Good Liberals vs Savage Nihilists

In every American community there are varying shades of political opinion. One of the shadiest of these is the liberals. An outspoken group on many subjects, ten degrees to the left of center in good times, ten degrees to the right of center if it affects them personally. Here, then, is a lesson in safe logic.
~ Phil Ochs, introduction to “Love Me, I’m a Liberal

I’ve grown impatient with liberalism or at least a particular variety of it. Maybe call it mainstream liberalism (e.g., Democratic partisanship), conservative-minded liberalism, or even reactionary liberalism. It is definitely liberalism, some might even consider it the primary example of liberalism, with its close kinship to classical liberalism. Whatever name is given, it is weak and inconsistent, an uninspiring example to say the least.

The advocates of it are the good liberals with their self-portrayed good intentions. And most of them do seem sincere about it. But from the perspective of comfortable lives, they ultimately are defenders of the status quo. In olden days, they probably would have argued for a Whiggish colonial worldview of progress (Manifest Destiny, converting the savages, etc) and they still tend to defend universal values and a globalist belief system based on neo-imperial neo-liberalism (promoting free trade, spreading democracy, etc).

The problem for this kind of liberal is this. Most of them lack the awareness to make these connections. Liberalism is centuries old now and its roots go even further back. It carries a lot of baggage that requires unpacking.

It’s taken me a while to more fully come around to this critical attitude. After all, I identity as a liberal. I’ve spent years defending the good name of liberalism from critics on both the left and the right. Yet I’ve entertained the possibility many times that it is a pointless battle. The word ‘liberal’ can seem meaningless, for all the ways it is used and abused.

My complaints here are hardly new. I’ve been fond of pointing out the problems of my tribe. I’m a liberal through and through, and for that reason I’d like to have a liberalism worth defending. But there is a particular kind of obtuseness and cluelessness that is found among the liberal class and they typically are of a class, only the libertarian demographic being wealthier than liberals on average. Thomas Frank, in Listen, Liberal, points out that they are the new professional class increasingly disconnected from the working class (even though the working class may hold a fair amount of liberal views, they don’t identify with the liberal worldview—as portrayed by the liberal class in the MSM).

One example I spent much time analyzing is Jonathan Haidt, with his typical liberal desire for everyone to just get along. This is a desire I share, except when the sentiment is used to compromise liberal values in an act of reaching out to those who don’t share liberal values. The main failing of Haidt is his mind being trapped in the mainstream paradigm of politics, leaving him oddly confused about what is liberalism and what makes the liberal mind tick.

Another example came to my attention, that of Kenan Malik, an author I’ve been casually following for a few years. That will be my focus here. In a recent essay (After Brussels: Once Again Thinking Through Terror), he discusses the terrorist attack in Brussels, Belgium. Something about it rubbed me the wrong way. Malik clearly stated his central premise and conclusion right at the beginning of the piece:

Contemporary terror attacks are not responses to Western foreign policy. What marks them out is their savage nihilistic character

There is something dismissive about this. It is more political rhetoric than cool, reasoned argument. It shuts down debate, rather than inviting discussion. The words chosen are intended to elicit emotion and incite reaction, to express the anger and frustration of the author and so bring the reader into that emotional space. Terrorism can have a way of closing down the liberal mind and, at such times, the liberal is drawn into the conservative worldview of us vs them (as research has shown: liberals who repeatedly saw tv footage of 9/11 attacks, as compared to radio listeners, were more likely to support the Bush administration’s War On Terror).

When Westerners kill innocent Arabs, it is justified military action. When Muslims kill innocent Westerners, it is terrorism and savage nihilism. Malik doesn’t put it so bluntly, which makes it all the worse, a soft-pedaling of prejudice.

Whether or not that is a fair appraisal of Malik, that was how it struck me. My first response to Malik’s essay was emotional. Skimming it, I intuitively sensed that it was more of an attempt to disregard a problem than to understand it, despite the stated intentions of analysis. The use of ‘nihilism‘ as a frame felt like a sledgehammer being brought down on my skull. So, yeah, I had a strong reaction.

It seems like a non-explanation. Most people who are nihilists aren’t violent. And most violent people aren’t nihilists. Simply concluding, based on no evidence, that Islamic terrorists are savage nihilists is the opposite of helpful. This offers no insight.

After some thought, I began to wonder what Malik meant by that word, nihilism. I was familiar with the basic sense of how it’s typically used. Most people use the word in indicating a lack of belief in meaning. And so to call someone ‘nihilistic’ is essentially to call them meaningless. This accords with Malik’s use of the word, as when he argues that, “This is not terrorism with a political aim, but terror as an end in itself.” He continues,

Terrorists often claim a political motive for their attacks. The trouble with much of the discussion of terrorism today is that it misses a fundamental point about contemporary terror: its disconnect from social movements and political goals. In the past, an organisation such as the IRA was defined by its political aims. Its members were carefully selected and their activities tightly controlled. However misguided we might think its actions, there was a close relationship between the aims of the organization and the actions of its members. None of this is true when it comes to contemporary terrorism. An act of terror is rarely controlled by an organisation or related to a political demand. That is why it is so difficult to discern the political or religious motivations of the Tsarnaev brothers. They neither claimed responsibility nor provided a reason for their actions. It was not necessary to do so. The sole point was to kill indiscriminately and to spread fear and uncertainty. Far from being part of a political or religious movement, what defines terrorists like the Boston bombers is their very isolation from such movements.

These terrorists supposedly lack all meaning, purpose, and reason. As such, they are the complete opposite of the Enlightened liberal. In the mainstream liberal worldview, violence is morally acceptable if and only if a good reason is given. Hundreds of thousands of people killed with good reason (e.g., Afghanistan War) is better than a dozen people killed with no clear reason at all (e.g., Boston Bombers).

The former is in defense of the liberal order (either as a supposed reality or an ideal to be achieved) and the latter undermines liberalism altogether. This ignores that the former easily can make the latter more probable. Actually, it’s not a matter of ignoring it. Malik acknowledges it, only to deny it. Westerners harming and killing millions of Middle Easterners for generations can have nothing to do with Middle Easterners committing terrorism in the West since 9/11.

It’s a total lack of context. Malik waves away the splintering of the Ottoman Empire after WWI, Western alliances with authoritarian regimes, overthrowing of governments, undermining of democracy and independence movements, promotion of theocracy, arming of para-military groups, military invasions and occupations, the endless drone attacks, failed neocon state building, neoliberal economic manipulations, neocolonial resource extraction, economic sanctions, food shortages and instability from droughts caused by climate change, mass unemployment and poverty, migration of refugees, xenophobic racism, ethno-nationalist nativism, European ghettoization of minorities, unemployment and economic problems in Europe since the Great Recession, etc. Nope. It’s just ‘nihilism’. There is a willful obtuseness about this.

As Patrick Cockburn explained (How politicians duck the blame for terrorism),

There has always been a disconnect in the minds of people in Europe between the wars in Iraq and Syria and terrorist attacks against Europeans… Separating the two is much in the interests of Western political leaders, because it means that the public does not see that their disastrous policies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and beyond created the conditions for the rise of Isis and for terrorist gangs such as that to which Salah Abdeslam belonged.

In After Paris, Malik writes the same sentiments that he repeats in other writings:

Such attacks are not about making a political point, or achieving a political goal – as were, for instance, IRA bombings in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s – but are expressions of nihilistic savagery, the aim of which is solely to create fear. This is not terrorism with a political aim, but terror as an end in itself.

He does admit that some terrorists are refugees. His argument, though, is that they aren’t the majority. That’s true. As I recall, something like 20% are refugees, which admittedly still is a large number. More important is the entire atmosphere. Even for non-refugee Muslims in Europe, they likely would be surrounded by and regularly in contact with Muslims who are refugees. In general, they’d be constantly reminded of the refugee crisis in the media, reminded of the public response of hatred and bigotry, and probably mistaken as a refugee themselves.

He is caught up in a typical liberal double-bind, unwilling to connect his liberal values to large issues, making it impossible for him to see what it means and so he ends up projecting meaninglessness onto terrorists. He can’t admit that normal people can turn to violence, often for normal reasons that are easily understood. He has to separate all issues as if they were isolated. Western foreign policies, climate change, refugee crisis, etc—none of this can be related to terrorism, and terrorism can’t be related to politics and religion in any way. It doesn’t even matter what the terrorists themselves say. We must not bring up the fact that, in the Paris attack, the terrorists openly stated concern about politics—a witness said: “I clearly heard them say ‘It’s the fault of (French President Francois) Hollande, it’s the fault of your president, he should not have intervened in Syria’. They also spoke about Iraq.” Terrorists in the attacks in Paris and elsewhere yelled “Allahu Akbar,” making their religious intentions known.

In response to a comment I made, Malik asked, “I wonder what ‘clear political message’ jihadists are sending to the West about its foreign policy when they slaughter 148 children in a Peshawar school, or kill dozens with a suicide bomb in a market in Beirut, or throw gays off a tower in Syria, or blow up a café in Morocco?” Well, he could simply pay attention to what the terrorists themselves say. Just because Malik doesn’t approve of their politics doesn’t mean they have no political motivations. What Malik denies is obvious to many others—such as Habib Siddiqui, from The Nihilistic Assaults on Paris, concluding that:

If we want a world in which human dignity is to be respected and honored, and human rights protected, our world leaders must learn to walk their talk. When they are silent about the horrible terrorist attacks in Turkey (that left approximately 128 people dead and 500 injured and in October) and Lebanon and are all agog about Paris, they send a wrong message. When they categorize Paris attacks as attacks on ‘civilization’, are we to interpret that the attacks in Beirut and Ankara were not against civilized people? Do French lives matter more than Lebanese, Turkish, Kurdish, and Yemeni ones? Were these not, too, “heinous, evil, vile acts”?” When they define Israel’s war-crimes on Gaza as acts of self-defense that is like mocking history, an insult to the memory of the thousands of dead Gazans, including hundreds of children, killed by the Israeli army. When their drone attacks against targeted individuals (the alleged terrorists) kill mostly unarmed, innocent civilians from Pakistan to Somalia, what they are committing are war crimes. Pure and simple! It is also an act of hypocrisy from a country that claims to be a firm defender of human rights and accountability.

Like many of the other colonial enterprises, the French society is imploding. Like the British and U.S. governments, it used the “civilizing” and “liberalizing” narrative to deny sovereignty, justify the colonization process and build an empire. Under Sarkozy, it defended the fallacy of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to support an illegal war. These “civilizing”, “liberalizing” or “national security” justifications were wrongful foreign policy narratives that have brought extensive suffering and had disastrous and long-term implications not only for the ‘other’ people in ‘liberated’ countries but also their own societies. As Malcolm X would say, the chickens have now come home to roost.

As long as the powerful governments fail to learn from its past mistakes they will likely perpetuate the long-lasting injustice of the area, obviate further atrocities, and prolong the suffering of entire populations. There is no escape from this sad outcome.

It also could be added that the Saudi Arabia, supposed friend and ally to the West, supports Islamic extremism. Yet Iraq which was a secular government that kept Islamic extremism in check was destroyed, allowing Islamic extremists to take over. Only a complete idiot wouldn’t see the connection to rising Islamic violence and the political significance of it all.

But Malik outright denies the validity of any external conditions and contributing factors in the larger world. There is just something different about these terrorists, he argues (After Brussels):

What draws young people (and the majority of would-be jihadis are in the teens or in their twenties) to jihadi violence is a search for something a lot less definable: for identity, for meaning, for belongingness, for respect. Insofar as they are alienated, it is not because wannabe jihadis are poorly integrated, in the sense of not speaking the local language or being unaware of local customs or having little interaction with others in the society. Theirs is a much more existential form of alienation.

This is a superficial way of looking at society. It doesn’t matter that, “The Kouachi brothers, for instance, responsible for the Charlie Hebdo killings in January were born and raised in Paris. So was Amedy Coulibaly, the gunman who, that same weekend, attacked a kosher supermarket in Paris and killed four Jews. Three of the four suicide bombers responsible for the 7/7 attack on London tubes and a bus were similarly born in Britain. Most of the 4000 or so Europeans who have joined IS as fighters have been European-born, and many have been professionals, and well integrated into society.”

Many European Muslims still experience the negative effects of xenophobia, racism, ghettoization, and other forms of isolation, exclusion, and prejudice. They aren’t treated as fully integrated by their fellow citizens. Simply being born in a country doesn’t mean most people will see you as an equal. It takes generations for assimilation to take place. Even after centuries, Jews and Romani have continued to struggle for acceptance and tolerance in Europe.

Malik’s belief that religion can be separated from racism is severely disconnected from reality (see Islamophobia: the othering of Europe’s Muslims by Hassan Mahamdallie). His confusion might come from his sympathy with classical liberalism. He has previously written (Strange Fruit, p. 87) that, “Enlightenment thinkers were less interested in the biological differences between human groups than in the distinction between civilization and savagery.” The problem is most people aren’t Enlightenment thinkers. In this age of highly advanced science, biological differences are an obsession for many and a basic framework for society in general.

Malik seems to want to put everything into cultural terms. To his mind, it’s not really religion or politics. It’s a shift in social attitude, a collapse of Western values. It’s civilization versus savagery. But he thinks he is being a good liberal by talking around the history behind this worldview. The English treated the Irish as savages not just because they were seen as uncivilized but because they were considered a racial other, even though biological theories weren’t entirely dominant at that time. It didn’t matter that the Irish were more white than the English, as this didn’t stop the English from calling them white gorillas and comparing them to other racialized groups of ‘savages’, such as Africans and Native Americans.

To return to Malik’s article on Brussels, he writes that:

The consequence has been the transformation of anti-Western sentiment from a political challenge to imperialist policy to an inchoate rage about modernity. Many strands of contemporary thought, from the deep greens to the radical left, express aspects of such discontent. But it is radical Islam that has come act as the real lightning rod for this fury.

This gives a hint at the historical context of thought being expressed. Nihilism is an accusation that has been directed at the radical left since the late 1700s. Malik makes a direct link here, as he claims that left-wing identity politics and outrage against modernity feed directly into the European Islamic identity.

It is irrelevant to his mind that many of these people are the children and grandchildren of Middle Eastern refugees. It can’t be acknowledged that many don’t have citizenship, living in a permanent stateless condition, not accepted where they live and unable to return to their homeland. Once a person is born into a place, the entire legacy of a family and their homeland becomes meaningless background noise. All of the history of racism, oppression, and violence explain nothing since the moment a new generation is born and learns another language they are instantly assimilated—so Malik assumes.

The demise of traditional opposition movements has led many to look for alternative forms of struggle, and created a yearning for God-given moral lines. […] Shorn of the moral framework that once guided anti-imperialists, shaped by black and white values that in their mind possess divine approval, driven by a sense of rage about non-Muslims and a belief in an existential struggle between Islam and the West, jihadis have come to inhabit a different moral universe, in which they are to commit the most inhuman of acts and view them as righteous.

Wake the fuck up! There was once secular opposition movements in the Middle East. And they were often inspired by a global movement of anti-imperialism and anti-capitalism, independence and liberation, self-government and social democracy. But in the proxy wars of the Cold War, these were destroyed by Western powers. Religious extremists were armed and theocracies were put into power, anything to defeat the threat of traditional left-wing politics. It was successful. And the impact has reverberated over the following generations. Without knowing this history, we flail around in the darkness of our own self-induced ignorance.

I bet most of those terrorists are a lot less historically ignorant than are most comfortable good liberals. I remember the first time I listened to a full video of Osama bin Laden explaining his reasons and motivations. I was blown away. He was extremely informed and rational. He laid it all out in great detail, all the things that Malik conveniently overlooks or dismisses out of hand.

It’s not that Malik’s argument is entirely without merit. I agree with some of the details. But those details can’t be understood without context. A central concern for him is identity politics:

The politics of ideology has, in other words, given way to the politics of identity. Because Islam is a global religion, so Islamists are able to create an identity that is both intensely parochial and seemingly universal, linking Muslims to struggles across the world and providing the illusion of being part of a global movement. Islamism, like all religiously-based ideologies, provides, too, the illusion of divine sanction for jihadists’ acts, however grotesque they may be.

Western ideologies of Christianity and capitalism have led to more oppression and deaths this past century than Islamic terrorists could ever imagine in their darkest fantasies. Neoliberals and neocons have globalist and universalist aspirations that are grander than any religion, even the imperialistic forms of Christianity out of which they formed. Large numbers of Westerners are willing to join the military and sacrifice their lives to attack Middle Eastern countries that never attacked them, never harmed their own families and communities. Now, that is a powerful belief system or simply powerful propaganda.

Plus, consider the situation in the United States. American Muslims on average are wealthier and more well-educated. But unlike in Europe they aren’t ghettoized nor racialized in the same way (we already have our racialized boogeyman with blacks). Maybe it should be unsurprising that per capita American Muslims commit far less mass violence than do native-born American whites. In the US, you’re more likely to be shot by a white terrorist and treated by a Islamic doctor, in terms of percentage of each population.

The same identity politics and decline of traditional politics have happened in the United States. In some ways, the loss of community and culture of trust is far worse here in the States. Yet Islamic integration seems more of a reality than in Europe. American Muslims apparently don’t feel disenfranchised and nihilistic, as Malik assumes they should feel. This undermines his entire argument, indicating other factors are more important.

Obviously, there is nothing inherently violent to either Arab culture or the Islamic religion. The Ottoman Empire was one of the great powers of the world, not particularly different than European empires. If any European empire with large contiguous territory (e.g., Russian Empire) had been defeated and demolished in a similar fashion and then artificially divided up as a colonial prize, we’d probably now have something in Europe akin to the present violence-torn Middle East. There is nothing that makes either region unique, besides the accidents of history. After WWI, the Ottoman Empire could have been left intact or even given assistance in rebuilding. In that case, none of the rest would have followed.

This is the common sense that defies so many Western thinkers today.

Still, I do think Malik has some of the pieces of the puzzle. He isn’t a lazy thinker nor entirely ignorant. Even leaving out the larger context, he is right that outrage against modernity and identity politics plays a role. But then again, none of that is entirely new. These are developments that are at least centuries old.

The present struggle for power among different Islamic groups echoes the past struggle of different Christian groups. Like the Middle East after the Ottoman Empire, Europe was in endless conflict following the fall of the Roman Empire and again with Protestant Reformation. It was a violent splintering along religious, tribal, and ethno-nationalist lines. Also, it was the the burgeoning of modern reactionary politics and militant fundamentalism.

It might be best to understand present fundamentalists as expressions of Corey Robin’s theory of the reactionary mind. Karen Armstrong explains (Violent Islamic radicals know they are heretical) that fundamentalism isn’t orthodoxy:

It is unrealistic to hope that radical Islamists will be chastened by a rebuke from “moderate” imams; they have nothing but contempt for traditional Muslims, who they see as part of the problem. Nor are extremists likely to be dismayed when told that terrorism violates the religion of Islam. We often use the word “fundamentalist” wrongly, as a synonym for “orthodox”. In fact, fundamentalists are unorthodox – even anti-orthodox. They may invoke the past, but these are innovative movements that promote entirely new doctrines.

This relates to Corey Robin making clear that conservatives were challenging the traditional order of the ancien régime. The reactionary, past and present, saw the ruling elite as having failed to defend against challenges from the political right. Their being reactionary, however, doesn’t mean that they are nihilists, at least not in the dismissive and simplistic sense. They are more obsessed with meaning that almost everyone else. And they know that they are outsiders, a social status of which they embrace.

It takes an outsider to see the problems of the system and force something new into being. But don’t be fooled by how the political reactionary embraces left-wing rhetoric and tactics. And, likewise, don’t be confused by how the religious reactionary flouts the rules and norms of orthodoxy. Even in their attack of its weaknesses, they are seeking to strengthen and not destroy the social order. They are forcing a response from the rest of society. And, in the case of the fundamentalist, maybe even trying to force the hand of God.

Some background would be helpful. Like the term ‘liberal’, the term ‘nihilist’ has a history that goes back to the early modern revolutionary era.

The first to label others as nihilists was Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, a Counter-Enlightenment reactionary. His criticism was that of Enlightenment thought and ideals, specifically of the radical Enlightenment. It was the view that rationality unmoored from faith, as speculative reason and radical skepticism, was dangerous and would lead to meaninglessness, moral relativism, materialism, atheism, fatalism, and atomized individuality (see atheism dispute for further info).

Jacobi was charged as being an unsystematic thinker. By stating that others were nihilists, it was his way of defending himself—in that, to his view, at least he believed in something. Belief was everything to him and so its opposite was nothingness, i.e., nihilism.

From the beginning, nihilism was directly implicated in political issues. Later on, it took on overt political form as a nihilist movement in Russia. It followed the mid-19th century freeing of Russian serfs. It led to revolutionary stirrings, not unlike what happened with how the land enclosure movement in England ‘freed’ the serfs from the land they lived and depended upon. The creation of a massive number of landless peasants, homeless and starving, tends to lead to problems.

The nihilists said fuck that shit! They didn’t know what kind of society was possible, but they were clear that the one then existing was horrifically oppressive and needed to go. The cup has to be emptied in order to be filled again. Heck, maybe just smash the cup and start entirely from scratch. They were skeptics of the highest order, especially toward the good intentions of the older generation of bourgeois liberals who were invested in the system. Nihilists were anti-authoritarians and so, at times, they were terrorists toward the ruling authorities.

It was Ivan Turgenev who popularized the term. Here is a passage from one of his novels, Fathers and Sons, where the anarchist and anti-authoritarian strain of nihilism is shown:

‘A nihilist,’ said Nikolai Petrovitch. ‘That’s from the Latin, nihil, nothing, as far as I can judge; the word must mean a man who … who accepts nothing?’
‘Say, “who respects nothing,”‘ put in Pavel Petrovitch, and he set to work on the butter again.
‘Who regards everything from the critical point of view,’ observed Arkady.
‘Isn’t that just the same thing?’ inquired Pavel Petrovitch.
‘No, it’s not the same thing. A nihilist is a man who does not bow down before any authority, who does not take any principle on faith, whatever reverence that principle may be enshrined in.’

Nihilists were and were not political, depending on what you mean by that. What they weren’t offering was a dogmatic ideology and a predetermined plan. They had no interests in replacing one set of unfounded beliefs with yet another. They didn’t know what was possible, but they thought it was worth finding out. Anyone who got in the way of their finding out simply had to be made to get out of the way, sometimes by whatever means necessary. They weren’t idle dreamers.

Nihilists were most closely aligned with anarchists. Toward the end of the 19th century, anarchists also became known for their terrorism, specifically of the bomb-throwing variety. Both of these were part of early anti-imperialist politics, which went hand in hand with anti-capitalist and anti-corporatist politics. Anarchists joined communists in the fight against fascism. Yet the old reactionary accusation of meaninglessness remained. Radical politics seemed merely destructive and some thought it wasn’t politics at all.

Malik fits right into this milieu. He is dredging up old ideological feuds, maybe even without knowing much about them. When one uses such words as nihilism, one ends up bringing forth more than maybe was intended. To label as nihilists those committing terrorism today is to strike a deep chord of history.

The same goes for when this gets combined with even more inflammatory words, such as savage and savagery. Like calling someone a nihilist, calling someone a savage had great potency in past times, particularly for liberals of the 19th century. It was on this basis that liberals inherited the reactionary tradition of the Counter-Enlightenment in defending Enlightenment values. In doing so, classic liberals could present themselves as the moderates in an age of social unrest and uncertainty.

This resonates with how Westerners still perceive Muslims. They are an Other, not quite fully entered into modernity and so not fully civilized. Malik is careful to not be so blatant as to call them savages, but the word gets applied indirectly. In relation to nihilism, this isn’t merely about what is outside the founds of Enlightenment rationality and liberal meaning. There is the edge of the apocalyptic to terrorism, even moreso when suicidal and not limited to simplistic ideologies.

The same could have been said of the Plains Indians who were revolting and terrorizing at the same time nihilists and anarchists were doing their thing. And indeed an apocalyptic mentality had come to dominate the society of the Plains Indians. The reason for this is that these tribes formed from the refugees of other tribes that had been decimated by genocide, war, disease, and starvation.

Like many Middle Easterners today, many Native Americans back then saw their entire world destroyed. They were apocalyptic because they had experienced apocalypse or were the children and grandchildren of those who had experienced it. These were people who felt they had little to lose. They were only nihilistic in the sense that the stable social order that had given their lives meaning was no longer functioning. Their future was bleak. Their ‘savagery’ was that of desperation and hopelessness.

To white settlers, these native freedom fighters were terrorists. The politics and religion of these oppressed people would have been simply incomprehensible. It probably seemed like meaningless violence, terrorism for the sake of terror alone. It is unlikely that most attacking Indians explained their motives to white society. Whites were left to try to make sense of it in what was happening elsewhere, from free soil militants in Bleeding Kansas to fiery abolitionists leading rebellions. As with Malik, it would have been easy to connect the violence of natives with the radicalism of left-wingers, and then to dismiss it all as nihilism.

All of these expressions of terrorism are the continuing repercussions and legacies of a long history of imperialism and colonialism. Without understanding this, Malik at times goes down pathetically simpleminded lines of thought, as was the case in a 2002 article (All cultures are not equal):

So the real question to ask in the wake of September 11 is not, as many have suggested, ‘Why do they hate us?’, but rather ‘Why do we seem to hate ourselves?’. Why is it that Western liberals and radicals have become so disenchanted with modern civilisation that some even welcomed the attack on the Twin Towers as an anti-imperialist act?

No one who has ever looked very deeply into the issues could ask these questions. Very few Westerners actually hate themselves. When I’m critical of my own government, it isn’t because I hate myself. I don’t hate my country and those who share this society with me. I hate that my government does horrific thing in my name and using my tax money. I hate that we don’t live up to our own values and ideals. Pointing out that the 9/11 terrorism was blow back from military adventurism.

I don’t think Malik is stupid enough to fully believe what he says. It’s a straw man argument—set it up and knock it down. He is using rhetoric to dismiss his opponents, rather than dealing with the actual issues at hand. I’d be more forgiving of his viewpoint, if he didn’t constantly fall back on this kind of intellectual dishonesty.

He is trying to promote a particular ideological worldview. From his perspective, the problem isn’t that Westerners—specifically among the upper classes in dominant empires/societies—view others as savages. It is only problematic when the wrong group gets labeled as such.

His is a liberalism that seeks to define and defend the boundaries of the liberal moral and social order, outside of which no meaning exists and so no respectable debate can occur. Since the Enlightenment, all of Western civilization is framed by liberalism, even conservatism. It is the basis of meaning for our society, and so much is at stake. To question and doubt this liberal order is to bring on an existential crisis for those invested in it. There is no one more invested in it than the good liberal who has taken it to heart. That appears to be where Malik is coming from when he uses ‘nihilist’ as a slur against the enemies of Western modernity, real and perceived.

This is about controlling the political frame and narrative, and hence to control public debate. This is explained by Roy Ben-Shai and Nitzan Lebovic in the book they co-authored, The Politics of Nihilism: From the Nineteenth Century to Contemporary Israel (Kindle Locations 156-160):

Nihilism comes from the Latin word nihil, meaning “nothing” or “nothing at all.” The argument presented in this volume is that nihilism (literally, “nothingism”) could function as a mirror image or a limit case to all forms of “legitimate” critique in the public sphere. Nihilism marks the point where critique becomes unacceptable, threatening, or simply “illegitimate.” This intrinsic attribute of nihilism was expressed even by the earliest usage of the term and that expression continues to this day.

There is one thing that jumped out at me. Malik’s argument borrows much rhetoric from the political right: moral relativism, Western self-hatred, etc. The nihilist allegation itself began as an attack on Enlightenment liberalism, oddly enough considering Malik’s own liberal position on Enlightenment values.

Interestingly, according to Corey Robin, it is the reactionary who borrows from the political left. I’ve considered the possibility that a conservative ultimately is a liberal turned reactionary. But what does it mean when a liberal turns reactionary by borrowing from the political right?

With this on my mind, I’m reminded of the connection of reactionary rhetoric to symbolic conflation. To explain symbolic conflation, the clearest example I’ve found is abortion. It is a visceral issue and emotionally potent, touching upon issues of life and death. For similar reasons, terrorism also is ripe for symbolic conflation.

If this is involved, then the explicit argument being made is hiding the real issue. And the issue hidden always involves social control. This fits perfectly Malik’s obsession with the civilized and the savage.

It also makes sense why he leaves so much unstated, for the power of symbolic conflation is how it obscures the source of its own moral imagination. It always points elsewhere and makes analysis near impossible. Complexities are condensed down to pithy talking points that are easily and mindlessly repeated. As such, savage nihilism isn’t meant to explain anything, even as it is meant to give the appearance of explanation. A symbolic conflation is a meme that lodges in the brain, seizing up all thought into a constrained focus.

The savages are attacking. We better circle the wagons. For those on the political right, this means how do we literally encircle our societies by controlling our borders and those who cross them. But for the good liberal, it’s less crude. Malik acknowledges that the savages are already among us. So, the good liberal advises that we must circle the wagons in our minds.

 

Climate Change, Refugees, and Terrorism

Climate change is already here.

We are past the point of preventing it, decreasing it, or even managing it well. There is nothing we are going to do about it at this point. What we will do is react to it, as it happens, crisis by crisis.

Politics are irrelevant. But no doubt there will be many speeches and much posturing, on all sides.

* * *

Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization
By Roy Scranton
Kindle Locations 860-888

“Consider: Once among the most modern, Westernized nations in the Middle East, with a robust, highly educated middle class, Iraq has been blighted for decades by imperialist aggression, criminal gangs, interference in its domestic politics, economic liberalization, and sectarian feuding. Today it is being torn apart between a corrupt petrocracy, a breakaway Kurdish enclave, and a self-declared Islamic fundamentalist caliphate, while a civil war in neighboring Syria spills across its borders. These conflicts have likely been caused in part and exacerbated by the worst drought the Middle East has seen in modern history. Since 2006, Syria has been suffering crippling water shortages that have, in some areas, caused 75 percent crop failure and wiped out 85 percent of livestock, left more than 800,000 Syrians without a livelihood, and sent hundreds of thousands of impoverished young men streaming into Syria’s cities. 90 This drought is part of long-term warming and drying trends that are transforming the Middle East. 91 Not just water but oil, too, is elemental to these conflicts. Iraq sits on the fifth-largest proven oil reserves in the world. Meanwhile, the Islamic State has been able to survive only because it has taken control of most of Syria’s oil and gas production. We tend to think of climate change and violent religious fundamentalism as isolated phenomena, but as Retired Navy Rear Admiral David Titley argues, “you can draw a very credible climate connection to this disaster we call ISIS right now.” 92

“A few hundred miles away, Israeli soldiers spent the summer of 2014 killing Palestinians in Gaza. Israel has also been suffering drought, while Gaza has been in the midst of a critical water crisis exacerbated by Israel’s military aggression. The International Committee for the Red Cross reported that during summer 2014, Israeli bombers targeted Palestinian wells and water infrastructure. 93 It’s not water and oil this time, but water and gas: some observers argue that Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” was intended to establish firmer control over the massive Leviathan natural gas field, discovered off the coast of Gaza in the eastern Mediterranean in 2010.94

“Meanwhile, thousands of miles to the north, Russian-backed separatists fought fascist paramilitary forces defending the elected government of Ukraine, which was also suffering drought. 95 Russia’s role as an oil and gas exporter in the region and the natural gas pipelines running through Ukraine from Russia to Europe cannot but be key issues in the conflict. Elsewhere, droughts in 2014 sent refugees from Guatemala and Honduras north to the US border, devastated crops in California and Australia, and threatened millions of lives in Eritrea, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda, Afghanistan, India, Morocco, Pakistan, and parts of China. Across the world, massive protests and riots have swept Bosnia and Herzegovina, Venezuela, Brazil, Turkey, Egypt, and Thailand, while conflicts rage on in Colombia, Libya, the Central African Republic, Sudan, Nigeria, Yemen, and India. And while the world burns, the United States has been playing chicken with Russia over control of Eastern Europe and the melting Arctic, and with China over control of Southeast Asia and the South China Sea, threatening global war on a scale not seen in seventy years. This is our present and future: droughts and hurricanes, refugees and border guards, war for oil, water, gas, and food.”

90. Francesco Femia and Caitlin Werrell, “Syria: Climate Change, Drought and Social Unrest,” The Center for Climate and Security, February 29, 2012. http://climateandsecurity.org/2012/02/29/syria-climate-change-drought-and-social-unrest/.
91. Colin P. Kelley, Shahrzad Mohtadi, Mark A. Cane, Richard Seager, and Yochanan Kushnir, “Climate change in the Fertile Crescent and implications of the recent Syrian drought,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, January 30, 2015. Early edition. http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2015/02/23/1421533112.
92. Quoted in Eric Holthaus, “New Study Says Climate Change Helped Spark Syrian Civil War,” Slate.com, March 3, 2015. http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2015/03/02/study_climate_change_helped_spark_syrian_civil_war.html.
93. International Committee for the Red Cross, “Gaza: Water in the line of fire,” news release, July 15, 2014. http://www.icrc.org/eng/resources/documents/news-release/2014/14-07-israel-palestine-gaza-water.htm. Ahmed Hadi, “Health crisis looms in Gaza after Israel bombs water infrastructure,” Al-Akhbar English, July 17, 2014. http://english.al-akhbar.com/content/health-crisis-looms-gaza-after-israel-bombs-water-infrastructure
94. Nafeez Ahmed, “IDF’s Gaza assault is to control Palestinian gas, avert Israeli energy crisis,” The Guardian, July 9, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/Earth-insight/2014/jul/09/israel-war-gaza-palestine-natural-gas-energy-crisis. Julie Lévesque, “Israel Steals Gaza’s Offshore Natural Gas: $ 15 Billion Deal with Jordan,” Global Research, September 06, 2014. http://www.globalresearch.ca/israel-steals-gazas-offshore-natural-gas-15-billion-deal-with-jordan/5399736.
95. Jeff Wilson, “Ukraine’s Wheat, Corn Face Mounting Drought Risk, Martell Says,” Bloomberg.com, March 5, 2014. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-03-05/ukraine-s-wheat-corn-face-mounting-drought-risk-martell-says.html.

* * *

What Will Become of the Climate-Change Refugees?
By Julian Spector

Climate change already affecting migration patterns around the world
By Renee Lewis

Climate change could already be displacing more people than war
By Jason Margolis

How Climate Change is Behind the Surge of Migrants to Europe
By Aryn Baker

Bill Nye Explains the Link Between Climate Change and Terrorism
By Matt Miller

Why Climate Change and Terrorism Are Connected
By Justin Worland

GROWING CONNECTION BETWEEN CLIMATE CHANGE, TERRORISM AFFECTS POLITICS
By Jack Martinez

New Study Says Climate Change Helped Spark Syrian Civil War
By Eric Holthaus

The Connection Between Global Terrorism And Climate Change
By Kimberley Johnson

The Link Between Climate Change And ISIS Is Real
By Joe Romm

Worried About Refugees? Just Wait Until We Dust-Bowlify Mexico And Central America
By Joe Romm

Heat Waves And Drought Are Already Having A Devastating Impact On Important Crops
By Natasha Geiling

Muslim vs Rightwing Violence

I was having a discussion on YouTube and terrorism came up.

Here are a couple comments from happykillmore88:

Wow that video and report are comical and sad. 45 muslem as opposed to 80 non muslem domestic terrorist activities. You have an instance ~30% of all domestic terrorist attacks being committed by one particular unified demographic of people and its doesn’t warrant interest because its not ‘pc.’ And you are seriously reporting to me as contrary to my view? If you want an educated opinion on muslims in America consult colonel allen west.

And…

right wing hate groups are a stratified remnant of a bygone era, and do not represent people like myself. Muslim terrorist activities are representative of the fact that it is statistically easier for a muslim to ‘misconstrue’ the words of the Quran. This is occurring at a per capita rate several times higher than in the EVIL RIGHT WING RACIST BIGOT PARTY and its growing because in America free speech is only ok if its pc anymore. Also when you label me a bigot I win.

The comment was in response to this video I shared with this person:

It’s the general ignorance of this person (happykillmore88) that bothers me so much. But, in his mind, if I point out the fact that he is an ignorant bigot, then he wins. Huh? Ignorance is bad and bigotry is bad, but there is something immensely worse when the two are combined.

I’ve noticed how rightwingers (and the media as well) tend to treat all Muslims as a single group. Any Muslim violence is the responsibility of the entire world’s Muslim community. If someone commits an act of violence an they are Muslim, it must be because they have a Muslim agenda and that somehow that Muslim agenda is inherent to all or most of Islam. Christians, on the other hand, commit acts of violence all the time and rarely does it get blamed on the entire Christian community or the entire Christian religion. Often it doesn’t get blamed on Christianity at all. Every Christian is unique and yet every Muslim is the same.

In reality, there is no singular Islam that unites Muslims all over the world. When a terrorist who is Muslim commits an act of violence, their reasons are diverse: personal revenge for loss of family or friends, perceived defense of their particular ethnic community or nation, to uphold the ideology of the sect they belong to, etc. Not all Muslims agree about anything, especially not about their ideological views of Islam. The Muslim in Afghanistan fighting US soldiers to defend his country and family isn’t the same as the 9/11 terrorists. Neither of those is the same as the oppressive Saudi royal family that is the ally of the US govt. And none of those are the same as the average upper class Muslim who has peacefully lived their entire life in the US. There is no Islam that is a “one particular unified demographic of people”. As such, there is no singular Muslim terrorism, just diverse acts committed by diverse people for diverse reasons. To think otherwise is the worst kind of bigoted ignorance.

Let me use an example on the non-Muslim rightwing side. Jim D. Adkisson who shot several people (and would’ve have shot everyone if he hadn’t been stopped) at a Tennessee UU church was a rightwinger. He shot the UU people simply because he hated liberals and gays (the exact same things Muslim rightwingers hate). That shooting incident only received brief media attention and most people probably don’t even remember it. If he had been a Muslim shooting those people because they were Christians or Americans, the media (especially and ironically, the rightwing media) would have obsessed over it for months and no one would ever forget about it. It’s a double standard even seen in the so-called ‘liberal’ media.

Consider Scott Roeder as another example. He was a Christian who killed Dr. Tiller for ideological reasons of stopping abortion. After the event, all over the web and in the media there were rightwing Christians who praised Roeder’s actions or who made excuses for it. I was shocked by how supportive so many on the right were of terrorism when it fits their own agenda.

Similarly, consider the recent hearing on Muslim radicalism and terrorism. It was started by Peter King who in the past has supported and helped raise money for the IRA which is a Christian terrorist group. The IRA killed many innocent civilians in shootings and bombings. The innocents killed included British who are our political allies and also an American. King has never renounced his ties to the IRA nor criticized the IRA’s terrorist acts. Also, to get back to an earlier point, no one in the US media has portrayed the IRA as representative of all Christianity.

The Muslim hearing demonstrates a problem within the media. The American Muslim community has helped stop many of the terrorist plans. The American Muslim leaders have numerously criticized terrorism. But the media ignores all this. Then those in the media wonder why we don’t hear about Muslims speaking out. Well, we don’t hear it because the media (including the ‘liberal’ media) rarely reports it and when reported it ain’t front page news. The best example of this involves the planned Islamic center some distance away from Ground Zero. The guy who has been promoting it is Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. He had been officially working with the government to help build bridges to the Islamic communities in the US and in other countries. He was doing exactly what rightwingers claim Muslim Americans aren’t doing. Even so, both rightwing and liberal media almost entirely ignored Imam Rauf’s activities until the plan of the Islamic center came to public attention. The Islamic center was designed with the intention of being a community center that would help the Muslim American community be less isolated. But rightwingers attacked the plans because Imam Rauf was a Muslim just like the 9/11 terrorists.

So, why do Christians get to build Christian churches and community centers near the locations of violence committed by Christians and the media says nothing? Why are Christians considered innocent until proven guilty but Muslims are tried in the court of public opinion?


To get back to the YouTube discussion, according to happykillmore88, “rightwing groups are a stratified remnant of a bygone era, and do not represent people like myself.” Let me break that down. Bygone era? The militant rightwing emerged strongly in the 1990s and only died down for a time after 9/11. The 1990s isn’t exactly a bygone era. Also, the rightwing terrorism of that time included the largest domestic terrorist attack in US history. Still, even after 9/11, rightwing terrorism was far from being insignificant:”The terrorism preventions for 2002 through 2005 present a more diverse threat picture. Eight of the 14 recorded terrorism preventions stemmed from right-wing extremism” Also, it should be noted that domestic rightwing terrorists (unlike domestic leftwing terrorists and like Muslim terrorists) have tended to pursue “targeting people.” And if you thought rightwing violent radicalism was decreasing in the US, you would be sadly mistaken:

Christian terrorism has returned to America with a vengeance. And it is not just Roeder. When members of the Hutaree militia in Michigan and Ohio recently were arrested with plans to kill a random policeman and then plant Improvised Explosive Devices in the area where the funeral would be held to kill hundreds more, this was a terrorist plot of the sort that would impress Shi’ite militia and al Qaeda activists in Iraq. The Southern Poverty Law Center, founded by Morris Dees, which has closely watched the rise of right-wing extremism in this country for many decades, declares that threats and incidents of right-wing violence have risen 200% in this past year—unfortunately coinciding with the tenure of the first African-American president in US history. When Chip Berlet, one of this country’s best monitors of right-wing extremism, warned in a perceptive essay last week on RD that the hostile right-wing political climate in this country has created the groundwork for a demonic new form of violence and terrorism, I fear that he is correct.

In the TYT video at the top of this post, Cenk Uygur was referring to info from Data on Post-9/11 Terrorism in the United StatesI noticed several important details in the report:

  • “The report is deliberately more inclusive of Muslim violent extremists. The Muslim dataset accounts for both U.S. and foreign-originated plots. The nonMuslim dataset is restricted only to U.S.-originated plots.”
  • “There were 80 total plots by U.S.-originated non-Muslim perpetrators against the UnitedStates since 9/11. In comparison, there have been 45 total plots by U.S. and foreign-originated Muslim perpetrators since 9/11.”
  • “Evidence clearly indicates a general rise in violent extremism across ideologies.” “Yet, there is little evidence of rising ideological extremism among Muslim Americans.”
  • “Muslim communities helped U.S. security officials to prevent over 4 out of every 10 Al-Qaeda plots threatening the United States since 9/11. Muslim communities helped law enforcement prevent three-quarters of all Al-Qaeda related plots threatening the U.S. since December 2009.”

The first point seems odd to me. I don’t know why they included foreign-originated Muslim plots but not foreign-originated non-Muslim plots. Even with that discrepancy, the domestic non-Muslim plots still outnumber almost by twice the Muslims plots with domestic and foreign combined. Unlike like rightwingers, there is little evidence that Muslim American extremism is increasing… and, in fact, Muslim Americans have been a major force in preventing terrorism.

It just seems odd and hypocritical that the media and politicians focus so much on Islamic terrorists when the worst acts of domestic terrorism have come from rightwingers who aren’t Muslim. The Oklahoma City bombing to this day remains the largest and worst act of domestic terrorism in US history.

The fact that the 168 deaths at Oklahoma were the result of Americans killing Americans in the name of America has made the incident in some ways harder for the nation to process than 9/11 and the less complicated enemy, al-Qaida. “It made a terrible difference that this was homegrown terrorism,” says Almon-Kok. “It left you with nothing to trust or believe in, apart from my faith that this city did everything it could in the aftermath, and that we have a legal system which, for the most part, works. But that doesn’t answer why fellow Americans wanted to come killing our kids.”

Perhaps this is why the Oklahoma bomb is not as centre stage in America’s collective memory as it should be. When Al Gore was interviewed about the extreme right by Larry King recently, there was no mention of Oklahoma. Coverage of last month’s arrests of militants belonging to an offshoot of the same Michigan militia that McVeigh belonged to omitted to mention the bomb, days away from its 15th anniversary. There is extreme awkwardness around this enemy within, but also current concern about reverberations of McVeigh’s cause: war against the American government.

Even with this horrific history of rightwing extremism and violence, rightwingers can get away with all kinds of statements that no other group could get away with. Hardly a day goes by where I don’t hear in the media or see online some rightwinger inciting revolutionary overthrow of the government, promoting the killing abortion doctors, suggesting President Obama needs to be eliminated, or some other equally incendiary rhetoric. Could you imagine the outrage if a Muslim American made the exact same kind of statements as do these rightwingers do on a regular basis? Could you imagine a Muslim American politician putting crosshairs on his/her opponents as Palin did? Could you imagine a Muslim American politician talking about 2nd Amendment remedies as did Sharron Angle? Could you imagine a Muslim American pundit praising, justifying or making light of the murder of an abortion doctor killed by a Muslim American? So, why is all this acceptable for rightwingers? Is it because the rightwingers see themselves as the majority, as “Real Americans” and therefore above the law, above common decency?

It really does seem to be a double standard of how American rightwingers and the American media treat minorities, whether the minority is Muslism or blacks or any other group. Frank Schaeffer noted this double standard in relation to how black Christians are treated differently than white Christians:

When Senator Obama’s preacher thundered about racism and injustice Obama suffered smear-by-association. But when my late father — Religious Right leader Francis Schaeffer — denounced America and even called for the violent overthrow of the US government, he was invited to lunch with presidents Ford, Reagan and Bush, Sr.

Let me go back to one part of what happykillmore88 wrote:

Muslim terrorist activities are representative of the fact that it is statistically easier for a muslim to ‘misconstrue’ the words of the Quran. This is occurring at a per capita rate several times higher than in the EVIL RIGHT WING RACIST BIGOT PARTY and its growing because in America free speech is only ok if its pc anymore.

Considering the actual data, what does he even mean by these statements?

How is it statistically easier for a Muslim to ‘misconstrue’ the words of the Quran? If you put a bunch of Muslims together, you’d unlikely find any more agreement between them than you’d find with a diverse group of Christians. When I hear statements regularly made by American Christians, I don’t think they have any statistical difficulty in ‘misconstruing’ the Bible to fit their ideological agendas.

How is Muslim ‘misconstruing’ occurring at a per capita rate several times higher than rightwingers? When someone uses ‘per capita’ in making a statement, it would seem they are referring to some specific data… but he offers no data. I don’t get how free speech isn’t politically correct anymore nor how being politically correct increases Muslim ‘misconstruing’ of the Quran which I guess then supposedly increases Islamic terrorism.

He seems to imply that my demanding factual correctness is somehow my forcing political correctness. This seems to be another case of rightwing projection. Rightwingers seem to believe it’s politically incorrect when someone states the actual facts about rightwing violence, but rightwingers are incapable of seeing this demand for political correctness in themselves. So, when someone points out that a rightwinger’s claims aren’t based in facts, it’s actually the other person who is being pc for not allowing the rightwinger to make false statements.

Oh, silliness.

For further data on rightwing violence and rhetoric, see:

The Second Wave
Nativists to ‘Patriots’
The_Second_Wave.pdf (pdf, 348.89 KB)
Insurrectionism Timeline
Anti-abortion Violence
Attack on MoveOn worker is just the latest example of right-wing violence
Conservative media figures have history of violent rhetoric
Violence vs Empathy, Indifference vs Unhappiness
Do Rightwingers Love War?

Afghanistan Occupation: Creating Terrorists

Here is further proof of a view with which I concur. Afghanis don’t want us or any other military force to occupy their country and their tribal lands. The longer we remain there the more we actively turn them against us.

Instead of decreasing the terrorist threat, we are polarizing them to allign with terrorists. By killing Afghanis, we create new terrorists. Every person we kill has a father, brother, son, cousin or fellow tribal member who quite likely will seek retribution.

Comment on Freed “Terrorists”

Here is my comment of this NY Times article:

Later Terror Link Cited for 1 in 7 Freed Detainees, by Elisabeth Bumiller

Of course, the obvious response is that this is a surprisingly low number. 

If these were actually all dangerous committed terrorists, then I’d expect the majority of them would return to being a terrorist.  It’s surprising that round 84% stop being terrorists.  It makes me wonder that maybe they never were terrorists in the first place. 

A better statistic to know would be how many people who weren’t terrorists before being imprisoned became terrorists after release.  Another useful statistic would be how many Iraqis who supported the US before the occupation became terrorists afterwards.

Other people’s comments:

Why is this surprising? Of course, people committed to a war would rejoin. Look at what our escaped or returned POW’s did during U.S. wars.

— Theron, Racine, WI

Less then the recidivism rate for US convicts being released from prison.

— David, Tn

Well, why would you not…if you had been tortured and treated like a dog? How could that not make you want to fight back? We bred this resistance and created terrorists even where there were none – Remember the rage and fight we all had in us after 9/11? Now multiply that feeling by 1,000 – and perhaps that is getting close to the rage and anger they must feel leaving Guantanamo after their lives, their dignity, their human and legal rights, and sometimes their families were stripped of them?

It is a terrible dilemma now what to do with these men – as I believe this statistic – but at the same time, we can only blame ourselves – and hope and pray that in the future we will maintain more dignity ourselves and hold ourselves to a higher moral standard – to prove them wrong – rather than proving them right – about our being worthy of the fight.

— Jennifer K, Providence, RI

How can you “return” to terrorism if you were never a terrorist in the first place? The people who were released from Guantanamo were never charged, tried or convicted of anything. Why? No evidence they did anything.

— Puzzled, Palm Coast, FL

This is a very misleading headline. And just what constitutes “returning” to terrorism. It is reported elsewhere that some in this count simply appeared in videos or condemned the US during interviews. If the majority counted cannot be verified then the statistic is suspect. You should have reported more honestly. Sounds like you have an axe to grind.

— tarry davis, norfolk, virginia

Really “returned?” That is agreeing with the last admin that they all ARE terrorists. Why not check our if some (or many…) only became militant AFTER what the stay in gtmo did to them…?

— rsb, Switzerland

Unreleased, unsubstantiated and anonymous report from an unnamed agency. Now this is the kind of information that anyone can use to make a rational decision about unproven and not made charges. After these people have been imprisoned and tortured without any due process why would these men become terrorists? Whoa that’s a tough one.

— HR Holmes, Ft Lauderdale

What is the big surprise ? Was someone expecting them to all go home and play scrabble ? This is silly to be talking about. Of course your going to have some of them returning to active military activities. Just deal with it and close Guantanamo Bay anyway. It is a disgrace to the values and principals of America.

— John Hartman, Bristol, Connecticut

Is the Pentagon admitting they released people they knew to be terrorists or dangerous to US troops? Or is the Pentagon saying they released people they didn’t
really know anything about, people who hadn’t been properly vetted before being transferred to Guantanamo and whom they determined, through illegal and flawed interrogations and with very little hard evidence, one way or the other, to be of no significant danger to the United States or our allies?

During and after the attack on Afghanistan by United States forces, a net was cast that caught all sorts of fish – Taliban soldiers and supporters of the Taliban government, ordinary Afghanistan civilians, travelers, humantiarian workers, government officials, members of Al Qaeda, people employed by Al Quada, mercenaries, soldiers and supporters of the Northern Allience, etc. Instead of properly vetting these people and releasing those who weren’t combatants, declaring the remainder to be prisoners of war, they were denied the protections of the Geneva Conventions and transferred to Guantanamo to undergo interrogations. In some cases, these interrogations involved techniques which were cruel, inhumane, abusive and humiliating. Techniques which are notoriously unreliable.

The claim that 1 in 7 released detainees “returned to terrorism” has no merit. Instead of trying to justify, support and continue inept and illegal methods of fighting the so-called “war on terrorism”, the Pentagon should admit that it has made huge mistakes – illegal arbitrary detention, illegal classifications, illegal interrogation practices – and learn from them. Making restitution to those it has wronged and making sure all their policies and actions adhere to the laws of the Geneva Conventions would be a good place to start.

For those still detained, either charge them with crimes and give them fair and impartial trials – “fair and impartial” being defined by international laws and standards – or let them go. If they cannot be released to their prior countries of citizenship or residence due to the danger of being unfairly jailed, tortured or killed, and no other country will take them, they must be released into the United States. That is not to say there cannot be stipulations to those releases, but released they must be. To continue to hold these people indefinitely is a continuation of the United States government’s lawlessness through violations against the Constitution of the United States, US Federal laws and
international laws.

— Mary Ellen Crowley, Waldoboro, ME

Recent statistics on recividism rates in the US: “67.5% of prisoners released in 1994 were rearrested within 3 years, an increase over the 62.5% found for those released in 1983”

Why don’t we just keep everybody in jail forever? That would prevent crime, only, we’d soon run out of enough people on the outside to watch over (and feed/clothe) those on the inside. It’s time to get this debacle behind us. Hurry up and try them, convict them if they’re guilty, and release the innocent who were picked up in mass sweeps. If some of them go back to the fight, so be it. That’s the price we pay for Bush’s folly.

— Tokyo2nite, Japan

My understanding is that this number has been changed by the Pentagon over fifty times. One in seven? How about a little investigation as to why this number is continually changing (for the worse)? I for one would really appreciate that.

— Alvin, Columbia, SC

Isn’t it really time that respectable media outlets define the word “terror” before they parrot the term in ways that are clearly meant to manipulate the masses?

— TJ, Arkansas

If 1 out of 7 is seen as a high enough ratio to warrant the prolonged imprisonment of people without charging them, I have an idea!

Let’s throw every Bush administration official in prison for 4 or 5 years, whether or not we can find anything on them — I’ve got $20 that says at least 1 in 7 violated some law during the past 8 years.

— TJ, Arkansas