Belmont Club

Choose Your Fascism

Donald Trumps proposal to bar Muslims from entering the US is, as Senator Ted Cruz points out, manifestly wrong but also emotionally resonant.   Amy Davidson of the New Yorker came face to face with this contradiction after noting the approving crowds which cheered Trump’s plans in South Carolina on Monday night.  How can a wrong idea be resonant?

The first datum to acknowledge is that Trump is not a entirely alone in his views.  A large part of the French electorate has taken leave of its senses just like Trump.  The National Front has made spectacular electoral gains in France, partly on the back of what the New York Times calls the “fear of Islam”.

Marine Le Pen, the president of the far-right National Front party, was parlaying fear of Islam, migrants and open borders into political support. Now, with France angry and in mourning, she is seizing the opportunity to expand her appeal and show her clout, underscoring how far-right messages are resonating across Europe.

“France and the French are no longer safe,” Ms. Le Pen said in a speech the day after the attacks, demanding a crackdown on Islamists in the country.

Salon’s Ben Norton asks if “France going fascist? Extreme-right National Front is now the most popular party.”  As if in answer, the Huffington Post writes that “from Poland to Switzerland, Norway to the Netherlands, far right and anti-immigration parties are enjoying relative success at the polls and are securing prominent positions within coalition governments – if not governing alone.”

Back to the question: how can a wrong idea be resonant?

If the only explanation for Trump’s ‘Islamophobia’ is bigotry or mental deficiency a better one is needed to account for the data. A much simpler explanation for the fear which drives the Trump crowds is a loss of confidence in government assurances that they will keep the public safe.  Ben Sasse of Nebraska made perhaps most eloquent case for truth as our real shield against bigotry and hatred. “We are most certainly at war with militant Islam,” Sasse argued, and the administration’s inability to make this distinction probably puts ordinary Muslims in the line of suspicion.

Eugene Robinson made a passing acknowledgement of public fear when he allowed that America might be alarmed at Obama’s recent “courageous” admission that the nation had cancer after years of declaring it in good health.

“A cancer that has no immediate cure” was not the most soothing metaphor President Obama could have chosen, but it was the most honest. He has no idea how to prevent another terrorist attack like the one in San Bernardino — and neither does anyone else, including his Republican critics.

The president used that somber phrase in his Oval Office address Sunday to describe what “many Americans are asking.” The answer was implicit: Yes, that is indeed what we face, and the cure for the disease will take time.

Robinson should have added that patients who are told for months their cancer was only a “JV team”; that the disease had been contained or in remission only to be told it had no immediate cure are bound to lose confidence in the doctor.  Almost as bad in the patient’s mind as the diagnosis of cancer will be the patient’s regret at all the time wasted imbibing Rattlesnake Oil. You can see why people might turn in despair to Dr. Trump after all the good they got from Dr. Obama.

The desire for a moratorium on Muslim immigration may be driven less by a distrust of foreigners than by a deep suspicion of the Obama administration’s screening procedures which have so signally failed.  Yet after all these fiascos the administration demands ever-greater powers to spy, not only on the NRA but on Muslims too!

They not only want your guns, they want your messages also.  The Atlantic notes the “troubling dog whistle on encyrption” in Obama’s Oval Office speech.

In the speech, the president called on Congress to formally authorize the use of military force against Islamic State terrorists, to enact a basic gun-control proposal, and to work out a system for stringent background checks for U.S. visas. But there was another policy proposal Obama mentioned briefly, which could have serious consequences for the way Americans use technology. …

“And that’s why I will urge high-tech and law-enforcement leaders to make it harder for terrorists to use technology to escape from justice.” …

With that last sentence, Obama seemed to allude to a long-simmering debate between the U.S. technology industry and law-enforcement officials over encryption—and he seemed to hint that he was finally choosing a side. …

For privacy advocates and security experts, the president’s allusion to encryption in a speech about terrorism is troubling. It’s a sign that the recent spate of highly visible terrorist attacks—at home and abroad—might lead to a renewed push for surveillance, like the one that followed the attacks of September 11th.

There can be no comparison between president Obama’s surveillance regime and that which followed the attacks of September 11. The current administration’s spy program is an order of magnitude larger. A 2014 article by the Intercept described president Obama’s massive empire of derogatory lists. He’s the Watchman, and his empire tries to watch everything.

Nearly half of the people on the U.S. government’s widely shared database of terrorist suspects are not connected to any known terrorist group, according to classified government documents obtained by The Intercept.

Of the 680,000 people caught up in the government’s Terrorist Screening Database—a watchlist of “known or suspected terrorists” that is shared with local law enforcement agencies, private contractors, and foreign governments—more than 40 percent are described by the government as having “no recognized terrorist group affiliation.” That category—280,000 people—dwarfs the number of watchlisted people suspected of ties to al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah combined.

Obama is Scylla to Trump’s Charybdis.  It’s a menace in itself.  Administration efforts to restrict the Fourth, Second and First Amendments are no less pernicious and as much to be feared as any attempt to restrict admission to the US on the basis of adherence to Islam.  As the blogger Ace of Spades put it, “think about this for a moment though. How many people who are deeply, deeply offended about keeping non-citizen Muslims out of the US think it’s perfectly fine to force Christian bakers to provide a cake for same sex ceremonies? ”

It is a false kind of hospitality that rolls out the red carpet to strangers only to direct them straight to the bugged room. It is a strange kind of anti-fascism that uses police state methods to enforce tolerance.  We live in a world of “friends and neighbors” only rhetorically. In practice we are well on our way to creating a penitentiary.

Fear is natural in the world of ghosts the Western elites have created through their deceptions.  They tell us not to worry but clutch at amulets and nostrums as if they were jumpy themselves. Rukmini Callimachi, writing in the New York Times, seriously argued that president Obama is basing his anti-ISIS strategy on an attempt to avoid fulfilling an Islamic prophecy which holds that “boots on the ground” would signal the last battle in which the infidel will be destroyed.

It is partly that theory that President Obama referred to in his speech on Sunday, when he said the United States should pursue a “sustainable victory” that involves airstrikes and supports local forces battling the Islamic State rather than sending a new generation of American soldiers into a ground offensive.

“I have said it repeatedly: Because of these prophecies, going in on the ground would be the worst trap to fall into. They want troops on the ground. Because they have already envisioned it,” said Jean-Pierre Filiu, a professor of Middle East Studies at Sciences Po in Paris, and the author of “Apocalypse in Islam,” one of the main scholarly texts exploring the scripture that the militants base their ideology on. …

“To break the dynamic, you have to debunk the prophecy,” Mr. Filiu said. “You need to do so via a military defeat, like taking over Raqqa. But it needs to be by local forces — by Sunni Arabs.”

That so far has been the approach of the Obama administration, which has armed as well as provided air support to a number of militias in northern Iraq and Syria, hoping to give a local veneer to the tip of the sword. The result has been mixed, with gains only in areas that are outside the main Sunni Arab strongholds that the Islamic State controls.

Is this brilliant psychological warfare or tacit acknowledgement the West has bought into the Omen?  Sasse had it right. The truth drives out fear. Americans can tell the difference between decent Muslims and Islamists, but only if you give them the facts. Eupemisms, falsehoods, prophecies — otherwise known as the Narrative — have served us ill.


itellu3times asks in comments:  “so, wretchard, you are now endorsing the idea that Islam is the religion of peace?”  It’s a fair question which deserves a straightforward answer.

Starting from the premise that “we are most certainly at war with militant Islam” it follows that anyone who pledges loyalty, belief or allegiance to a branch of Islam that substantially and materially fits that description should be considered hostile or at least suspicious.  One of the San Bernardino shooters attended and subscribed to the “Al Huda” school, notorious even in Pakistan.  Various other branches of Islam, variously described as Wahabi or Salafist, etc are similarly ill reputed and are well known to the intelligence agencies.

Government’s job is to define or create a process to identify the enemies of the United States.  That is the power to make war. That is the first duty and responsibility of democratically elected officials.  The next is to make it clear that anyone who adheres to these varieties of Islam shall be treated as having pledged allegiance to the enemies of the United States.  Citizens who convert to these beliefs or manifestly espouse such hostile creeds may be deemed to have renounced their citizenship.  On the other hand, Muslims who belong belief systems compatible with the Constitution should not be considered hostile and should be encouraged to struggle by peaceful or forceful means against these hostile sects.

The problem with Trump’s program is that it cannot be carried out unless the state fulfills its basic duty to identify the enemies of the United States, which the administration seems reluctant to do.  Otherwise who should be excluded? We should come out and name names.  And we can.  The problem isn’t that identification is too difficult, but that it is excessively inconvenient.  Too many Saudi, Gulf and Pakistani toes will be trod on, not to mention the president’s buddies in Iran.

Everything begins with identification.  Once the identity of the enemy is known, then the debate can begin over the proper, proportionate and just ways that should be adopted to combat them.  The Western elites want a muddle. Just now the New York Times has a story about Mickey Hicks, aged 8, who is on the no-fly-list and can’t get off it. What happens when you can’t identify the enemy is everyone becomes the enemy, which suits some people just fine. They don’t care about the peaceful Muslim — and they do exist in large, perhaps overwhelming large numbers.  They care about not antagonizing the violent sector among them for the tawdriest of considerations.

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