Belmont Club

Journey in the Dark

The really pernicious thing about political correctness is that often completely fake.  It was recently reported that the FBI was building crime maps based on the distribution of Muslims because they found the correlations useful to detect certain kinds of crimes.  Now it turns out that the NYPD has been tracking Muslims who change their names on the not entirely fanciful idea that they are up to no good.

Since August, an Associated Press investigation has revealed a vast NYPD intelligence-collecting effort targeting Muslims following the terror attacks of September 2001. Police have conducted surveillance of entire Muslim neighborhoods, chronicling daily life including where people eat, pray and get their hair cut. Police infiltrated dozens of mosques and Muslim student groups and investigated hundreds more.

Monitoring name changes illustrates how the threat of terrorism now casts suspicion over what historically has been part of America’s story. For centuries, foreigners have changed their names in New York, often to lose any stigma attached with their surname.

The Roosevelts were once the van Rosenvelts. Fashion designer Ralph Lauren was born Ralph Lifshitz. Donald Trump’s grandfather changed the family name from Drumpf.

We all remember the touching scenes from the 1940s movies when someone called Antonio turns to his buddies in the landing craft before the hitting the beach and says “if I get it, remember to bury as me as Tony, I’m an American now!”  But today when Daood Gilani becomes David Coleman Headley the NYPD have been apt to take a different view.  “David” isn’t fixing to become American. He’s a-fixing on killing some.  Not that there isn’t something in this, though it is complicated: the NYPD has apparently gotten Muslims ex-militants to admit that they’ve changed their names to “lay low” or to increase their chances of getting a job.

Given this background it was ironical that an administration appointee, Department of Homeland Security Advisory Council member Mohamed Elibiary, may have tried to infer a pattern of Islamophobia in Texas in order to provide a source for a left-wing magazine hit piece on Rick Perry. Patrick Poole of PJMedia reported that Elibiary went on a fishing expedition, came up with nothing and had his article rejected by the left-wing outlet into the bargain.

Texas Department of Public Safety officials are asking questions following a report that Department of Homeland Security Advisory Council member Mohamed Elibiary may have been given access to a sensitive database of state and local intelligence reports, and then allegedly shopped some of those materials to a media outlet. He allegedly used the documents to claim the department was promoting “Islamophobia” — claims that the media outlet ultimately rejected. They declined to do the story.

Now Perry must be a bigot because he’s from Texas. But the FBI and the NYPD are only doing their job. Why? Because that’s how Central Casting has decreed it works. Given the real behavior of the NYPD and the FBI, one might be forgiven for thinking that the way the game is actually played is that any agency can be as “Islamophobic” as necessary as long as it doesn’t look that way.

It is the non-PC appearance of an act, not the act in itself, that is the crime. Guantanamo, bad but extraordinary rendition, good. Handling Korans without gloves, bad but zapping people dead in countries in which no state of war exists by drone, good. War, bad but kinetic military action, good. A world without nuclear weapons, bad but an Iran with nukes … well let’s talk about it. And so forth and so on. Our cultural has performed the ultimate trick: it has created stereotypes about stereotypes.

The importance given to spin was underscored by secret government meetings that were held to convey the impression of transparency. “The meeting’s purpose was to train Freedom of Information Act officers from federal agencies how to respond to FOIA requests, including tips on resolving disputes over what government documents can be made public.” One bright idea was to create a two-track government, one meeting for the record and another one for keeps. The other brainwave was to create a license to lie.

A longtime internal policy that allowed Justice Department officials to deny the existence of sensitive information could become the law of the land — in effect a license to lie — if a newly proposed rule becomes federal regulation in the coming weeks.

The proposed rule directs federal law enforcement agencies, after personnel have determined that documents are too delicate to be released, to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests “as if the excluded records did not exist.”

The whole point is not to be transparent but to make the rubes think that government is transparent. One might wonder what other lies are in the works, but if the public simply wanted the truth, shouldn’t they just ask the President? After all he wouldn’t lie to the American people, now would he?

When I wrote the Three Conjectures years ago, it was premised on the argument that a politically correct system would simply paper over problems until things got out of hand and then it would act with extreme prejudice overnight. Like the Soviet Union, a politically correct polity would announce things were getting much better each year until it collapsed. Multiculturalism will be working just great right up to the eve of the day when they announce the wholesale destruction of the Muslim world or the mass deportation of immigrants back to their home countries.

That is of course, an extreme example, but it is characteristic of how systems in denial work. Such systems have two tracks: the one for public consumption and the one for internal consumption. The version for public consumption is based on the “noble lie”  and the version for internal guidance is based on secret and classified memoranda. It is an extremely dangerous method of governance which assumes that the Guardians, or the Philosopher-Kings — someone at any rate — will eventually be reasonable, even in a system where reason is secret. Ayn Rand once likened the method of the “noble lie” to “the theory of the Nazi ruling elite”.

The better approach would be to let it all hang out and let the sunlight of fact disinfect the debate. Western societies should frankly admit that Islam poses a problem and engage the public in open discussion over what should be done.  Maybe the idea will be openly refuted and we shall all, by exposure to the evidence, admit to error where it exists; maybe we will all realize that things are worse than we thought.  However that may be, the results are likely to be far more rational and humane than a politically correct approach which denies all difficulty up until the moment when the whole thing blows up.

The first step would be to demolish all unnecessary hate speech codes; the second to identify radical and violent doctrines (and not the inoffensive ones) as an ideological enemy and see where that goes. Those who are afraid of an open process should ask themselves why the alternative is better. If they believe a system of dual-track government and sanctioned lying is superior because our sensitive souls are spared the sight of the truth, then what is the reason? But we may need a disaster to convince ourselves that the truth after all, will set us free.

In fairness to the bureaucracy, many of these “noble lies” were crafted to facilitate the conduct of diplomacy or adopted as realpolitik expedients. How could one do business with the Saudis unless one were prepared to put the best construction on their national ideology? But now the reverse problem emerges. The Arab Spring is bringing down all the “partners for peace” and the challenge is now how to represent Islamic thugs in the “freedom fighting” ranks as true democrats. Perhaps this calls for yet another “noble lie”. And then why not another, and another?

But sooner or later the truth has an uncomfortable way of wriggling free. Like a spring, the more you push it down the harder it will recoil on the day it escapes. And while policy may survive the odd tactical falsehood, it can never be fundamentally based on a baldfaced lie.  While we may withstand the odd carnivorous bloom in the garden, letting a forests of fibs spread wildly through the landscape is probably a bad idea.  There is a public policy benefit to conforming plans with some semblance of reality. Too far into the depths of darkness and one can never find one’s way back.


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