Sunday, May 17, 2009

Is Islamic terrorism crime or war?

According to the ACLU the terrorist attack on 9/11 was a crime and should be pursued and prosecuted exactly the same as any other crime.

According to conservatives the attack was an act of war by a nonstate actor (Al Qaeda) and should be pursued exactly the same as any other war.

I think it's something different than either--something new. From Al Quaeda's point of view it's exactly a war, albeit an assymetrical one. The problem is that in a war one side can defeat the other, negotiate terms of surrender, and then return any captured prisoners to the other side. That's what we've done in every other war, except for prisoners who committed war crimes. Many of those were executed after being tried by military tribunals.

In war, you can't arrest enemy soldiers on the battlefield, reading each arrestee his or her Miranda rights, and being sure not to use unnecessary force to subdue them.

But that's irrelevant if it isn't a war.

And there is a conservative argument for not making this a war. For one thing, the civilized world's efforts are largely being conducted under police auspices--as when the Brits recently arrested a terrorist cell planning another mass murder. For another, calling it a war elevates the terrorists--it equates them with armies and generals, when in fact they're fanatics and scumbags, to put it mildly. Bush greatly ennobled Bin Ladin with his rhetoric, and then by forgetting who'd attacked us and diverting the forces chasing Bin Ladin to Iraq. It made Bin Ladin a hero, when he should have been a nameless vermin we hunted down and killed on the spot.

I think the uncomfortable fact is that the so-called War on Terror is neither a war nor a police action, but a mix--to be prosecuted as a war, as when we kill Al Qaeda operatives with UAVs in Pakistanm, and at other times as a police action, as when we bust terrorist cells in civilized countries. Indonesia has gotten pretty good at this, by the way. They caught the Islamic fascists who planned the Bali bombings and recently put them to death, which made the peace-loving Balinese people very happy (I know this from personal experience).

So what do we do with dangerous terrorists we've caught? We use military tribunals to try them, just as we did with the Nazi leadership at Nuremberg. They aren't civilians, and treating them like pickpockets or Bernie Maddow is patently ridiculous.

Which means Obama's on the right track, to the dismay of his leftist supporters and relief of his centrist supporters (who are far more numerous, since there aren't enough leftists to elect a dog catcher anywhere but left bastions like Berkeley, CA).

Friday, May 15, 2009

killing democracy by killing debate

Both parties pay lip service to debating the issues. But both sides work hard to make their hot button issues non-debatable.

Of course they won't admit this. But look at their actions.

Time after time conservatives have been prevented from speaking on college campuses by left-wing student quasi-riots aimed precisely at shouting down the speaker. The notion of defending an opponent's right to speak was meaningless to them. Worse yet, in every case college administrations caved, either through cowardice or complicity.

Meanwhile, every single day well-financed right-wing demagogues such as Limbaugh and Hannity are on the air trying, among other things, to make their hot button issues non-debatable--mainly through attaching so much rage to the issues that rational concerns are swept aside.

For example, yesterday, on Hannity's TV show, one of his guests--an anti-abortion fanatic--equated Obama with Hitler. Hannity didn't object. And he himself has called Obama a "Bolshevik" repeatedly. Nor are issues debated on these shows. 95% of the time they'll bring in a fellow traveler on an issue, lob him softballs and bash the other side--including feeding the guest inflammatory "analysis" that are often even more extreme than that of the guest.

At this point I don't think most people even know what a real debate is.

Instead, tacit model is instruction--or the logic of the mob.

By instruction, I mean things like a Sunday school bible study class. Here, analytic study isn't the point. These classes are about what I'd call worshipful study. It's not a place where the existence of a God is going to be debated, nor the legitimacy of the Bible. (nor am I proposing that they should; just that they don't provide a model for debate)

Next, consider a discussion of evolution in a college biology class. Here, analytic study is the point, but within parameters. Assertions of biblical literalism will be summarily dismissed. This isn't worshipful study, but that fact won't be apparent to many. It is instruction, and the purpose of discussion is, again, to help the student understand the subject matter better--not to challenge the teacher's premises.

Then consider a public debate, such as the presidential debates, or debates on talk shows where people of opposing views are present. Moderation is usually weak, except on the PBS New Hour with Jim Lehrer, where the debaters are held to proper debate form by a firm moderator who shapes the discussion. But usually it's a shouting match, usually dominated by aggressive right wingers who won't let opponents finish a sentence without talking over them. A real moderator wouldn't let that happen, but that rarely happens. Even the presidential debates were nothing more than each candidate stating his or her talking points, in turn. Nobody refuted anybody else's points. Not really.

And the rise of a zillion cable channels and the Web has enabled people to insulate themselves from the opposition. Lefties don't watch Fox. Righties don't watch MSNBC. And within each fold there's rarely debate. Instead people egg each other on in the absence of opposition, yielding more extremism, more demonizing of the other side.

Look how all this gets expressed in specific areas.

Illegal immigration:
If you oppose illegal immigration you're a racist. Why should I debate a racist? They're outside the realm of reasonable discussion. This is how lefties avoid actually debating the issue, and it's gotten so extreme that journalists now rarely mention overpopulation, because left wing propagandists have managed to association complaints about overpopulation with racism. And even when illegal immigration is debated, the fact that American culture is being degraded by millions of Mexican peasants is never raised by mainstream immigration opponents, for fear of seeming racist. The arguments are focused on pocketbook issues instead. People fear to defend their own culture against the encroachments of another. Yet pro-illegal immigration activists would be outraged if a million Americans moved to, say, Guadalajara and insisted that the locals learn English, that the government print ballots in English and Spanish, and the they be given automatic citizenship by the Mexican government.

Both sides have tried to kill debate through labeling. "Pro-choice" makes opponents "women enslavers" without having to say so in so many words. "Pro-life" makes opponents "pro-death"--against without having to say so in so many words. Nobody's interested in a debate using neutral terms. Abortion opponents call opponents murderers. You can't debate with a murderer, can you?

Time after time, each side doesn't debate an issue--it simply labels the opposition with some inflammatory descriptor, rather than analyzing the other side's points. Nor do they ever acknowledge that the other side might have even a sliver of a point about anything.

Zealots actually detest real democracy--and half the country is zealots (somewhat more right wing than left wing, but psychologically equally totalitarian).