Wednesday, June 15, 2016

ISIS doesn't need Trump

For many years I blogged on politics at South Dakota Politics.  I put it away because it took too much time away from my research interests.  It was a wise decision.  In the interest of making biopolitics relevant to right now politics, I will begin offering a few more explicitly political posts here. 
I begin by saying that I am no supporter of Donald Trump.  I think that his nomination is the worst decision the Republican Party has made in my lifetime.  I think that his nomination (like the strong run of Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side) is a sign of the loss of confidence in traditional institutions that is evident on both sides of the Atlantic.  It is not hard to see why that loss occurred.  (I suppose I will have to put that paragraph at the head of every explicitly political post I make). 
David Ignatius begins his recent piece with this bit:
Even by Donald Trump's standards, his comments about the Orlando shooting have been reckless and self-serving. They are also dangerous for the country.
This is the exasperation of the political/media elite.  He can’t understand why all the villagers (instead of a very few of them) aren’t headed to Trump Towers with torches.  This is the way you think when you can’t understand how anyone could think any other way.  To see what a more reasonable approach looks like, try Meagan McArdle
Ignatius has some good news and some bad news.  Here’s the good news. 
Trump's polarizing rhetoric on this issue may be the best thing the Islamic State has going for it, according to some leading U.S. and foreign counterterrorism experts. The group's self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq is imploding. Its Syrian capital of Raqqah is surrounded and besieged; the gap in the Turkish-Syrian border that allowed the free flow of foreign fighters is finally being closed; Sunni tribal sheikhs who until recently had cooperated with the Islamic State are switching sides. The group's narrative is collapsing -- with one exception.
Maybe this good news is the real news; but if it is, is it really that the ISIS narrative is collapsing?  Isn’t the important thing that its battlefield position is collapsing? 
Here is the bad news:
The strongest remaining force that propels the Islamic State is the Islamophobia of Trump and his European counterparts, argue senior intelligence strategists for the U.S.-led coalition. Inflammatory, xenophobic statements about Muslims reinforce the jihadists' claims that they are Muslim knights fighting against an intolerant West. Trump unwittingly gives them precisely the role they dream about.
One wonders what evidence Ignatius has for the strength of this force, or how strongly “the Islamophobia of Trump and his European counterparts” really “propels” the Islamic state.  Is it really Trump that warms the heart of Muslim knights as they sing themselves to sleep?  Finally we get this:
Trump doesn't seem to understand that the real danger for the West is not the isolated acts of terror by disaffected youths, such as Mateen's massacre in Orlando. That's a threat to Americans, but one that can at least be mitigated some with better security and intelligence. The bigger nightmare happens if Muslims, as a whole, conclude that their community is under threat and respond as a group.
This is nonsense on stilts.  To see that, just apply the same reasoning to other animosities.  Do white people join the Klan because they think that Black people don’t like them?  No.  They join the Klan because they don’t like Black people.  Do anti-Semites because they think that the Jews really threaten them?  No.  They say that the Jews are a threat because they don’t like Jews.  Does ISIS rise and flourish because Muslims worldwide are deeply invested in the Republican primaries?  Ignatius gets it ass backwards. 
There is nothing that African Americans or Jews could do or not do that would satisfy their enemies.  To say otherwise is to buy into the race slander.  The position of the radical Islamists and their enemies (pretty much every living thing and a lot of non-living things like ancient statues) is exactly the same. 
The best analysis of prejudice is found in Plato’s Apology of Socrates.  On trial for his life, Socrates has to explain why so many people want him dead.  I interrogate them daily, he explains, and ask them about justice and truth and piety.  I expose them as ignorant about the most important things.  That is why they hate me.  But they can’t admit that, so they invent stories about me that aren’t true. 
I used to drive frequently through a little town in Arkansas.  On one side of the road was a well-tended graveyard.  On the other was a graveyard with overgrown grass hiding old stones.  Want to guess which was the White graveyard and which the Black?  What was the point of that?  The folks on one side lived and died believing that they could only keep what they had if they could keep the other side down.  That isn’t true, but it is what they thought.  So they make up stories about the other side: they are simple minded, they are just animals, etc.  That is how prejudice works, is Socrates’ time and ours. 
ISIS doesn’t depend on Trump or anyone else for their narrative.  They are capable of constructing it all by themselves.  Human political communities, from the earliest tribes, arose for purposes of offense and defense against other human beings.  As human cultures became more sophisticated, so did the narratives.  Our people are the people; our gods are the right gods.  As Nietzsche observed in The Genealogy of Morality, such narrative construction becomes much more problematic when your group is for a long time dominate by others.  The relative economic and political weakness of Islamic populations is one such problem.  ISIS is an attempt to build an empowering narrative under these conditions.  It is the underlying political and economic realities that drive the narrative, not the Donald. 
I close by noting that Ignatius view is just as insulting to Muslims, American and otherwise, as is Trump’s. 
The bigger nightmare happens if Muslims, as a whole, conclude that their community is under threat and respond as a group.
Why, exactly, should that be a nightmare?  American Jews have long had the sense threat their community is under threat and they have long responded as a group.  They organize, lobby, and vote accordingly.  The same is true of many other American communities, such as the Italians or my Irish ancestors.  The Chicago Irish may send a dollar to Sinn Fein now and then, but the only thing that gets bombed locally is the Chicago Irish.  Why does David Ignatius think that American Muslims are less civilized than that? 


  1. Recall that the Founding Fathers had deep distrust of the Roman Church, a point conspicuously absent in your essay, Doktor Blanchard.

    Good to see that you've evolved so propitiously, Ken. Martial on.

  2. AS usual, Larry, I have no idea what you are talking about. Good to know you are still out there.

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