Friday, September 10, 2004

Errors in Thinking

Today I was, as usual, perusing a number of news and political views web sites and it brought something into focus for me. Time for some wandering into Deep Thought.

People who know me are often puzzled as to my political views. While I support a number of ideas thought of as ‘liberal’ (support for the poor, involvement in international aid, etc.) I also support many ‘conservative’ ideas (pro-life, minimal government, etc.) I self-describe myself as a conservative. I tried using the term ‘progressive’, but it was (in my opinion) hijacked by the ultra-left. And I hoped the term neo-conservative would be available, but its now used for a certain flavor of militaristic right-wing thought.

The reason I choose ‘conservative’ over ‘liberal’ is this; while both sides make errors in thinking, I believe the liberal side to be guilty of more serious crimes against logic. Oh, don’t get me wrong, conservatives make serious errors (especially of the ‘capitalism good, therefore libertarian economics better’ variety). But where conservatives often make errors as they reach conclusions, liberals more often make errors in their premises.

The example for today is Geov Parrish in his article The Obsession at (article here). Mr. Parrish is arguing that the use of 9/11 to generate fear is being used by the unscrupulous in politics for their own ends and we need to ‘come to grips’ with 9/11. OK concept within a flawed framework. By that I mean that Mr. Parrish states some things in his article that erode his credibility as a clear thinker.

The first is the following statement;

“The sensible course [to combat terrorism] would be to create fewer enemies, but our rulers in both parties show no inclination to do that, and our wealth and outsized resource consumption will always guarantee a certain level of conflict with the less fortunate. Terrorism is the 21st Century price we will pay for our affluence, our influence, and our meddling.”

Mr. Parrish presents as fact his assumptions. No crime in and of itself, but his assumptions (his premises) are wrong. Yes, wealth can generate envy, but not necessarily conflict. After all, America was arguably the wealthiest nation in the world in 1920 yet we faced no external terrorist or military threats. As he himself pointed out, foreign terrorism was almost non-existent in America until 9/11and the foreign wars we engaged in between 1950 until today have all been wars of our own choosing. During this time world-wide terrorism was born and engulfed a number of countries, something he points out in this very article. So his statement that being a wealthy nation generates conflict is obviously false. And we haven’t even discussed nations such as Japan, or Sweden.

And the off-hand comment about ‘outsized resource consumption’ is disingenuous. Americans do consume a great deal per-capita, and this is disproportionate to our population. It is not, however, quite so disproportionate to our productivity. In other words, while Americans use more power, wood, etc. per person than any other group of people, they also produce more goods, services, etc. per person. While it still doesn’t offset the disparity in consumption, it makes the cause-effect relationship between making and having much more clear.

More importantly, the only terrorists I know of that commit acts with the goal of ‘fighting America’s over-consumption’ are groups like Earth Now!, i.e., mainly American kids who wore Tommy Hilfiger while attending state college with federal student loans as they realized that Americans consume too much. [It should be obvious that I have little more than contempt for those who destroy the lives and livelihoods of others in the name of ‘trees’ or ‘anti-consumerism’. While environmental causes are important and protests, etc. are warranted, vandalism and terror are never warranted.]. So Mr. Parrish’s second little gem there is as hollow as his first.

Next is his contention that our ‘affluence, influence, and meddling’ must result in our being the target of terrorism. I’ve already discussed the mistaken idea that being affluent must result in being attacked. Let’s talk about influence.

First of all, ‘influence’ is a broad term. Let’s assume he means international political influence. Again, like ‘wealth’, above, I don’t think this holds water. Even during the Cold War, when America’s political influence was matched against the Soviet Union, Mr. Parrish states we had no terrorist attacks in America (other than domestic). We supported Israel more fully then, we influenced and ‘meddled’ in world affairs more often, more aggressively, and with more drastic results.

Don’t mistake me; I do believe that America was and will continue to be attacked because of her influence, politics, and actions in international politics. I just don’t think that it is the fact of being influential that makes America a target. It is the fact that America is opposed to Islamo-fascism.

An Islamic commentator recently stated (I paraphrase) ‘almost all Muslims are not terrorists. But almost all terrorists are Muslims’. I will state this clearly as my own opinion – Islamic culture stands in opposition to Western culture in general and American culture in particular. This is stated most explicitly by al-Qaeda, who use the work In the Shade of the Qu’ran as the basis for their ideology. In this work the Islamic theologian Sayed Qatb argues that the separation of church and state leads inexorably toward an immoral government/state that actively corrupts those that live within it. Therefore, those within this ungodly state are corrupt, as well. Qatb’s works (especially his Milestones) have been the ideological sources of terrorist groups almost since he wrote them in the ‘50’s.

Let me be more clear. Qatb regarded Western Civilization with revulsion. Our religions are seen as Ignorance, our customs as corrupt, and our political ideals as evil. Groups such as Islamic Jihad, al-Qaeda, etc., also view us the same way. If we were become completely isolationist and self-sufficient we would still be viewed as inherently corrupt, inherently evil, and by our very nature a threat to be destroyed. This is forgotten at great peril. We are not in a situation where if we just do the right thing, pass the right law, and appease the right people it ‘goes away’. To these groups this can only end with the destruction or serious decline of Western democracy.

So it isn’t that fact that we are influential or that we use that influence. It’s the fact that we are what we are that is causing terrorism to affect us.

Moving along, Mr. Parrish later says;

“The invasion of Iraq, and the Bush endorsement of Ariel Sharon's ongoing war on Palestinians, have done more between them than anything Al-Qaeda or its brethren could have done themselves to ensure a steady flow of new recruits for the jihad.”

I want to focus on the phrase “…Sharon’s ongoing war on Palestinians…”. I don’t know what rock Mr. Parrish has been living under since 1948, but he has a lot of company. There is an entire school of thought, more and more common on university campuses, that Israel is this terrible aggressor that is trying to eradicate the defenseless Palestinians. They speak of Israel’s ‘illegal occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank”, and the ‘atrocities’ Israeli military personnel commit.

The Palestinian councils, groups, and other leaders all admit that their goal is the destruction of Israel as a nation. The neighboring Arab states all hold that they desire or actively work for the destruction of Israel. Arab politicians have admitted for at least 40 years that the Palestinian refugees have been denied citizenship in their countries so that they may be used as a tool to destroy Israel. Arab nations push the UN resolution for the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their original homes despite the fact that so such right has ever been granted to any other group of refugees in history, including under UN mandates – and Arab leaders speak openly that this right of return is to be used to destroy Israel.(By the way, when Israel tried to resettle refugees in Gaza (in other words, give them land and homes in Israel) they were forbidden to do so by the UN!). The UN defines a Palestinian refugee as anyone who lived in the region between 1946-1948 and left during the war, losing a place of residence, even if they had an apartment while the worked for the British government or Jewish businesses while a temporary worker. Even more amazingly, any descendent of a refugee is also a refugee. So the initial 914,000 refugees in 1950 is now more than 4 million people. And Arab nations will grant none of them citizenship because it would remove a weapon from their anti-Israel arsenal.*

The charter of the PLO calls specifically for the destruction of Israel. It also states that armed struggle is not a ‘tactical phase’, but the overall strategy of the destruction of Israel and that they plan to organize all education and business toward the destruction of Israel by ‘commando’ activities. Although it has been ‘amended’ to remove such language, PLO Headquarters and their official offices still proudly display the original document. All other Islamic terrorist organizations have similar charters or claims that their goal is the destruction of Israel (including al-Qaeda).
These groups, especially the Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades, continue to conduct serious terror attacks on Israel. Their favored attacks are ambushes of soldiers and the use of suicide bombers to kill civilians. Suicide bombs have been detonated on buses, in markets, at hotels, and other places where civilians gather. Several Arab and Islamic organizations gift the mothers of suicide bombers with money and gifts. More than 200 Israeli civilians were killed by suicide bombers between July 2000 and May 2002 alone. Terror groups are eager to claim responsibility and speak openly of recruiting more suicide bombers (Al-Aqsa even sponsors a “Martyr’s Summer Camp” for children).

Pardon my long exposition, but doesn’t it sound like war had been declared on Israel long before Sharon was Prime Minister? Don’t get me wrong – Israel has screwed some things up and over-reacted. Palestinian civilians have been killed, including children. But the big difference is that the vast majority of Palestinian deaths caused by Israeli forces are of Palestinian combatants (about 90%) while Israelis killed by Palestinians are mainly civilians (over 80%)**. I think that the statement about “Sharon’s war on Palestinians” is disingenuous. Sharon is trying to prevent terrorists from setting off bombs in pizzerias, not carpet-bombing refugee camps. This is emotional rhetoric, not a serious attempt to explain why terrorists are killing civilians.

This leads me back to where I started; the differences in the sorts of errors made by conservatives and liberals. I think this is pretty stark in Mr. Parrish’s article. The solution to terror, it seems, lies not with terrorists, but with us. We ‘meddle’, we ‘consume too many resources’, we are ‘wealthy’. Israel’s attempts to protect itself from terrorist groups bent on destroying it is a ‘war on Palestinians’. This is pointing the finger at those being attacked by terrorists and saying ‘you are to blame’. This is akin to telling an abused woman ‘if you didn’t antagonize him, he wouldn’t hit you’.

Another telling phrase is way back in that first quote. Mr. Parrish says “The sensible course is to create fewer enemies…”. See, we created them – its our fault. There isn’t anything to do about the enemies we have, so we should try to make fewer of them in the future. Its all passive – don’t upset them, don’t have influence, don’t participate.

The bully beats you because he’s jealous. The rapist attacked you because you wore a tight sweater. Al-Qaeda killed all those Americans because we aren’t devout Muslims. Its all the same argument.

* Another interesting fact about the refugees; the total Arab population in Palestine in 1948 was about 1.2 million people. After the 1948 War of Independence about 180,000 stayed in Israel (and became Israeli citizens after the war, by the way) and about 600,000 were in areas not part of Israel. So either the refugees were composed of 200,000 couples who each had 2.5 children in 2 years, or the UN granted refugee status to a lot of non-refugees. More interestingly yet, the refugee population in 1990 was 2.4 million people. In 1995 it was listed as 3.2 million, an increase of about 6%. The birthrate at that time was only 3.2% growth. So even if we assume that no one died, left the camps, or otherwise moved beyond the status of Palestinian Refugee (meaning, living in a refugee camp), where the heck did the extra refugees come from?

** Per

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