Thursday, January 8, 2015

About Bob . . .

You know a guy named Bob: He's an alright guy--holds down a steady job, pretty reliable, okay to hang out with. Bob is an 'average guy.'

But ... once in a while, Bob drinks--and he's a mean drunk. When he's had a few (and then a few too many) any provocation--any imagined slight and Bob'll get in a fight. Back in college that was one thing--today though? It's kind of worrying--especially because if it doesn't diffuse immediately, you're pretty sure it'll come to actual blows.

At what point can you say "Bob is a problem drinker?"

The Mayo Clinic definition of alcoholism includes this:
It's possible to have a problem with alcohol, even when it has not progressed to the point of alcoholism. Problem drinking means you drink too much at times, causing repeated problems in your life, although you're not completely dependent on alcohol.
And then ... there's Susan. Susan's engaged to Bob. They seem really into each other and in most ways they're a pretty traditional couple ... but ... Bob's kinda bossy with her. He'll loan his car out to other people but not to her. He won't say why--but you've noticed it.

He's pretty critical of her dress--sends her back to change if he thinks she's showing too much skin. He doesn't demand she get in the kitchen or anything--and he's not rabidly paranoid about other men around her--but, well, you get the idea.

At what point can you say "Bob has issues with women?"

There's no medical-definition for "sexist" or "misogynist"--but by modern standards, Bob almost certainly fits. He's definitely controlling. He seems to have different standards for men and women. Going by various Internet quizzes and "How to tell if your date might be sexist" articles, Bob is more or less off the charts: There's just not much question there.

In Paris . . .

Three gunmen viciously attacked and assassinated 12 people at the Charlie Hebdo magazine office. At this time two are in custody, one is believed dead. The attack seems to be perpetrated because of the magazine's religious insensitivity to Islam and, particularly, the prophet Mohammad.

. . . . At what point can we say Islam has a radicalization problem?

Of Course . . . 
Of course religions aren't people: If we blame all of Islam for the atrocity in Paris, isn't that kind of like blaming all men for Bob? Kind of. Also, and let's be clear, you, Omnivore reader are not plugged into the Islamic dialog. Many Muslims world wide could and did condemn the barbaric shootings in the strongest possible language (although, notably, not all and not all in the strongest possible language). You didn't hear about it because you're not listening to most of that media. You also didn't know when Ramadan started unless you were listening to NPR that day, right? That's kind of a big deal to Muslims too.

On the Other Hand . . .
The first step to solving a problem is, as they say, admitting you have one. There is a somewhat coherent case to be made that:
  1. A really substantial minority of Muslims are at least understanding of deadly responses to insults to Islam. If you are in the Muslim world and you insult the prophet you are in big trouble immediately. In many places it will come from the government and the populace at large--not from hunted criminals.
  2. Sharia law, which prohibits exactly this kind of free speech exists to varying degrees in perfectly average Muslim countries and can have exceedingly harsh penalties. The versions practiced by ISIS and the Taliban are further from the center of the bell-curve--but Sharia law, in Sharia Law's more draconian incarnations were not invented by terrorists.
  3. The violence in the name of Islam seems to be an order more atrocious than anything we have seen in the past 100 years by an organized religion in terms of barbarity, scale, and public mission statement.
Put another way, the modern structure of Western Christianity seems to have internal governing factors against the kind of behavior we're seeing from ISIS. As everyone has noted: Charlie Hebdo printed cartoons with the Pope wearing a condom (and, uh, totally pissed off a lot of Catholics). We didn't see Hasidic Jews or the Mossad attacking their office. We didn't see bombings by fundamentalist Christians.

What Would It Mean If Islam Had 'A Radicalization Problem?'
The Omnivore does not think it is controversial to say that, today, observers from the West are seeing some terrible behavior on behalf of Judaism and Christianity but are being bombarded with reports of appalling behavior done in the name of Islam. Whether this is reporting bias or not is hard to measure--the Charlie Hebdo attack was not the most lethal attack that day. That honorific went to a car bombing in Yemen. 

The issue is that right now we have two competing methods of discussion about what is going on. The first is something like this
On Wednesday’s “Morning Joe,” former Gov. Howard Dean (D-VT) downplayed any ties of gunmen that killed 12 at the offices of a French satirical magazines in Paris have to the religion of Islam.

. . . 
“You know, this is a chronic problem,” Dean said. “I stopped calling these people Muslim terrorists. They’re about as Muslim as I am. I mean, they have no respect for whatever anybody else’s life. That’s not what the Koran says. You know, Europe has an enormous radical problem. I think ISIS is a cult, not an Islamist cult. I think it’s a cult. I think you got to deal with these people.”
This, simply put, does not pass the sniff test. While there is not a scale for "How Muslim Is Someone," it defies logic that the gunmen screaming 'Allahu Ackbar' while 'avenging the prophet' are "as Muslim as Howard Dean." Yes, The Omnivore gets what he is trying to do here--and agrees with it directionally--but the affect of his speech comes off as almost Orwellian in nature. 

The apologists are coming out in droves to condemn the attack by Muslim terrorists on the editorial offices of the French weekly paper, Charlie Hebdo, but carefully tip-toeing around the word “Muslim.”
That includes President Barack Obama, who issued this statement from the White House Press Secretary’s office:
. . . [ Cut Obama's Remarks ]
No mention of the word “Muslim,” “Islam,” “Islamic,” “jihad,” “jihadist” or “Islamist.” He just called them “terrorists” with no further description.
While almost everyone speaking on the record was, in fact, careful to use Jihadist or Islamist or, at least 'radical Islam' in their remarks (but, uh, not everyone), The Omnivore suspects that there isn't even much of a "dog whistle" going on here. To a lot of the audience, The Omnivore asserts, 'radical Islam' just equals 'Islam.'

The problem with the first mode of speech is that while it is progressive and laudable in its attempt not to tar millions of peaceful western or moderate Muslims with the brush of barbarism, it also necessarily creates a space wherein even a casual observer can see a complex reality being skirted. This skirting gives oxygen to the view that the progressive authorities are simply not facing the issue realistically.

Now, that may well not be true: identity-based responses to the Hebdo attack (such as restricting Muslim immigrants, spying on Mosques, and so on) would, in fact, be a very dicey and problematic answer. The Omnivore doesn't have a brilliant "this is what we should do" answer to Islamist-violence against those who disrespect Islam anymore than he has one about school shootings. Maybe it's just something we have to live with and contain.

On the other hand, The Omnivore thinks that at least with school shootings everyone's cards are mostly on the table: there's a debate about banning guns (either all or, at least, certain kinds) vs. the right to bear arms*. In the case of Islamist violence, The Omnivore feels like western progressives are out there with one arm tied behind their back.

This is, The Omnivore thinks, creating more problems for them than it solves--providing their ideological counterparts with an exploitable weakness that could have electoral consequences.

* It's fair to ask if the 2nd Amendment folks have a "murder problem." Clearly the high availability of firearms in America allows us to have a vastly higher murder-rate than our nation-peers ... and The Omnivore asserts that the logic-holes in a lot of 2nd Amendment arguments (for example, that to be consistent, Liberals should call for knife-bans: Ha! Got ya!) are driven by a feeling that if a pro-2nd person admits to anything they give the whole game up.

This may or may not be the case (The Omnivore will also accept that a lot of people who would like to ban all guns are advocating just banning some for now)--but The Omnivore thinks this reinforces the point. Pro-gun arguments have a weakness in that they must skirt the degree of 'force-multiplier' effect that a gun gives a person with bad intentions in most discussions and focus simply on the 'bad intentions.'

This is a weak position: it's clearly avoiding a relevant and powerful topic (that, for example, if the Columbine shooters had been forced to rely on their bombs--which didn't explode--they might not have killed anyone). The weak-point has proven hard to exploit (support for gun-rights is at a high right now) but it still exists.

The Omnivore thinks the left is creating a similar weak-point around discussions of Islam for roughly analogous reasons.

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