances of time and space.

To declare that violence is a logical conclusion that arises from their beliefs when they feel they're backed against a wall by external threats is to deny that complexity. To do so from the outside, without citations, is...not convincing me in the slightest.

#93 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2015, 02:28 PM:

Religions in general seem to have a lot to say about things beyond human scale (not a scholar of religions, so perhaps there are some exceptions, but it's pretty clear that Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Taoism, and even Buddhism ("even" because the question of whether it's a "religion" is perhaps still on the table) have that aspect), and that covers most adherents to religions.

What seems to me to be happening with some of the Christian terrorists in the US and some of the Muslim terrorists scattered around the world is that they somehow attach the beyond-human-scale aspect of things in religions (Christianity's version is that your behavior in this life leads to punishment or reward in the next life both of which are on a completely trans-human scale, meaning any amount of suffering, even your own personal suffering, in this world is logically justified to gain the reward offered in the next) to their particular hot-button issues. This then justifies any action here and now to further their goals.

Given humans, it's kind of an inevitable consequence of putting that heavy a weight on the table in the first place. However, given humans, it's also kind of inevitable that they'll find something to justify their particular hot-button issues, regardless. Arguably it's unfair to put blame on the religions for this result; perhaps it's the humans who should be blamed.

On the other hand, perhaps an actual omnipotent god could have arranged for better humans and better religions. In fact, the thought that this really is the best of all possible worlds (an omnipotent, omniscient, god couldn't do better) is perhaps the most depressing idea I've ever seen put forward.

#94 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2015, 02:43 PM:

DDB @93:

your behavior in this life leads to punishment or reward in the next life both of which are on a completely trans-human scale, meaning any amount of suffering, even your own personal suffering, in this world is logically justified to gain the reward offered in the next

Ummm...#notallChristians is probably the most tactful thing I can say about this statement. It's kind of fractally wrong for what I (and many others) believe in a way that I really don't have the energy to explain at the length and in the detail that would be required.

Just really, really not. Please tag that datapoint as "heavily disputed". Maybe read The Great Divorce by CS Lewis as a counterweight? Though even then I can see there's a lot of footnoting and explaining needed.

On the other hand, perhaps an actual omnipotent god could have arranged for better humans and better religions.

Free will is also a theological concept you might want to spend some time researching before you consider this view definitive.

Can I suggest, on a general basis, that if people in this conversation don't understand a thing—including and especially religion or religions—they maybe do some research before posting definitive statements on it? Really, this thread is starting to read like an explanation of electricity that involves fairies and grapefruit as necessary components of a circuit.

#95 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2015, 04:13 PM:

I would like to note that the difference between Christianity in the 1600s (Catholics and Protestants tearing apart the Holy Roman Empire) and Christianity today (Catholic and Protestant churches on the same city block) is *not* a change in the theological precepts of the faith.

Attempts to reason from theological first principles are not gonna give meaningful answers here.

#96 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2015, 04:26 PM:

Abi @92: agreed about multiple interpretations. Also agreed about the scale of religions. I just try to bear in mind that of the approximately 2Bn muslims there seem to be on the order of 20,000 -- or at most 200,000 -- seriously committed angry militants (as opposed to conscripts in regional militias in civil-war-torn regions). 1 in 100,000 or 1 in 10,000 isn't enough to invalidate the oft-repeated assertion that "Islam is the religion of peace" any more than the existence of the Lord's Resistance Army or angry dudes who blow up abortion clinics in the US midwest is enough to prove that Christianity is a Religion of War.


The guys with guns get all the airplay, because if it bleeds it leads. And we know about copycat spree shootings in the USA spiking in the wake of saturation media coverage of massacres; is it unreasonable to assume that the insane level of media coverage of incidents like 9/11, 7/7, and the Paris massacre is actually recruiting extra bodies for Da'esh from among the young, angry, and disenfranchised?

#97 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2015, 04:56 PM:

Charlie @96:

You're increasingly reading as someone desperate to find some way to hold onto his opinions in the absence of any evidence or information to support them. Absent facts, now we're onto anxious questioning.

Please get some information before you continue casting aspersions. But also, think this through. This is exactly the kind of "we can't be sure, so..." line of argument that's leading to women in hijab being targeted by bigots, US governors not accepting refugees, and Trump's proposals to make all Muslims register in a central database.

You're better than this.

#98 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2015, 05:03 PM:

Andrew Plotkin @95:

Yes. An excellent example.

#99 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2015, 09:43 PM:

abi @ 79

How important the rules are in Christianity is -- disputed (as we both know well). It's disputed among theological traditions, but it's also disputed among believers within particular tradition.

Within the Catholic tradition, I lean toward "the rules are very important." But that's heavily personal, and strongly based on my personal demons and quirks. Living with depression for decades, and with Asperger's forever, required two mental habits to survive. "No, really--your brain is just lying to you; things are going to get better" and "No, really--there are things going on in this interaction that you are completely missing." Given that (well-deserved given my brain) lack of trust in my thinking--particularly in the short term and under pressure--makes "hundreds of people observing for a few thousand years have concluded that this is the best approach" a really helpful thing to have.

Not that the sacraments, the communion of saints, etc aren't valuable to me--but the thing that attracted me in the first place was the idea that natural law means the rules are not arbitrary.

#100 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2015, 02:11 AM:

SamChevre @99:

You're absolutely right to pull me up short there. I was being unfair to half the Church, and it's not appropriate.

There is a beauty to the dance of the rules, the liturgical cycle of colors and seasons that extends, fractally, into as much detail and as intimate an interface with our lives as we want or need it to.

Like a lot of the not-rules people, I'm feeling a little bruised by the last few Popes, and by the reaction to this one. But it's not fair or wise to categorize everyone by the worst and most extreme examples, and I apologize for so doing in this case.

I'm a depressive Aspie too, but too many of the other things rules-focused Catholics do and say seem to be about putting me as a woman into a corner, shutting me up, devaluing me. It's put me off that whole side of things, probably permanently. But it's a complex church and there are plenty of places to find a home.

(Have you looked into the Liturgy of the Hours, aka the breviary? If you're seeking practices, you might consider it. I sense that it might be something that would work with your character.)

#101 ::: James Harvey ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2015, 06:13 AM:

I thought this was a very thoughtful and detailed article in the Atlantic:

What ISIS Really Wants

I also thought that the dialogue between Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz in "Islam and Future of Tolerance" was very illuminating. Certainly efforts like those of the Quilliam Foundation seems to me to a be a vital part of the future.

#102 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2015, 06:38 AM:

James @ 101:

This article has been discussed up-thread, both by Serge and Albatross. See my disagreement with it at comment 79, which I stand by, and the linked later interview with Haykel.

Shorter me: questionable intel, and please read the thread.

#103 ::: James Harvey ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2015, 06:46 AM:

As for my own personal reaction, I have limited it to this observation elsewhere online:

After events in Paris, everyone wants someone or something to blame it would seem: Islam, Western imperialism, gun control laws, capitalism, you name it.

Such exercises in blame may be right or wrong, but one observation I would make is that too often such exercises merely reveal the prejudices of the speaker.

What I will say is this: I do know the direction we should travel. The last four hundred years have seen humanity start to raise its eyes from millennia of ancient and mediaeval barbarity. And this is the work of the Enlightenment.

So I'm not going to say what I am against, but what I am for:
- Science
- Human rights
- Specifically human rights for women, freeing them from the chains of male ownership and slavery to reproduction, and ensuring their economic autonomy
- The Rule of Law
- Freedom of speech
- Secularism, and the separation of religious belief from the state
- Liberalism and a belief in the right of the individual to pursue their own desires and beliefs to the extent it does not harm others.

That's a long enough list for now.

I am currently reading Thomas Paine's "The Rights of Man" in order to clear the air.

#104 ::: James Harvey ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2015, 06:56 AM:

Thanks abi: sorry, I missed that.

I didn't read the article in the same way as you I'm afraid. I don't think it was trying to hang Daesh on all muslims, but I do think that there is at times (cf Obama's comments), a selective blindness in western comments that tries to pretend that ISIS is unislamic, or has nothing to do with religion. It clearly does. What is needed is an understanding of the diversity possible in interpretation within Islam - hence my reference to the work of muslims like Maajid Nawaz who espouse a very different set of interpretations.

Like it or not, the Koran, much like the Bible, is full of some extremely unpleasant Iron Age bullshit which can be used to excuse truly awful actions. Islam is struggling mightily from a tradition that this is unalterable revelation to reach a better interpretation. This is going to take time, and encouragement from us all I suspect.

#105 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2015, 07:54 AM:

To anyone reading Wood's article (linked repeatedly here), I'd suggest reading this article in the Atlantic addressing it: The Phony Islam of ISIS

This paragraph in particular:

[I]f one relies on Wood and Haykel, and believes that the horrors perpetrated by ISIS are “plainly” in Islam’s sacred texts and that it is “preposterous” to argue that these texts are being distorted, then the notion that a faithful Muslim could be critiquing ISIS in a moral and rational fashion is discarded. He can only be a sympathizer, a hypocrite, or a dupe who is ignorant of the requirements of his own faith. Wood’s essay leaves readers with a gnawing fear that the majority of Muslims might wake up tomorrow and start taking their texts “seriously.”

That's an excellent summary of my problem with Wood's article. Read the rest for a different take than Wood's.

#106 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2015, 08:02 AM:

James @104:

Islam is struggling mightily from a tradition that this is unalterable revelation to reach a better interpretation.

Citation, please, to a reliable, knowledgeable source. What is "unalterable revelation", according to whom, is that what ISIS is using for justification, and what are the dissenting views?

Also, please point to which of Obama's comments you're referring to.

More generally, there is also a plausible argument that religion is the excuse for violence that's been brewing for other reasons. It's not unprecedented; why and how is this different than the Crusades or the Troubles in Northern Ireland, both of which were as driven by other factors as by religion itself?

#107 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2015, 08:28 AM:

Charlie Stross #91, #96: Also, as a Jew, your comments about Judaism do not inspire my confidence in the rest of your comments. The real kicker is, (like the changes in Christianity noted by Andrew Plotkin #95), the differences involved aren't actually about the essential character of the faith -- they're responses to the surrounding political conditions:

Judaism, for example, is highly focussed on rules/legalism and it's an ethnic identity; it's very low on compatibility with other religions and evangelism, and quite low on territoriality (except for the holy places in Israel it's basically not territorially oriented).

Legalism: Judaism has split at least three ways over legalism -- the Reform movement is specifically about shifting to moral principles rather than ritual practice, with the Conservative movement striking a middle path. Here in America, many Jews opened up to the Reform/Conservative movement precisely because of their acceptance and success -- once they weren't under direct threat, many felt they didn't need the structural segregation provided by Kashruth etc. Meanwhile some Orthodox groups have (correctly) noted that lowering those walls offers a structural hazard of its own (assimilation), and responded by doubling down on the ritual practice and separation from mainstream society.

Territoriality: The Israelis are colonizing not just holy places, but generic territory which had previously been ceded to the Palestinians (not to mention the whole Sinai fracas). Not only is much of the rest of the world's Jewry seriously pissed at them for it (and trying to talk them down), but there's a major peace movemnent within Israel itself. But the American government has applied major pressure against any such resolution, because they consider Israel "their man in the Middle East" (and a reliable source of oil), and don't want them getting too chummy with their neighbors.

#108 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2015, 08:40 AM:

Meanwhile, reactions to Trump's comments that all Muslims should be registered with the government have brought up comparisons to Hitler, which has had others bring up Godwin's Law. Here is the response of Jewish-American SF writer Daniel Abraham:

"Godwin's Law is based on the sweetly naive assumption that there aren't Nazis anymore."

#109 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2015, 09:05 AM:

Daesh isn't Islam, but it's definitely Islam-flavored. I believe that whenever something acquires prestige, people will try to free ride on the prestige.

#110 ::: James Harvey ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2015, 09:33 AM:

Citation, please, to a reliable, knowledgeable source. What is "unalterable revelation", according to whom, is that what ISIS is using for justification, and what are the dissenting views?

Sam Harris in conversation with Maajid Nawaz in "Islam and Future of Tolerance" Kindle location 601, asks and gets a comprehensive answer:

"I want to ask you about this, because my understanding is that basically all "moderate" Muslims - that is, those who aren't remotely like Islamists, or even especially conservative, in their social attitudes - are nevertheless fundamentalists by the Christian Standard, because they believe the Qu-ran to be the literal and inerrant word of God."

" Muslim history there have been people, knows as the Mu'tazila, who didn't insist that the Qur'an was the eternal word of God.. A modern-day advocate of this position is the Iranian Muslim philosopher and scholar AbdolKarim Soroush. The Mu'tazila beame quite prominent until, as always, power determined which doctrine won. Usually this happens for political reason, not because because of the strength of the arguments. It happened at the Council of Nicaea, when Christianity was adopted by the Roman Empire, leading to its spread across much of Europe. Political decisions made by empires can determine and have determine which doctrines become orthodoxy. So it was with Islam.

"Part of the history of Muslim "doctrine being shaped by power" lies in the story of the Muslim dispute over whether the Qur'an was created by God or is his eternal word. I refer to this dispute not to take one view or another - I won't take theological stances here - but to highlight the variety in traditional Islamic theology on questions such as this. Having the ruling doctrine at one stage, the Mu'tazila were eventually defeated by the Asha'ira, led by Imam Ash'are, whose views on the eternal, uncreated nature of the Qur'an then became accepted as orthodoxy. Imam Ash'are was in fact, a defector from the Mu'tazila, which shows how popular the Mu'tazila view once was. This is why most Muslims today believe that the Qur'an is the eternal, literal word of God."

(emphasis mine)

- the point here is that there is an undeniable orthodoxy today about the Qur'an, but this is not inevitable, and has not always obtained in Islamic history. Countervailing viewpoints exist within Islam, have always existed, and need support in my view.

Also, please point to which of Obama's comments you're referring to.

There are several, but lets just take the comment referenced here:

Now let's make two things clear. ISIL is not 'Islamic.' No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL's victims have been Muslim

I don't think that this statement is in accordance with the facts. This is not the same as saying all Muslims believe this, but ISIS is clearly within the spectrum of devout Islamic belief.

More generally, there is also a plausible argument that religion is the excuse for violence that's been brewing for other reasons. It's not unprecedented; why and how is this different than the Crusades or the Troubles in Northern Ireland, both of which were as driven by other factors as by religion itself?

Well absolutely: history doesn't work like a science experiment where single variables can be changed in isolation or actions have singular motivations. But I think it would be a perverse analysis which did not admit that religion had a very significant, if not primary, position in either the cause or the bitter continuation of the conflicts that you mention.

My point is not that "it's all Islam's fault" in this (hence my other post about blame). But I do think it is possible to admit that some of the orthodox or entrenched theological positions are deeply unhelpful, and, most importantly, open to a different interpretations. Pretending that these positions are not Islamic is not helpful: instead I think it needs to be accepted that they are Islamic, but that they don't represent the totality of Islam and that different positions are perfectly possible, and need to be argued and fought for.

#111 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2015, 09:40 AM:

Abi @97: after sleeping on it, I think what's actually happening is that my knee-jerk aversion to all religious expressions is leaking through. (I react very negatively to Christian symbology -- and Orthodox Jewish -- as well as Islamic.) Comes of having grown up in a faith community, rejected its teachings circa age 8, and subsequently been forced to carry on going through the motions until I was old enough to make my assertion of atheism stick. Oh, and with my grandparents having been driven out of Poland by pogroms, by their cousins having been gassed/shot by Nazis, and so on. To me, religion is invariably accompanied by oppression, regardless of creed.

(If I was Planetary Overlord I'd have an uncontrollable twitch to ban all organized religions. This is one of the reasons nobody sensible would install me as Planetary Overlord.)

So I'll butt out of an otherwise reasonable discussion unless you poll me for my opinion.

#112 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2015, 09:43 AM:

I've heard a theory that abrahamic religions get violent at about the 1400 year point in their history, but the more I thought about it, the less sense the theory made. What could the mechanism possibly be?

I'm voting for coincidence, but I'm curious about whether anyone else has run across this theory and what you think of it.

#113 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2015, 09:54 AM:

James @110:

Thank you. A model for what I'm trying to have happen here, which is that we can touch back to reliable sources as a basis for our discourse.

I would note that Harris and Nawaz are talking about the Qur'an. But in the article I cited in comment 105, it looks like a lot of Daesh's justification is not from the "eternal, literal word-of-God" Qur'an:

The Quran is a single volume, roughly the length of the New Testament. It is a complex and nuanced text that deals with legal, moral, and metaphysical questions in a subtle and multifaceted way. Then there are the hadīth, or records of sayings and doings of the Prophet Muhammad, which run into dozens of volumes spanning literally hundreds of thousands of texts, each on average a few sentences long. Then there is the juridical and theological literature about the Quran and the hadīth, which consists of thousands of works written throughout Islamic history.
Does ISIS cite “texts”? Yes, though its main method is to cite individual ḥadīth that support its positions. But remember: The ḥadīth consist of hundreds of thousands of discrete items that range from faithfully transmitted teachings to outright fabrications attributed to the Prophet, and every gradation in between.

I think there's a lot of blurring in Western discourse about who's citing what text, and how accurate and useful that might be.

I do think it is possible to admit that some of the orthodox or entrenched theological positions are deeply unhelpful, and, most importantly, open to a different interpretations. Pretending that these positions are not Islamic is not helpful: instead I think it needs to be accepted that they are Islamic, but that they don't represent the totality of Islam and that different positions are perfectly possible, and need to be argued and fought for.

I agree with the literal meaning of this, but it's very hard to get that literal meaning fully across in these overheated times. I'm concerned that the phrase they are Islamic is being read, primarily, as they are representative of Islam.

I think there's a very real possibility of some (more) truly horrific and wide-scale actions, supported and justified by people we all know and don't actually think are monsters, based on this elision, which is why I'm being quite so irritatingly nit-picky about the whole thing. I feel like I'm trying to sweep back a tide of monstrous proportions, while even people of good will are saying things that lend aid and comfort to acts of monstrous inhumanity.

I am terribly, terribly afraid.

#114 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2015, 09:55 AM:

Serge @#108: As I saw someone put it on G+, "Godwin's Law is about making spurious comparisons to Nazis as cheap rhetoric. It's not meant to apply to people who are actually advocating National Socialism."

(While we're at it, Mr. Trump, why don't we insist that all Muslims wear crescents on their clothes? And surely special IDs are too insecure, we should make sure they have something they can't lose, like a tattoo. And it'd be easier to concentrate the Muslim population, like in camps, maybe. Just until we can come up with a final solution.)

(Aaaand now I need to go wash my brain out with bleach.)

#115 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2015, 09:59 AM:

Charlie @111:

Fair enough. We all have knee-jerk reactions and twitches; sometimes the best we can do is bow out. Thanks for the mindfulness.

(I'm remembering the time I'd only recently recovered from setting my legs on fire, trying to help my family decide whether or not to evacuate during the Berkeley Hills Fire. I eventually recused myself from the discussion entirely; I wasn't in a position to make any useful contribution to it.)

#116 ::: James Harvey ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2015, 10:06 AM:

Abi @113

I agree with the literal meaning of this, but it's very hard to get that literal meaning fully across in these overheated times. I'm concerned that the phrase they are Islamic is being read, primarily, as they are representative of Islam.

Amen to that.

I think there's a very real possibility of some (more) truly horrific and wide-scale actions, supported and justified by people we all know and don't actually think are monsters, based on this elision, which is why I'm being quite so irritatingly nit-picky about the whole thing. I feel like I'm trying to sweep back a tide of monstrous proportions, while even people of good will are saying things that lend aid and comfort to acts of monstrous inhumanity.

It is in the nature of desperate events and times that subtlety and nuance are abandoned. You're completely right to keep pushing and probing for precision in this fashion.

I agree that a conflation of these fucking monsters with all of Islam is a terrible calumny.

But I also feel that a knee jerk denial of any affinity is almost equally non-productive: this is not solely the result of colonialism, or Western intervention in the Middle East, for example. and proceeding on that basis to interventions and solutions will fail, probably just as badly.

I am terribly, terribly afraid.

"So are all who live in such times", but when I lose heart, I look back at the horrors that my parents' and grandparents' generations faced in the fist half of the 20th century and realise how lucky we are, even to be in this situation. Even set against the Cold War, this nightmare is a lesser thing. Take courage.

#117 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2015, 10:46 AM:

Carrie S @ 114... Indeed. It's the boy-who-cried-wolf situation.

#118 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2015, 11:13 AM:

David Harmon #85/Robert Glaub #90: There has been an established position for centuries that war should be entered into only with the people's consent, since it is, after all, the people whose lives will be put at risk. Now I have done no military service, but that principle seems awfully clear to me, and the past twelve years have made it perfectly clear that it is far easier to get into a war than to get out of one. There are, of course, many earlier examples, some of which are deep in my memory and in the memory of many denizens of this parish. However, it seems particularly easy for the armchair generals of the West to throw the lives of young people into one more meat grinder because this time brute force will win the day, or the old-fashioned method of rolling the enemy flat and sowing his fields with salt will solve the problem.

The reality is that the West is being manipulated into war not with a clearly defined enemy, Daesh or Al-Qaeda, but with Islam itself. That is to say with one-sixth of humanity. What we are beginning to hear, from knaves like Trump, and fools like Carson, is the fascistic language of the 1930s, and that language, once it is uttered is truly dangerous. It begins with words like 'register' and 'ban' and ends with phrases like 'kill them all and let god sort them out'.

We have gone down that road before, not just in the 1930s and 1940s, we really do not need to go down it again. We know what lies down it, and it is not good intentions.

#119 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2015, 11:42 AM:

In reading the Atlantic article, I'd recommend keeping in mind that the author is a good reporter, but not a Muslim or a scholar of Islam. So, he found a set of people who are devout Muslims of a particular stripe, and who identify with ISIS, and another set who don't identify with ISIS, but who have enough in common with the theology of those who do that they feel its pull. And he seems to have done a very nice job of talking to his sources and conveying a lot of their worldview to his readers, in a powerful way that, at least for me, made sense of some things that hadn't made sense before. I think it's reasonable to think that the reporter honestly conveyed what his sources told him, and his own sense of what they meant, but probably not to imagine that he captured much of a snapshot of what Muslims in general believe.

Now, there are various Islamic scholars who have supported the idea that ISIS is at least broadly within the realm of Islamic thought--the main Islamic scholar the Atlantic article drew from believed that, and the Islamic scholar linked to in one of the other articles I linked to (from Juan Cole's site) both seemed to believe that, as well as the guy James linked to. And this makes sense to me, because I think you can find stuff in the Old and New testament (both considered holy books by Christians) to justify all kinds of nasty stuff. I don't think a careful reading of the New Testament gives much scriptural support for holy war, and in fact I could quote chapter and verse[1] to show that Christ's teachings are not at all consistent with torture chambers, conversion by the sword, or "kill them all--God shall know his own." And yet, you might want to look at the Crusades, la reconquista, the Spanish conquest of a bunch of the Americas, and the thirty years' war (among many other events) before you completely accept my argument that Christianity is a religion of peace. You might even want to note that the US is currently both the most Christian and most militarily aggressive of the big first-world military powers, and that Europe was heavily Christian during its colonial period.

[1] For once, I'm using this phrase in exactly the sense it came from originally.

#120 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2015, 11:48 AM:


I suspect the incentives facing top decisionmakers make military action look more appealing than it does for the well-being of the nation as a whole. Decisive action looks good for politicians. Claiming you have a quick fix for a long-running problem is better politics than acknowledging that there isn't a quick fix.

I've never been a soldier and claim no deep expertise in military or international affairs, but the history of how we got where we are now w.r.t. ISIS makes me really skeptical that the solution is going to involve more of the same policies--invasions, occupations, occasional bombings, robot assassinations, etc. It seems like, if that were going to help, it would have helped by now.

#121 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2015, 01:19 PM:

Serge, #108: My take on it is that Godwin's Law doesn't apply when someone is advocating for a thing that the Nazis actually did. This has come up before, in the context of William F. Buckley saying that homosexuals should be given identifying tattoos.

#122 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2015, 01:27 PM:

Lee @ 121... I agree and so does Daniel, but the problem is that people tend to invoke Godwin even in cases where actions are like what Nazis did. That's my impression of the situation though.

#123 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2015, 01:33 PM:

me @ 112

One of my friends says Hinduism and Buddhism also got violent at about this point, which makes coincidence seem a little less likely, but I'm still at a loss for for a theory.

#124 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2015, 01:49 PM:

Now, if that connection between religion and violence holds true at about 1400 years -- there are some great potential SF stories about when some recent religions start to get violent. Naming no names here....

#125 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2015, 02:34 PM:

This article describes a number of interviews with ISIS fighters taken prisoner in Iraq. It's interesting how completely different the picture is from the picture of ISIS fighters' motivations in the other article, and I wonder how much this reflects the difference between what appeals to locals and what appeals to Westerners who are drawn to ISIS.

#126 ::: LadyKay ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2015, 02:42 PM:

Referencing #124 ::: Tom Whitmore and SFnal content, I would like to bend the arc towards climate change discussion.

Is there a link between ISIS and climate change? Is that link possible to explain in a dinner table conversion? What is the change in policies in the West that would take this link into account?

If this goes on,... how will we adjust?

My opinion, there is a link insofar as climate change disrupts typical habits of industry, agriculture, employment, housing and pilgrimage. The MidEast has experienced some of these disruptions, although not pilgrimage (Mecca is not under water, nor drier than it typically is). Agricultural disruption did affect Syria and forced an increase in urban population without a corresponding increase in urban employment, contributing to unrest. Unrest in Iraq is pretty much directly related to the toppling of the Saddam regime and climate change would have only had a marginal effect.

That's my best attempt at a link that could be explained at a dinner table.

#127 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2015, 02:50 PM:

This article describes a poll taken of various groups in the Middle East, including Syrian refugees, and showing the fraction of pro-ISIS sentiment. Syrian refugees are shown as having about 13% have positive or partially-positive views of ISIS. (I'm guessing this has a lot ot do with where they're running from--if they were chased from their homes by the Assad regime, they're probably pretty positively inclined toward anyone fighting it.) There's some spin around this in the AEI article; if you want opposite spin, read the Huffington Post's article on the same polling numbers. To my mind, the numbers are interesting, and the spin is not.

What these numbers tell you: A noticeable fraction of refugees from Syria don't hate ISIS. What they don't tell you: What fraction (if any) would be willing to carry out terrorist attacks against the US or Europe? What fraction (if any) will be slipped into the refugee stream to carry out attacks against Europe or the US? I don't have any idea where you'd even start estimating those numbers.

My guess is that the probability of the US bringing some kind of ISIS attackers into the country in the small number of refugees we're currently planning to accept is quite small, just because all the probabiliies involving terrorists are small. I don't think it's crazy to worry about, though.

I found this article said at least some of what I keep thinking when watching the rhetoric surrounding accepting Syrian refugees. The rhetoric I keep seeing on both sides is long on ridicule and nastiness, and very short on understanding or intelligence.

#128 ::: GCarty ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2015, 02:50 PM:

LadyKay @126: the Syrian Civil War is definitely a fight over water (which explains the disregard for human life shown by both Assad and Daesh – water has become a motivator for genocide just as food was for the Nazis) but I pin the blame not on climate change but on Turkey's Southeastern Anatolia Project, which halved the flow of the Euphrates into eastern Syria.

My favoured solution would be a bunch of desalination plants (solar-powered if possible, or failing that nuclear-powered). Perhaps 4 for Syria, 2 for Lebanon and 2 for Israel (plus another 2 if they stop stealing water from the Palestinians).

#129 ::: LadyKay ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2015, 05:41 PM:

#128 ::: GCarty

Possibly notable in that regard is that the province of Al-Raqqah (where Daesh declared its caliphate) has a major dam on the Euphrates in Syria.

Desalination would benefit all the countries bordering the Med., it has been proposed many times. There is already substantial desalination in Israel and Saudi Arabia, which are wealthy countries.

So, Turkey, acting in its own national interest, made the situation in Syria and Iraq worse. The World Bank has withheld loans to Turkey for dam-building until Turkey negotiates water-sharing with its down-stream neighbors. Apparently, Turkey has been able to fund much of the work itself without negotiating, so the World Bank's terms proved ineffective.

So this is not a clear example of climate change causing conflict, since Turkey had reasons to build whether or not the global climate changed.

#130 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2015, 06:31 PM:

Dallas mayor says his city will welcome refugees.

This is flat-out amazing. He makes the same points I've been hearing over and over again from the consensus-reality side: the terrorists aren't representative of Islam as a whole; he's more concerned about "young white men with guns", but we haven't tried to segregate them despite shooting sprees in schools and malls; and most importantly, the terrorists want us to reject and alienate these people.

Dallas is the most staunchly Republican of Texas' major cities. That took BALLS.

#131 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2015, 06:36 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @112 & 123, that hypothesis seems (a) incredibly naïvely simplistic, (b) highly convenient for people who want an excuse to abuse/mistreat Muslims, and (c) full of blurry places where you can shoehorn coincidences as supporting evidence. How would you even determine where the 1400-year-point is for Judaism and Hinduism?

#132 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2015, 08:20 PM:

#131 ::: Avram

Weirdly enough, I seem to be hearing that argument from the be-nice-to-Muslims side. I think the idea is that it's a proof that Islam isn't uniquely awful, it's going through a typical phase.

#133 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2015, 08:24 PM:

I suppose you could make the 1400-year point for Judaism come out around the time of the Maccabees; is that what you meant?

#134 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2015, 08:43 PM:

Re: Syrian refugees. When is someone going to take a page out of the Old Man of the Mountain's book, and realize that the refugees are a stream of potential spies and assassins?

There will be those among them who will be angry at having to flee their land, and within that number some who will be willing to act on those feelings...

#135 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2015, 10:33 PM:

The issue of how much Islam has to do with ISIS is blurring the more important question of what does the US and the West do about a troubling and violent region.

We're going to have a change of administrations in a little over a year. WTF should they do?

#136 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2015, 03:31 AM:

Lori Coulson @134, this is the same accusation the refugee-bashers have been making. And that the Americans of WW2 made about the Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, and about Japanese-Americans already living here.

And it’s ridiculous. Why the hell would people who’ve just been chased out of their homes be loyal to the ones who tried to kill them, and hostile to the people who took them in?

#137 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2015, 07:33 AM:

Avram #136: Given that Lori is a regular who has been following this very thread, I suspect she has omitted the words "for us"... probably meant to be supplied by the (political or literary?) reference that I don't get.

#138 ::: Cygnet ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2015, 08:48 AM:

And now Turkey's shot down a Russian warplane claiming that Russia infringed on their airspace on the Turkey/Syrian border. Things just got more interesting.

The back story is that Russia's been bombing ethnic Turkish villages on Syrian side of the Turkey/Syria border and Turkey threatened serious repercussions if it continued. This was within the last couple of days.

What remains to be seen is if the jet actually did cross the Turkish border. Though I'm not actually sure it matters, either, in the bigger context. (I assume the other members of NATO already know exactly where that plane was, because satellites.)

#139 ::: LadyKay ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2015, 10:59 AM:

#135 ::: Steve C. That is one of the better questions we can ask at the moment. What would we like our national leaders to do? What will lead to a more peaceful Middle East?

For years and years, I have been rooting for Turkey to make its peace with the Kurds in Turkey, and support the Kurds not in Turkey to establish more autonomous and well-run enclaves in the areas where they are numerous, Iraq and Syria. For a long time, they seemed to be doing the best job of running their area in Iraq of all the major factions in Iraq. Turkey is the sticking point here, and outside pressure is not successful.

#140 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2015, 11:33 AM:

Excuse me if this is a sort of "do my homework" question, but what has the relationship between Turkey and Russia been like? Putin is threatening something, but has there been enough trade or aid or anything for Russia to take something away?

#141 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2015, 11:57 AM:

I wonder how far up the chain the decision to shoot that Russian jet went. Like, was this something done from an explicit policy decision by Ergodon ("the next time those bastards invade our airspace, shoot them down") or people close to him, or was this some low-level guy responding to the situation of the moment.

One thing that's super important to remember when talking about nations (and companies, and other large organizations): It's not like there's a single guy named "Turkey" and another single guy named "Russia" who are making decisions here. Each government is lots of people at many different levels, with different agendas and goals and understanding. Even when there's a decision at the level of an Ergodon or a Putin, they're made in an environment of the politically possible--what can each man do that won't lead to him losing power, what actions are easy for him to take and what actions are hard and what actions are practically impossible, who else does he have to keep happy, etc.

Countries routinely make crazy decisions that probably can best be understood in these terms, or at least cannot be understood in terms of a single rational being making decisions. One easy example in the US is our periodic government shutdown showdowns. These make zero sense in terms of the well-being of the nation, but make perfect sense as moves in a power struggle within the government.

#142 ::: Steve Wright ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2015, 12:01 PM:

@Nancy Lebovitz: historically, pretty adversarial. It's not necessarily down to ideologies, more that the two nations have too many competing and conflicting interests in the Black Sea/Middle East regions. (Take a look at the Crimean War, for a historical example....)

Turkey is, of course, a NATO member, and having a NATO state shoot down a Russian war plane is... well, it brings back plenty of worrying memories of the Eighties for me! I'm hoping the consequences will be limited to inflammatory rhetoric... there is, for once, a common enemy for the two nations to consider.

#143 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2015, 12:14 PM:


It seems to me that the Paris and Mumbai style attacks are always going to be really hard to prevent, at least with any overt hardening or security. These attacks work a whole lot like mass-shooting attacks. Most of the world isn't and can't be hardened, it's not really sensible to keep armed guards in every public place, so a guy with a gun and a couple grenades can kill a fair number of people in a restaurant or on public transit before anyone can respond. If you look at the number of deaths/attacker, that number looks like it's on the high end of US mass shooting attacks.

The only thing that will work to prevent those is arresting or killing or deporting the attackers before they carry out their attack. From press reports, the Paris attackers were largely known by the Belgian and French authorities as bad people worth keeping an eye on, but hadn't yet reached the level of getting locked up.

A really nasty angle to this is that everything I can see that might work to prevent such attacks also creates a lot of tools that can be misused by the state to mistreat their people. More surveillance, more power to arrest people and detain them for a long time on suspicion of involvement in terrorism, arresting people for associating with the wrong people, etc. I expect the pattern here will be that first, these powers are used to mistreat Muslims living in those countries, and that over time, those powers just become the normal way that policing is done, and may even be used to harass annoying opposition parties.

#144 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2015, 12:31 PM:

I'm not sure what a solution to ISIS would look like. It seems like it has to be military, since without some military intervention, they'll surely stick around for a long while. And yet, our history of military intervention in that region doesn't inspire the least bit of confidence. We've been invading, occupying, bombing, droning, raiding, bribing, threatening, covertly aiding, training, etc., for something like 13 years now, and we've pretty consistently made things worse.

The situation w.r.t. our likely anti-ISIS allies looks to me like a hopeless tangle. Along with this latest bit of the Turks and Russians shooting at each other, the Turks have been bombing the Kurds, the Russians have been bombing our moderate[1] allies in the Syrian resistance, we can't stand the Iranians or their Hezbolah clients who are fighting ISIS, everyone but Russia and Iran hates Assad, but he's also fighting ISIS. I have a hard time imagining how we're going to get any good outcome out of this clusterfuck.

So, what do we do? Ignore them and hope they eventually die of their own self-destructive tendencies? Or that their neighbors and victims eventually manage to get rid of them? Even if that's the rational thing for the US to do (it might be), I suspect it's not politically workable after ISIS manages one or two significant attacks on the US. They've managed to get us bombing them just by murdering some Americans and Brits they captured locally--imagine what we'll be compelled to do if they manage to kill 50 Americans in a terrorist attack.

Assuming a terrorist attack from ISIS will lead us into war, what can we do to minimize the chances of one? I'm not sure. Restricting immigration from the middle east might plausibly make it harder for ISIS to get agents here to carry out attacks, but I don't really know how *much* harder. The FBI already seems to be infiltrating and investigating suspected jihadis to the point where they're entrapping or framing the most plausible candidates, so I imagine there's not much further benefit to be had there. (And both of those policies have pretty large costs.)

[1] I'm pretty sure they are moderate only in comparison to ISIS.

#145 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2015, 12:48 PM:

Avram #131: Hmm. On Judaism, the 1400 year point would be either 1400 years after the return from Babylon and the founding of the Second Temple, or 1400 years after the destruction of the Third Temple and the creation of the Talmud.

For Hinduism, that would be about 1400 years after the Ramayana, or the Gita.

#146 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2015, 01:13 PM:

It was recently pointed out that the Jewish calendar has a 'zero' date that's over one thousand years further back than the Chinese calendar. That had a Jewish friend refer to it as the Dark Ages for Jews because this meant one thousand years without Chinese restaurants.

#147 ::: LadyKay ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2015, 02:01 PM:

#141 ::: albatross. Re: Dispersion of power, decision-making and representation within countries.

It's very true that one single government has to respond to those powerful factions inside the country, and this can produce unusual effects on the international level.

This can be illustrated with more detail on those dams in the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP, for its initials in Turkish). The project has been on-going since the 1980s with an aim of not merely water, but significant electrical power (as well as national prestige, the biggest dam is named Ataturk for the founder of the Turkish republic). This is intended to provide economic development in the area, which is largely Kurdish.

This economic development is not benefiting the Kurds as much as it is the Turkish people. So the Kurds don't get much of a voice in the dam or the environmental change of making lakes in the area, which bury villages, historical sites, and farmland. The plan has built up a momentum of its own from the age and the appeal to national pride; any politician running for prime minister will have to take the voices in favor of the project seriously.

#148 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2015, 02:04 PM:

I'm talking about this being a goldmine for the CIA -- here are people who speak the language, and have a reason to hate Da'esh and Assad.

The goal: infiltrate and eliminate the ring-leaders.

I'm in favor of the refugees being welcomed here:

The enemy of my enemy IS a potential ally, and possibly even a friend.

#149 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2015, 03:08 PM:

Lady Kay @139: I wonder how much you saw of what was happening in Turkey over the summer. (Rough summary for anyone who did not: election, unexpectedly leading to a hung parliament, with a leftist/Kurdish party getting a historically unprecedented level of representation; failure to form a coalition, because on the one hand no-one wanted to do a deal with Erdoğan - btw, could someone add him to the spelling references - and on the other, an opposition coalition would have required Turkish nationalists and Kurdis nationalists to work together; ISIS bombings of Kurdish groups; followed by Erdoğan using 'responding to terrorism' as an excuse to bomb Kurdish targets too; followed by a new election in which the Kurdish/leftish party effectively had to suspend campaigning, and Erdogan won back up a majority.) tl;dr - the prospect of the Turkish govt and Kurds of any sort settling their differences seems remote, and it seems likely that the Turkish govt feels that the Kurds of the YPG are more of a threat to Turkey's stability than ISIS is. (Which, for someone who lives here, and would have voted for the Kurdish/leftist party, is very depressing.)

#150 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2015, 03:10 PM:

(I mean, if I had a vote, which I don't, not being a Turkish citizen.)

#151 ::: LadyKay ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2015, 04:04 PM:

#149 ::: praisegod barebones

No, it hasn't been in my radar that much, just a bit of the increased anti-Kurd behavior and rhetoric out of the government.

Cascading complications--I guess that is what makes people human.

#152 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2015, 07:21 PM:

Point to note about the Turkish shoot-down of a Russian aircraft: the aircraft in question was an Su-24. The Syrian Air Force also operates Su-24s.

I suspect the Turkish F-16s may have misidentified the owner of the aircraft in question.

#153 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2015, 10:00 PM:

Fragano @ 85: they don't believe that it's a swamp; some don't even know it's damp (cf Shrub not knowing there was a huge division within Islam).

Andrew Plotkin @ 95: does Vatican II not represent a change in at least the \importance/ of various precepts? Not that it accounts for all of the timing of the proximity of churches of different divisions; I used to do a concert in a tiny Episcopal church catty-cornered from a large IIRC Catholic church (and didn't those proportions say something interesting about religion and class!), both from long before V2.

David Harmon @ 107: I note that your discussion of territoriality says "Israelis" rather than "Jews". (This parallels my tendency to consider the equation of criticizing Israel and anti-Semitism to be somewhere between intellectual bankruptcy and a Big Lie, and reflects interestingly with a comment by an observant Jewish friend that young Jews are increasingly disengaged from Israel.) There's also the not-universally-accepted argument that Israel must exist specifically to prevent another Holocaust, rather than because the land historically belongs to Judaism. (No, I have no idea how discretely widespread this is.) Given these, is it fair to argue that Judaism as a whole is territorial?
      And how is Israel a reliable source of oil?

abi @ 113: I think there's a very real possibility of some (more) truly horrific and wide-scale actions, supported and justified by people we all know and don't actually think are monsters.... I considered most of the public figures proposing "truly horrific" actions to be monsters before their latest declarations, and the rest to have so defined themselves. Possibly we have different scales for "truly horrific". (Right now I'm thinking on a smaller scale: just how nasty can I be to MA (my home state) governor Charlie Baker and still have the letter read. I'm stuck at "Have you paid any attention to who you're in bed with?")

albatross @ 120: Decisive action looks good for politicians. It looks even better for politicians who survive by appealing to the worst in their constituents -- which describes too many today, especially with the mass gerrymandering conducted by Republican governors-et-al. I suspect too many of them fear the first half of the fate of Lisa Murkowski or don't think the second (write-in defeat of the teabagger who beat her in a primary) can happen again.

#154 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2015, 10:49 PM:

As far as what actions the US and its allies (whomever they may be) take against ISIS, I think the likelihood is that they would be low-intensity, protracted, and inconclusive. In other words, what other geo-political thinkers have projected as the future of warfare.

It strikes me that it's a lot like police actions against criminals.

I don't think we totally rule out grand-scale conflicts in the future, though. Shit happens.

#155 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2015, 10:56 PM:

CHip #153: I note that your discussion of territoriality says "Israelis" rather than "Jews".

Yup, not the same. I and many liberal Jews are seriously pissed off at Israel because the Ashkenazi Jews controlling it (because it was largely founded and funded by them) promptly turned around and started mistreating both Sephardic and Ethiopian Jews, not to mention the Palestinians. Jews have spent long enough being mistreated by assorted other rulers that having gotten a country of our own, we should not be mistreating other groups, let alone subgroups of Judaism.

And how is Israel a reliable source of oil?

My original understanding was that they were meant to provide some access to the oil found in the region, without being part of OPEC. Investigating this more closely suggest that in fact they didn't turn out to have oil until recently (though they've done some offshore work cooperating with Greece in that regard). It looks like I need to retract that bit as an apparent factoid.

#156 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2015, 11:00 PM:

Steve C. #154: It strikes me that it's a lot like police actions against criminals.

Actually, the problem is that it's not -- our actions there have been far more indiscriminate than any police force, with much less regard for bystanders and innocents. Basically, soldiers make lousy cops, and airborne bombers make worse ones.

#157 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2015, 11:41 PM:

David Harmon @ 156 -

It's more like a police action where they don't worry about niceties such as a presumption of innocence. But it is also not like total war such as was performed against the Germans or Japanese.

#158 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2015, 12:33 AM:

Steve C., #157: Like the MOVE bombing. Collateral damage? What's that, and why should we care?

#159 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2015, 01:00 AM:

Lori Coulson @148, ah, OK. I did recognize your “Old Man of the Mountain” reference as referring to a Muslim who fought against the Crusaders, which predisposed me to read your comment the other way around.

#160 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2015, 10:53 AM:

The "Old Man of the Mountain" recruited and trained the 'Hashashsim' from whose name the term "assassin" is derived. (Said recruits smoked Hashish...) He used these fellows to kill several leaders of the Crusades. These are the original suicide bombers, they'd kill themselves if caught.

I'd rather send an assassin to get the leader(s) of this bunch, than bomb a target assuming the person or persons we want to kill is there. There's less likelihood of taking out innocent bystanders.

#161 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2015, 03:30 PM:

Lori Coulson #160: The traditional reason we don't do that much, is because we're far more vulnerable to assassins than they are: Our societies have far greater mobility, and our larger population density means it's much harder for our leaders than theirs to simply keep out anyone who isn't "known to" the leader's guards or retinue.

#162 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2015, 03:51 PM:


For the last several years, our wars have leaned heavily on drone-fired missiles to carry out assassinations. We don't need ready-to-die soldiers for this, because we have robots (guided missiles) that don't know or care that they're going to die. There is zero moral difference between assassinating someone with a drone-fired missile and assassinating them with a car bomb, or a rifle, or a poisoned knife. (Though the rifle and knife tend to be easier on bystanders.)

#163 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2015, 04:27 PM:

David Harmon @155: let alone subgroups of Judaism.

Heh. I remember in Masada the main Jewish character has a line to the effect of, "Well, if we didn't have the Romans to fight, we'd be fighting each other." Granted, that was the scriptwriter, but I got the sense from the delivery that this is an old and tired truism.

#164 ::: duckbunny ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2015, 06:38 AM:

Albatross @162: I believe the effect on the bystanders is in fact the moral difference being proposed. It is hardly reasonable to treat "killed this one person" and "killed these hundred people" as identical moral cases just because that one person was included in the group. Don't let who you're aiming at blind you to who you hit.

#165 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2015, 09:30 AM:


I agree. There's an interesting parallel between using drone fired missiles in war and using tasers in policing. In both cases, these are less destructive than what they're sold as replacing--it's more humane to kill only your target and a coulle bystanders with a drone fired missile than to kill everyone in his neighborhood by darkening the skies with bombers and dropping tons of dumb bombs; it's more humane to tase someone than to shoot them with a bullet or bash them with a nightstick. And this justification is even correct, as far as it goes. But the lower costs of using drones and tasers means that they get used a lot more--in situations where we would never consider a massive bombing campaign, we'll put a drone overhead and wait for our chance to kill someone. And in situations where the police would have talked someone down befor, they now can tase him, and often that's what happens.

We made the humanitarian cost of using force less, and compensated (at least partway) by using more force.

#166 ::: Karl T. ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2015, 02:45 AM:

For the folks upthread wondering about the link between climate change and the Syrian conflict, two sources that might be of interest:

Smithsonian Magazine


A cartoon summary by Audrey Quinn and Jackie Roche.

#167 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2015, 01:08 PM:

Avram@136: sounds like a strawman to me. Nobody is suggesting refugees will be "loyal" to those who displaced them. But some are suggesting that when a large group of displaced people are moving internationally, it's a good way to sneak some agents across borders. (The history of people making this argument vs. the actual number of spies in historical refugee flows doesn't seem to support that view either -- but it's a different view, in that one argues against it using different evidence.)

Also, children ripped from their stable middle-class environment and transported to a foreign culture where they're discriminated against and viewed as "other" do seem to have some chance of being good subjects for radicalization a decade down the road. (Again, the ethically tolerable solutions seem to me to involve working to avoid the discrimination and "othering" rather than trying to keep refugees out -- but, again, the argument for there being risk here has nothing to do with "loyalty" to an old regime.)

#168 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2015, 08:38 PM:

It's not just Paris.

It's Baghdad too.

(A former colleague, still a friend, is Pakistani Shi'ite; these were her people who were attacked.)

I'm not sure what the answer is--but I'm sure attacks on the Shia in Iraq are part of the question.

#169 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2015, 04:32 PM:

Interstate news... Local fan is currently at employer's Fremont office in the San Francisco Bay Area instead of his usual New Mexico location. This morning, upon leaving the train station, local fan heard then saw two geese honking their way in the sky. Later, at the office, local fan found that nobody has a stapler.

#170 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2015, 04:50 PM:

This should have gone to "Not Paris... My apologies. Feel free to delete.

#171 ::: Rob Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2015, 12:54 AM:

Muslim woman on train suffers racial abuse.

Two stories I happened to read a few days apart that particularly struck me for their contrasting outcomes:



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