The Islamic Enlightenment: A Critical Review of De Bellaigue

A personalized critical review of:

De Bellaigue, Christopher. (2017) The Islamic Enlightenment: The Struggle Between Faith and Reason 1798 to Modern Times. Liveright Publishing Corporation (Norton & Company) New York, London.

In 1798, in view of the Pyramids, a French expeditionary force defeated the strange caste of slave-soldiers, the Mamlukes, who had been ruling Egypt for several centuries. The Mamlukes charged the French infantry squares on horseback, ending their charge with the throwing of javelins. The Mamlukes were thus eliminated from history. The French lost 29 soldiers. In the conventional narrative, the battle woke up the whole Muslim world from its long and haughty slumber. The defeat, the pro-active reforms of Napoleon short-lived occupancy, and the direct influence of French scholars he had brought with him lit the wick of the candle of reform or, possibly, of enlightenment throughout the Islamic world.

De Bellaigue picks up this conventional narrative and follows it to the beginning of the 20th century with a dazzling richness of details. This is an imperfect yet welcome thick book on a subject seldom well covered.

This book has, first, the merit of existing. Many people of culture, well-read people with an interest in Islam – Islam the sociological phenomenon, rather than the religion – know little of the travails of its attempted modernization. Moreover, under current conditions of political correctness the very subject smells a little of sulfur: What if we looked at Muslim societies more closely and we found in them some sort of intrinsic inferiority? I mean by this, an inferiority that could not easily be blamed on the interference of Western, Christian or formerly Christian, capitalist societies. Of course, such a finding could only be subjective but still, many would not like it, and not only Muslims.

Second, and mostly unintentionally, possibly inadvertently, the book casts a light, an indirect light to be sure, on Islamist (fundamentalist) terrorism. It’s simple: Enlightened individuals of any religious background are not likely to be also fanatics willing to massacre perfect strangers. Incidentally, I examine this issue myself in a fairly parochial vein, in an essay in the libertarian blog Liberty Unbound: “Religious Bic-à-Brac and Tolerance of Violent Jihad” (January 2015). With his broader perspective, with his depth of knowledge, De Bellaigue could have done a much better job of this than I could ever do. Unfortunately he ignored the subject almost entirely. It wasn’t his topic, some will say. It was not his period of history. Maybe.

This is a book rich in details, as I said, colorful, intelligent, and inherently interesting. It reminds me of a superior travel book, one by Paul Theroux, for instance. It includes a small number of well-chosen, quality color illustrations. Overall, it makes for pleasant reading. I finished it within a few days; I was never tempted to put it down. I recommend it in spite of several reservations described below.

The Islamic Enlightenment…begins a little strangely with an otherwise useful introduction where the author also accuses pretty much everyone, including his readers and his potential readers, of being Islamophobic bigots. (See the end of this essay for a potential explanation.) Then, he gets down to the real topic of his book.

De Bellaigue (“DB”) gives us in rich particulars the attempts to modernize in three well chosen Muslim countries, and to a lesser extent, elsewhere in the Muslim world. The three countries are – in order of appearance – Egypt, Turkey (Ottoman then, the Republic), and Persia. Those countries are important in every respect, on account notably of their demographic weight and of their influence in their region.

I use the word “modernize” as in “Modernization” rather then the “Enlightenment” of the book’s title because, when all is said and done, DB only does a good job of describing attempted institutional transformation, both successful and not so much, and the men who promoted it. Chief among the institutions so transformed are the armed forces and, in a superficial way, political institutions. Both happen to be structures that are fairly responsive to top-down planning and implementation. Per force, he has less to say about enlightenment proper, a term I take to refer to what goes on in the minds of people, and inside the minds of many people simultaneously. I mean what the French Annales school of history calls “mentalités.”*

The conventional narrative about the European Enlightenment begins with the elaboration of different self-concepts, of a view of individuals as central to themselves rather than as filial creatures of God. This transformation of the self-concept in turn nourishes the emergence of examining reason as an alternative to revealed truth and/or tradition. In Europe, this evolution begins timidly in the Renaissance. I say, “timidly” because Renaissance figures seem to remain deeply religious. Moreover, the gains of reason did not stop large numbers of Europeans from gutting one another for more than one a hundred years of religious wars. (I realize this is a complex topic and that the perpetrators of the Wars of Religion of the 16th and 17th century were not merely motivated by hatred of beliefs different from their own.)

Increased reliance on examining reason and its imputed multiple beneficial real-world consequences exploded in the 18th century. The consequences included progress in representative government, improved judicial integrity, the emergence of individual rights, cultural universalism associated with tolerance of otherness, the institutionalization of science as more than an individual hobby, and the seeds of true capitalism. (I follow Max Weber here: socially legitimate enterprise and gain-seeking for its own sake.) DB’s book is perhaps inadvertently, it’s hard to tell, rich with recounting of failure to change collective mentalités to any depth.

The recurring theme of the book is adequately expressed by a single long paragraph:

The classic image of the Muslim modernizer is of an irascible man in mess boots, a man who is impatient with with his compatriots’ old-fashioned mode of dress and their backsliding, malingering attitude to hard work, an impulsive friend of modern values who, while being perhaps a little rough in his methods answers with admirable clarity to the summons of progress. That image took well over a century to develop and was embodied by figures as diverse as Reza Shah of Iran, King Amanullah of Afghanistan, and the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.” (p. 17).

DB tells the same basic story over and over about Egypt, Turkey, Iran and, in a small way, about other Muslim countries: More or less enlightened despots – often under the influence of enthusiastically westernized scholars – attempt to shake their societies out of their century-old torpor. Repeatedly, they fail to achieve any deep lasting change although they manage somewhat to modify their state apparatus to make it more responsive. Long story short: They mostly flunk although they succeed in getting slightly better bargains from Western countries than would otherwise be the case, I would argue. (I think DB wouldn’t say so, though.)

Everywhere, according to DB, modernization was attempted in response to, as protection against, the encroachments of Western powers, of which the creation of the Suez Canal is the most dramatic example. The traumatizing outright French conquest of Algeria, nominally an Ottoman vassal between 1830 and 1870 is another instance, of course. DB’s thesis of reactive modernization (or “enlightenment”) in Muslim lands is not completely persuasive. According to his own narrative, modernizers were intermittently at work in both Turkey and Persia before the former realized it was a weak and vulnerable polity, and before Persia came of economic interest in the West. During the 19th century, transportation became cheaper and safer, the telegraph was installed in many places. (It’s a cheap collective equipment). Printing also became easier and cheaper. The latter progress helped with the creation of newspapers and it improved the efficacy of secular education. These forms of material modernization might have eventually led to a transformation of mentalités in large segment of the urban population, with or without Western pressures. The eagerness, well recounted in the book, of Turks and of Egyptians to learn a foreign language – French – speaks to the possibility of spontaneous movements of modernization. Regrettably, DB does not clearly examine this road not taken.

The first wave of modernizers emerging from the traditional elite, more or less assisted or inspired by home-bred intellectuals, was eventually replaced in all three countries of focus by another breed of modernizers we would call fascist leaders in any Western country. Issued from the military, they enjoyed a fair degree of popular support by promoting nationalism, drove a hard bargain with other countries, developed further the state apparatus of their countries, completed the construction of a modern army, and expanded education significantly. (Curiously, DB seems to miss the signal achievements of those late modernizers: the mass schooling of girls.) Gamal Abd El Nasser is the prototype of this second kind of modernizer.

The improvement of the state apparatus in Islamic countries led to a momentous change in their forms of social control. Under traditional despotism, government rule in those countries was relatively benign, not by design but because of government’s lack of effectiveness. You could easily get beheaded if you displeased the ruler but the chance was remote.** Almost all could live in peace and even in prosperity far from the ruler’s eye. When modern states came to be in the region, many more activities suddenly fell within the province of government at the same time as government’s reach grew exponentially. The savage Savak of the last Shah of Iran, for example, was hardly a freak. It was soon replaced by the equally effective, more intrusive and even more savage secret services of the Islamic Republic. So, in the end, what DB’ is pleased to call “Enlightenment” resulted in the reduction of private freedoms in most Muslim societies. And, incidentally, and while we are at it, the most deeply colonized such societies were, the less the above statement seems to hold. (I am thinking Tunisia and, especially, of Senegal, vs Iran and Afghanistan.)

The rollback of modernization was decisive and facilitated, paradoxically, by the success of that second wave of modernizers. By replacing civil society with the state to a large extent, they made easier reaction against the modest progress toward Enlightenment in the Western sense. Large government prisons can easily be re-dedicated and filled by new opponents, after all. By the end of the twentieth century, anything resembling an enlightenment had been decisively rolled back in all three countries of reference. The Iranian Islamic Revolution brought clerics a measure of power they would not have dreamed of possessing under traditional despots. Then, self-declared Islamists assassinated the fairly mild military dictator of Egypt. Latter Egyptian Islamists actually won elections and they governed for a short time but their power was abruptly terminated by a coup then, replaced by more fascism, to-date, an amiable sort of fascism. The lesson was not lost on those Egyptians who favor representative government or judicial fairness: not the time or place for either. The reaction continues in Turkey where the relatively liberals ideas of Ataturk are being dis-implemented one by one while the modern repressive apparatus of the state keeps expanding.

Algeria is somewhat exemplary in this respect. There, after allowing free elections, the ruling military stopped the (Islamist) reaction in its tracks in the 90s by simply canceling the results of an election. This technically anti-democratic coup against anti-Democrats preserved some measure of modernization -including a thick network of secular schools – in that Muslim country of 40 million. But this happened at the cost of discrediting democracy and of legitimizing military rule in the eyes of many. The net balance of this victory against religious obscurantism is anyone’s guess.

It’s also true however that some degree of representative government took root during the 20th century in several Muslim countries including Indonesia. Curiously the latter country was rigorously colonized in the 19th century and situated far from the reach of early Muslim modernizers; another story, obviously. At any rate, and whatever change in mentalités was achieved in the 19th and 20th centuries is being pushed back quickly across a broad front. Any older observer will tell you that many more women currently wear the hijab in big Muslim cities than was the case fifty years ago. As I write, lawyers in Pakistan – “The Land of the Pure” – insist that death is the proper penalty for … apostasy.

The absence of almost any reference to Japan in this book is surprising. Japan was undergoing the same travails at about the same time as Turkey and Iran (that is, later than Egypt). Japan was spectacularly successful in most aspects of its modernization whereas the Muslim countries mostly failed. To a large though incomplete extend, the success of Japan engaged the mentalités of ordinary Japanese. That is, Japanese society became enlightened to some extent – in Western sense – as well as superbly modernized in its institution and its economy. It would have been worth the author’s while to wonder aloud about the sources of this contrast in outcomes. In his place, I would have speculated about the role of mass education. It seems that literacy was widespread in Japan before its forced “opening” by the US; it was abysmally low in all Muslim countries DB considers.

The failure of Islamic societies to produce a full Enlightenment is puzzling given that they had a head start of sorts. In the High Middle-Ages, eye witnesses, including the Tunis-born world traveler Ibn Khaldun, describe large swaths of the Islamic World that enjoyed a sort of urbane prosperity. It included a vigorous intellectual life, both scientific and poetic, and a high degree of tolerance (although dhimmi, Christians and Jews, suffered several kinds of statutory discrimination). Commentators often blame the destruction of Baghdad by the Mongols in 1258, and also (or then) the fall of the last Muslim Kingdom in Spain, Granada, in 1492, for the end of that Muslim Golden Age. I am not satisfied with this rudimentary explanation, of course, because there were plenty of large, well-off cities in the Islamic world where the Golden Age could have been perpetuated and bettered, or duplicated.

Now, some comments about the form of The Islamic Enlightenment….

Overall, DB writes in an engaging manner although his love of long sentences made me a bit breathless. When all is said though, and repeating myself, I read this 350-page book in a short time. It never bored me. Nevertheless, the author sometimes uses English a little strangely. Thus, he misuses the word “crescendo,” which he did not have to use at all. There are more such trivial mistakes, rather worse ones, in fact. You can tell reading the book, that DB is a man of broad culture, even beyond what would expect from someone with a BA from Cambridge and an MA in Oriental Studies Yet, no one knows everything. His economic baggage might well be on the light side. Be it as it may, I think anyone who write a book of history should be bound by basic reason. DB does not demonstrate a high standard in connection with that requirement.

Early, in the book, DB misuses the technical term “comparative advantage” the way smart but inattentive undergrads will do routinely. It’s mildly disturbing because he did not have to use those words at all. I suspect he chose them in an attempt to impart a fragment of scholarly authority to his (good) journalistic text. At one point, DB states that cheap imports from England had reduced Egyptian (manufacturing) productivity. More on this below, but first, a digression.

The general theme illustrate here is familiar in left-wing narratives of anything pertaining to the missing economic development of underdeveloped areas of the world: It’s not their fault, Western capitalism stopped them from developing, even forced them back. (It’s called: Teoria de la dependencia, in Spanish.) The idea is plausible but it lacks rigorous support. It’s not backed by empirical research that could and should have been performed years ago. I know that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence but still, if it had been one of my favorite ideas, I would have managed to do the supporting empirical research. Yet, this narrative has its own prestigious intellectual pedigree including a beautiful, thoroughly annotated book by Immanuel Wallerstein, published in 1974 (The Modern World System: Capitalist Agriculture….) It’s a book worth reading although it’s mostly wrong in its conclusions, I think. Its main thesis – that economic exchanges with more developed, capitalist countries – actually caused underdevelopment in poorer countries -was forcefully invalidated in the 80s and 70s by American quantitative researchers, including myself. (Ask.) The same idea was picked up powerfully by Ghandi, incidentally. End of digression.

Back to my main thread (that concerns economic literacy). I have turned DB’s statement in my mind every which way, and I can’t figure any mechanism by which their simple availability, even direct competition from foreign products would negatively affect indigenous productivity. The best I can do is these two basic ideas. First, the direct competition of imports motivates indigenous producers to improve their own products or to make them cheaper. Second the competition of imports results in the elimination of the weakest indigenous producers. With both processes, indigenous productivity is improved, not decreased as DB would have it. He confuses productivity and production, I think. This is not a small mistake, for a journalist, in particular, who is supposed to care about words. Beyond ignorance of economics, this mistake demonstrates either poor logic or a lack of attention. In subtle ways, it undermines my willingness to follow DB in areas with which I am myself unfamiliar. I also wonder why his editor did not catch it. Same destructive effect on my level of trust.

Something is missing from the book. After the failure to enlighten the Muslim countries he examines, DB should have gone one step further and ask the obvious. He should have engaged in the serious examination of the possibility that the deep beliefs of Islam, explicitly embodied in its Scriptures, are an obstacles to the reign of reason above and beyond the usually conservative influence of religious authorities (the ulemas). Also missing is the possibility that a habitually rudimentary understanding of Islam among Muslims (See Delacroix, cited above) fails to provide a foundation for the exercise of the individual judgment that is, I think, at the heart of the Enlightenment. I am tempted to add that DB would have profited by reading V.S. Naipaul’s devastating, pitiless, and somber but fairly prophetic 1981 book, Among the Believers: an Islamic Journey. Naipaul, after all, is not one of those esoteric Delacroix finds, as you might rightly fear; he is a Nobel Prize winner. If nothing else, DB could have countered the dire tales about real Islam at ground level Naipaul tells. I hesitate because there are two valid schools of thought on how to analyze history. One requires that the historian ignores as much as is humanly possible what he knows of today when writing about yesterday. The second recommends that the understanding of today should be forcefully applied to an understanding of yesterday. There are merits to both. DB leans to the first school.

The book is carefully and copiously referenced. From its bibliography, I deduce that DB has a command of French (in addition to English, of course). He may be able to read Farsi; it’s not obvious although he references Farsi-language sources (in Roman alphabet transliterations). He may speak that language to some extent because he was a correspondent in in Tehran for I don’t know how long. He is married to an Iranian woman (which has some unspoken consequences; see below). I noticed no sources in Turkish nor in Arabic. This is problematic, of course. This book is thus largely based on the observations of Western visitors and on translations from English and French.

For this reason alone, I wish DB had had a co-author. I mean someone with a Muslim name and literate either in Arabic or in Turkish. In my own broad experience, those who rely on translations and on foreign travelers’ observations gain only a limited understanding even of French society. If this is correct with respect to Englishmen writing of the geographically nearby and historically familiar France, I can only imagine how constrictive reliance on such sources must be for Westerners dealing with exotic and naturally closed Islamic societies. (They are naturally closed in the sense that one half of their adult population is normally silent.) Yet, The Islamic Enlightenment …. may not have ended much different if DB had had such a co-author and that’s the problem: I will never know. I realize also, of course, that a co-author with roots in the Muslim words might have made DB even more timid. Muslims, or people reputed to be Muslims, who criticize Islam today have reasons to be worried for their safety. (I hope that’s the reason why there are currently so few.) I am not about to forget the fate of the novelist Salman Rushdie forced to live in hiding for twenty years by Islamist (ist) gross intolerance. *** In accordance with this sense of danger, I worry about the possibility that his wife has relatives back in Iran whom DB may see as so many potential hostages. This concern may have made DB more timid that he would otherwise have been, even altered his perception of reality. It may also explain the aggressive tone of his Introduction.

A personal comment about a fact that is relevant to the inquiry although only tangentially so: I have known Muslims all of my long life, in France where I was raised, in the US where I emigrated, and in other countries, including several Muslim countries where I spent time. This multi-faceted experience has left me with a strong preference for the company of Muslims. I found all Muslims I have known for more than an hour personable.**** I do not credit religion here. There is something in Muslim culture, beyond national and linguistic differences within the Islamic world, that is very attractive. I am sure, I am not the only one who has fallen under the charm; I have seen others do. I can only intuit the relevance of this observation to the issue of enlightenment. Perhaps, two different object cannot occupy the same (mental) space. Perhaps, enlightenment, as we created the concept in the West, entails a kind of refrigeration of the collective heart.

I need to go one step further, a difficult step because I think of myself as a great-grandchild of Diderot. Western rationalists like me put a lot of stock in the European Enlightenment, among other reasons because it fathered the American Revolution. We forget easily that it also engendered the French Revolution,***** terrorism as a method of government, followed by the (modernizing and thus lasting) despotism of Napoleon), followed by the pan-European butchery of the Napoleonic Wars and, after that, probably, communism as well as fascism.

In conclusion: a learned great deal about the history of Muslim societies in this book but not much about the absence of an Islamic Enlightenment.

Post Scriptum This book is about Muslim national societies (some Muslim societies). It should not be necessary to affirm the following: None of its conclusions, explicit or implicit, has anything to say about individual Muslims, possibly about millions of individual Muslims, whose condition of personal enlightenment vastly exceeds that of the populace in any Western country. The same applies to this critique.

* I recommend highly in connection with this book the Annales historian’s Fernand Braudel’s The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II. And, readers who are retired or existing in an undemanding graduate environment should begin reading his formidable, three-volume Capitalism and Material Life, 1400-1800. although it’s only tangentially about the Islamic world. PS Sorry there is pressure on me to brag but I read the series page by page twice, once in French and another time in English. It’s so good, I am tempted to read it again.

** On this topic, perhaps see the essay on my blog:

https://factsmatter.wordpress.com/2014/10/18/the-ottoman-empire-and-libertarianism-ebola/

*** Salman Rushdie was condemned to death through a fatwaa religious injunction by the lamented Ayatollah Khomeini for having given the names of the Prophet’s wives to the denizens of a brothel in his lovable novel, The Satanic Verses.

**** I am well trained in conventional sociology with a degree from a reputable university. (Go ahead, make my day and peruse my C.V. !) I know all about bad sampling and confirmation bias. Nevertheless I think it’s valid to rely on anecdotal evidence under two conditions. First, the evidence has to be strongly repetitive, not two of one kind, three of another and then, one of the first kind again. Second, those relying on anecdotal evidence have to be very willing to be questioned and even rebuked, especially by anyone having rigorous data at his disposal.

***** For a detailed contrarian view on the French Revolution, read Thomas Carlyle’s 1837, The French Revolution: a History.

The following essay on my blog examines one possible obstacle to enlightenment, in the Arab World, specifically:

https://factsmatter.wordpress.com/2011/02/18/language-and-informational-prisons-the-case-of-arabic/

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The Knife is Coming

Top brass at advertising giant Interpublic Group of Cos. told its 20,000 US employees last week they had until year’s end to complete sexual-harassment training. The cession quizzes employees on what to do when a co-worker discusses weekend sexual exploits at work or when a colleague comes on to a colleague’s girlfriend after hours…

Women are crucial to our business,” says Mr Roth [CEO]. “We need our environment to be safe for all.”*

(All boldings mine.)

Let me put the two statements together for you in a familiar television-like form.

John, Mary and Peter work together in the same office. One day, they go out together for drinks after work. Jane, John’s girlfriend – who works elsewhere – joins them. Peter flirts with Jane (JANE); he even slip her his cell-phone number. Mary (MARY) feels unsafe.

It’s bat shit crazy. Is there no limit to the absurdities we will listen too peacefully?

If a man can create an unsafe work environment for a female colleague by hitting on another woman employed somewhere else and who welcomes the advances, is there any limit to what constitutes sexual harassment?

How about Mark looks at Jeanne – whom he does not know – at the bus stop, and Mark’s coworker, Jennifer catches his look and feels unsafe?

Will anyone shout: “Absurd”?

Myself, I don’t see just absurdity, here. Since the Weinstein explosion less than two months ago (but still no lawsuit to tell us what really happened, if anything), I have begun to discern an attempted mass castration. If there is nothing men can do to stop from being sexual harassers who make women feel unsafe – even indirectly as in the example, above – it’s the fact of being a man itself that is offensive and that needs to be repressed. The knife is coming, ladies and gentlemen!

The most disturbing and the most worrisome aspect of all this mass movement is the lack of backbone demonstrated by many male decision-makers, such as Mr Roth, in this story, who hardly needs the operation, by the way.

Not far behind, is the passivity- so far – of rational women who stand to lose a great deal of peace of mind and other benefits, to the extent that the mass surgical intervention succeeds.

Note that I am not hinting at conspiracy. With the powerful domination of a few newspapers and of fewer TV channels, with the effectiveness of the social media, conventional conspiracies have become obsolete. Throw wet garbage and see if it sticks. If it does not, you and your actions will have been forgotten tomorrow anyway. Some harm done; no price to pay!

What needs to be done? Fight back. Denounce every crazy statement. Affirm rationality. Be ready for a little temporary social exclusion. You will soon find that most people are on your side. They just couldn’t believe what they saw and heard until you gave them a shout-out .

*From the Wall Street Journal, Nov. 11 2017, P. 1

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White Supremacists

“White supremacy” has become a central part of the left’s narrative. In an hour and a half of casual news watching on television in early October 2017, for example, I heard three references to white supremacy. That’s more than I did in the decade 2005 to 2015, I believe.

One utterance came from the sports channel ESPN’s African-American commentator Jemele Hill who called president Trump a “white supremacist.” She added that he surrounded himself with white supremacists. Perhaps, by implication of the term “surround,” she meant several millions of his 63 million voters, or even all of them. This kind of verbal hysteria is not new and neither are intemperate television commentators but, in the recent past, such breathless declarations would have been laughed out of the park or negatively sanctioned, or both. Not anymore. Ms Hill’s statement was not exactly an isolated incident either.

In the first two weeks of October 2017, I hear the word “supremacist” on radio or television at least once a day. I am sure it has not happened before in my fifty years in this country (as an immigrant). This new tolerance makes some sense in political context.

For the inconsolable of Pres. Trump’s election, I suspect – but I don’t know for a fact – that the claim is by way of passing the baton at a time when the investigation on “Russian collusion” to elect him, now in its thirteenth month, is going nowhere. If he did not betray the country, what can we accuse him of that’s difficult for decent minded people to forgive, they ask? Digging into this country’s complex and troubled past is always a good bet if you are looking for dirt to throw at an American.

Mr Trump’s own intemperate comments – although never directed at the usual African-Americans targets of real supremacists – helped identify a valuable, superficially semi-plausible charge. The sudden emergence in the collective consciousness of unhappy young white Americans on the occasion of the 2016 election also contributed. (“…in the collective consciousness…;” they were around before that.) Unhappy young whites can but with little effort be turned into the racist rednecks of countless movies. Thus, the white supremacy narrative may be part of a half-blind collective endeavor to discredit for the long term the social forces thought to be associated with the sensational defeat in 2016 of a moderate liberal (and a feminist to boot; more on this below).

My first impression of the reality of a white supremacist movement, based on reading and listening to radio – including National Public Radio – about five days a week, besides watching television, is that there isn’t actually much going on nationwide in this respect. Yet, I am mindful of the fact that I live in “progressive” Santa Cruz, in liberal California. In neither place would one expect to bump casually into white supremacists. And if there were one, he would probably just clench his teeth and keep his mouth shut. In lily-white Santa Cruz, on the contrary, a black supremacist would probably be elected mayor on the first try without really campaigning. (OK, I may be exaggerating a little, here.)

I realize also that my reading habits as a conservative may not lead to chance encounters with supremacist tripe.* So, I wonder: What’s the actual situation? To try and explore this question more deeply, I use a two-step strategy. I look first for existing credible empirical reports on the topic. Second, I look for what should be the products of white supremacist groups, the tracks they should logically be expected to leave on the internet and elsewhere. But first, a brief historical detour. Continue reading

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Apres le Massacre de Las Vegas: pour Casubolo

Apres le massacre de Las Vegas.

En reponse a mon ami Andre Casubolo, avocat a Paris et defenseur des causes impopulaires, documentariste de genie et membre sans vergogne de la gauche hereditaire, qui voit un lien clairement positif entre la possessions d’armes privees et la frequence des homicides. Antoine est fidele lecteur du  Monde, bien sur, qui titrait recemment a ce propos:

 “Les Etats-Unis, le pays occidental où le taux d’armes en circulation est le plus élevé.”

C’est une connerie meme pas originale. Je simplifie et j’arrondis les chiffres parce qu’un regime intellectuel base sur la lecture du Monde prepare mal a la sophistication analytique.

Depuis 1994, le nombre d’armes a feu entre des mains privees a augmente de 50% aux E.U. Le nombre (le nombre, pas le taux) d’homicides par armes a feu a lui diminue (diminue) de 50% .

Je ne sais pas s’il existe un rapport de cause a effet entre les deux chiffres ou si, ensemble, ils soutiennent la these: Plus d’armes, moins de crimes. Ce qui est sur c’est qu’ils n’apportent aucun support a la these opposee.

Jusqu’a ce jour, le pays occidental ou a eu lieu le plus grand massacre de civils (90+) est………. ………… Dans ce pay-la, la possession privee d’armes a feu est:

a) severement reglementee; 2) legerement reglementee; 3 ) pas reglementee.

Le titre du Monde est grossierement sensationaliste et sans interet explicatif. Contrairement a mes quelques phrase ci-dessus, par exemple, il n’essaie meme pas d’aborder la question de la causalite pouvant exister entre  le nombre d’armes ne circulation et la frequence des crimes violents commis dans un lieu donne. Les Etats-Unis, pour des raisons historiques, ont une abondance de crimes violents et une abondance d’armes entre les mains de ses citoyens. On ne peu ni affirmer  a priori un rapport de cause effet a entre les deux faits ni decider par preference subjective de la direction de la causalite si causalite il y a.

D’ailleurs, s’il n’y avait pas d’armes a feu privees, personne n’aurait les moyens de commettre des massacre de masse. De telles abominations n’arrivent pas en France ou possession d’armes a feu est strictment reglmentee, pas vrai?

Les bien-pensants finissent toujours par demontrer leur inanite intellectuelle. C’est presque embarassant. Leur repondre est, comme on dit en Anglais “Comme de voler l’argent des caramels d’un gosse du jardin d’enfants!”

Confession: Je suis membre (passif) de la National Rifle Association, une des organisations qui protegent le Second Amendement a la Constitution des E.U qui garanti le droit au port d’arme prive.

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The Dreamers and Me

President Trump just announced that he was rolling back an Obama executive order intended to give respite to illegal immigrants brought to the US by their parents when they were minors. I know what I feel about this action. I have to figure out what I think.  (I can cry with the best of them! Liberal liars are having a field day right now. One just said on NPR that the purpose of the decision is to make America “white again”, N. S. !)

I am an immigrant. I immigrated into this country at 21. I was a high school dropout from France. I had no marketable skill but I knew English pretty well. I had no money. (That’s “Not any.”) I carried a small suitcase containing mostly some Navy clothing from my recent service. The Unites States did not need me.* No one had invited me except the late George and Rose-Marie McDaniel of Novato, California. (They had met me during my stint as a high school exchange student three years earlier, financed by others.) Don’t worry, I am not going to cram down your throat yet another heroic story of hard immigrant work and well deserved achievement.

I prospered in this country for more than fifty years. I had a very good American life. I lived well and I thrived unexpectedly from an intellectual standpoint. My wife an artist, and also an immigrant, was able to paint as we raised our children. All of this because many individuals and several institutions gave me a push and a pull, an encouraging word, and downright gifts, along the way (including free tuition at both a junior college and a major  university). If I were given only two words to describe American society, they would be: “generous, fair.”

The American society I know does not visit upon the sons the sins of the fathers. It especially does not do so when the sins of the fathers were mostly misdemeanors at the time they were committed – entering the country illegally was only a misdemeanor. The American society I know would not throw over the fence its young neighbors to somehow manage in a foreign country they know little or not at all, in a language they may know badly or, again, not at all. Those among us who would do either must be blinded by anger. (And there are good reasons to be angry about immigration.)

In his announcement, President Trump did not throw out anybody, as the left media made it sound. First, he gave Congress six months to do what Congress should have done in the first place: Solve through legislation the human and ethical problem posed by the presence in our country of hundreds of thousands of immigrants who are technically illegal through no fault of theirs. The president is playing chicken with Congress: If you do nothing, you will be collectively responsible for a gross, un-American injustice. Keep in mind that the president retains the right to promulgate his own royal reprieve it Congress fails to act.

Second, the president is using this opportunity to prod Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, to begin instituting wholesale immigration reform. It’s a reform just about everyone agrees must take place. It has not begun because it’s a political hot, hot potato for both parties. For the Republicans, there is the honest realization that our borders must, in the end, be under control lest our cherished institutions end up dissolving. Let me give you an example. How many people can we admit who believe that separation of church and state is anathema, an insult to the face of God, and still live in our constitutional republic? (And, it you think the question is Islamophobic, you are just afraid of questions!)

For the Democrats the issue is how to stem the rising anger of many of their troops about immigration without turning off the spigot of automatic Demo voters that immigrants mostly are. (The Democratic Party is vanishing, I think. That’s why it’s so mean. Without a steady flow of poor immigrants, its death will be hastened. The Republican Party has different problems which also threaten it existence, possibly.)

Notice what I did not say here: I did not say anything about any kind of immigrants having rights as immigrants. I don’t think we do.

* Nevertheless, I have a document somewhere that certifies that my continued presence in the US serves the welfare of the country. It was earned 12 years later, another story, obviously. If I could find it, I would fame it and put it on line to enrage “progressives.”

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Talking Back to the Fat Little Horror

Many have tried for a week or so to convince me that Pres. Trump should tone it down with North Korea, that he must stop threatening back. I have heard it on the radio, on TV; I have read it everywhere, including on my own Facebook page. They have all done a mediocre job. There may be good reasons to not talk back to the fat little fascist in North Korea, Kim, but I have not heard it yet (08/13/17).

The urge to pipe down come from two main sources. First, are the usual liberal suspects who always think the US must be wrong, somehow. The same admonitions come, second, from libertarians- and especially from Libertarians. (And trust me, I feel very ashamed that I have – several times – described Libertarians as “pacifists in drag.” And I will do my best to avoid this facile formula in the future.)

Liberals’ reprimands are not interesting because they are so predictable. They are in two parts. First, in any hostile encounter, the US must be guilty, or guilty of something. Second, we must never stoke the fire by responding to threats with threats. I will show below the emptiness of this position.

Libertarians’ attempts to tamp the fire are more interesting because they are based on analysis, even if it’s on a fallacious analysis anchored in imagined facts rather than in real facts. Libertarians believe that all war, even all armament, even all national defense preparedness invariably increase the scope and power of government. This happens to the detriment of individual liberties of course. I share this analysis but that’s not the end of the problem.

A libertarian intellectual I admire on the whole pointed out to me recently that experts don’t think Kim is suicidal. That may well be true although I don’t trust mental health experts who pronounce without examining the patient or even talking to him. This may well be true but one can simply become suicidal. Hitler was not suicidal until he was suicidal. He appeared to have believed in the feasibility of a military miracle even when the Red Army was only fifty miles from Berlin. And then: “Bang! And fuck you all Germans!”

Still, let’s assume Kim is not suicidal. This implies that his threats are bluff. Could be. After all, bluffing Americans worked well for his father. I am concerned about the possibility of his miscalculating, and miscalculating in particular the resolve of an angry America, of an America that has been attacked, or where the administration thinks it’s about to be attacked. I am much more worried about Kim in this respect than I ever was about the Soviet Union or about Cuba. There are two major significant differences.

First, what’s the likelihood that Kim has advisers who are both well informed and trustworthy? This is a man who executed his own uncle with an artillery piece. (You read this right.) This is a man who assassinated his own brother with poison a few months ago. He did it with maximum brazenness, in a public place, outside the country he rules. How would you like to disagree with such a man? How would you like to incur his displeasure by allowing him even to suspect that you don’t share his vision?

Second, people in general commonly become prisoners of their ideology. (Watch the millions of liberals who have not come around six months later to realizing that Democrat identity politics lost them the 2016 elections – plural.) Totalitarian ideologies may make one an especially severely restrained prisoner, one laden with heavy thick cognitive chains. If you accept this premise, you must ask what’s the likelihood that Kim, or his generals, or his surviving and cowed civilian cabinet, are sufficiently well informed to gauge correctly eventual American responses to his provocations? Many Americans and, I think, the bulk of the European intelligentsia still don’t understand why Mr Trump got elected. The same people don’t understand him at all (although he is easy enough to understand for those who frequent bars in the US). The Soviets were always well informed about the US. They had hundreds or thousands of English speaking agents who did nothing but study America. The Cubans totalitarians were, and are still even better informed, for obvious reasons. Anyone who would dare make the bet that Kim knows what he is doing is insane or he/she knows something important that I don’t know and would like to know. (Tell me now, please.)

The libertarians’ responses I am aware of are, in the end, based on the same false premises as the liberals’: 1 He does not mean it; 2 There is always time for talk. No need to point out, I think, that we don’t l know if he does not mean it. In general, when someone keeps saying he wants to kill you, you should give him your full attention, in case he does mean it. And then, we did talk to that deadly regime for twenty years. In 1994, on his own, Pres. Clinton went into an agreement with North Korea to supply that country with energy in return for its closing its bomb-capable nuclear facilities. The N. Koreans promptly cheated. There were other peaceful attempts. (See Wikipedia.) Pres. Clinton and several of his followers’ pacific efforts gave North Korea the space to develop nuclear devices and missiles that now make the country a realistic deadly threat to the US. How long do you try the same thing when it keeps coming back and biting you in the ass?

By the way: There is much talk of pursuing “diplomatic” avenues with Kim in preference to bellicose ones. That’s complete nonsense. Does it imply talking to Kim so he becomes nicer? Does it imply that we find something that he wants and that we can give him? Oops, we tried this. (See above.) Does it mean that we should threaten Kim only quietly? That strategy makes sense in general but not with him. The American response to Kim’s threats must be muscular, loud, clear, and colorful. The reason is that we don’t know what information N. Korea’s ruling circles receive. We must do the utmost to insure we get trough. Somewhere in that country, there is a quartet of generals who have recovered from ideological infestation and who want to see their grandchildren grow up, irrespective of Kim’s mental condition and miscalculations. At this point, they are our best hope, they and single bullet to the head.

China is not worried or motivated enough to help, it appears. The Chinese Communist Party, that astonishingly successful mafia, could almost certainly live with an old-fashioned but calm military dictatorship on its door-step. It would be less likely than the current N. Korean regime to trigger unwanted events from which China would also suffer. The Chines ruling group is well informed. It knows this.

Those who are unable to think coolly about such things should not worry about the likelihood of an American nuclear first strike. It’s just not in the cards because of the extreme vulnerability of both South Korea and Japan. If we are hit first though, all bets are off and I hope the South Koreans and the Japanese are aware of this. It might motivate them to become more active than they appear to be right now.

There are other vigorous solutions to avoid war without submitting. I described one on my Facebook page a couple of days ago. (“An answer to my own question,” posted August 9 2017) We seem to be collectively paralyzed by fear and suffering from a dearth of imagination. Now, that’s really dangerous.

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The Riots in Jerusalem Explained

Big, violent riots in Jerusalem (July 22-23 2017). Last week, three Arabs Muslims with Israeli nationality killed two Israeli policemen in Jerusalem. Reminder: All of Jerusalem is under the control of Israel, has been since 1967. Before that, under Jordanian rule, Jews were banned from the Old City. The broader city today has a diverse population that includes Jewish Israelis, Muslim Israelis, a few Christian Israelis, Palestinian Muslims, a handful of Palestinian Christians, plus a constant flow of visitors from abroad. In addition, most Palestinians from the adjacent West Bank are allowed to visit on a controlled basis, for religious purposes only.

Israel gained control of Jerusalem in 1967 the same way the Muslims did in the seventh century: Military conquest legitimized by Sacred Scriptures.

As we all know, Jerusalem is a sacred city to several religions including Judaism, Christianity and Islam (by order of historical appearance). At the center of the preoccupations of the three monotheistic religions is a place called the Temple Mount. It’s the spot known as the last Jewish temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD (or “Common Era”). The supposed last vestige of the Jewish Temple standing is the Western Wall (also, “Wall of Lamentations” for Jews) where Jews from everywhere, including Israel come to pray. The Christian Gospels show Jesus visiting the same temple several times including shortly before his crucifixion. Muslims revere the area because the Prophet Muhammad is said to have started there his whirlwind “Night Visit” to Heaven. It’s so important to Muslims that they built there not one but two mosques after they conquered the city in 630. One of the two mosques, the Dome of the Rock, is supposed to have been established over the place where Abraham sacrificed his son (one of his sons, not the same son, depending on which religious tradition).

Now, Jews are forbidden by Israeli law as a well as by some rabbinical religious decisions to visit the area occupied by the mosques. It is administered jointly by a Muslim clerical organization and by Jordan (Reminder: Jordan is an Arab country with a peace treaty with Israel.) Two consequences. First, frictions between Jewish worshipers and Muslim worshipers in the area are rare although they pray within a stone throw of each other. (Metaphor not chose at random.) Second, the top of the Temple Mount, the largest part of the area where the two mosques stand, is very seldom visited by Jews at all. It’s overwhelmingly used by Muslims, day in and day out. Repeating: If you threw a stone in the air on an average day while standing in that area, it would fall down on a Muslim or on no one at all. (Christians seem to not be much interested in visiting that particular spot.)

Following the assassination of two of its policemen last week, Israel took common sense security measures against repeated acts of terrorism in the Temple Mount mosques area. By the way, the two Israeli policemen assassinated were not Jews. They were Druze, people whom some Muslims consider Muslim and many not. No one, at any rate, thinks Druze are Jewish. The fact is that the assassinated police officers were working security in or near an area frequented by devout Muslims, rather that one of the many more numerous Israeli Jewish policemen (or worse, policewomen). This suggests to me that official Israeli policy was reasonably alert to Muslim faithful’s sensitivities.

The Israeli authorities took two new security measures (amazingly late in the game, if you consider the volatility of the area). They installed both surveillance cameras and metal detectors on the access points to the mosques esplanade. That’s was precipitated the rioting and yet more deaths, plus, the formal declaration of the Palestinian Authority that it was stopping all contacts with Israel (of which, more later). Now, I can sort of understand the Palestinians’ objection to the cameras. Many must imagine that Israel will use the film to spy on them further although it’s difficult to see how or what that would accomplish beside identifying criminals after the fact. The metal detectors are the same tools in place in almost every airport in the world. They can help intercept guns and knives.

Refer back up to the description of who spends time in the mosques area: Muslims. So here you have it: Palestinians, who have to be almost all Muslims, are rioting violently to protest security measures that will protect…Muslims. What serves as their government, the Palestinian Authority, cuts off contact with Israel also in protest. But Israel acts as a customs office for the said Authority. It collects monies on its behalf and faithfully hands them over. Palestinians protest common sense Israeli action that protect them by making it even more difficult for their government to do its job. By doing so, they create more of a vacuum, that Israel will, of necessity, have to fill.

Some Palestinian leaders think that if they force others to shed Palestinian blood very publicly, the world is going to take pity and come and impose the kind of settlement they want. The calculus is going on seventy years old. If you keep doing the same thing over and over again and it never works….

A personal note. I have had several Palestinian friends; they were easy to like for their warmth, for their courtesy, for their generosity. That’s on the one hand. I also think Palestinians are victims of history; that they have been paying for seventy years for the crimes of others. On the other hand, I have not much appreciated the Israelis I have known. They tend to have the smoothness of raw alligator skin, pretty much what you would expect of people reared in a garrison state. Politically, however, it’s very hard to be a friend of Palestinians. You try  and try, and then, they go and do something insane like this.

In case you wonder: I am not Jewish, never have been. I was raised a Catholic and I have been religiously indifferent as far back as I remember. I know my Bible pretty well (Old and New Testament). I try to study the Koran. It’s tough going because I am usually told that the translation I can understand is not legitimate. I am familiar with the Hadith second-hand (like most Muslims actually because few know Arabic).  I listen to Tariq Ramadan, a cleric or a philosopher connected to the Muslim brotherhood who speaks beautiful French and who seems to have made it his mission to explain Islam to intelligent and educated infidels. (That would be me, for example.)

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