Friday, June 17, 2016

Say the Magic Words

The right-wing obsession with politicians -- particularly, of course, Democratic politicians, who are always and forever having to prove their loyalty to this country, never to any avail -- using the phrase "radical Islam" to describe incidents of domestic terrorism, is nothing short of pathological. It is the lapel flag pin of this decade. They are as pathetic as Stallone saying "cup my balls, say my name" to an extra giving him a blowjob in his trailer. (Best hot mike incident ever? Yes. Best. Ever.)

Any attempt to tease out the practical ramifications of the obsession with this magic phrase is almost certainly wasted motion, yet reveals much about the people who insist on it. Obama, of course, has wisely resisted their imprecations, for the same reason that we don't (officially, at least) negotiate with terrorists. (HFC, on the other hand, had no problem with rightly throwing the phrase right back in their faces.) You delegitimize yourself when you give idiots equal standing, or validate their moronic arguments.

And it is, to say the very least, a moronic argument. For one, it changes nothing -- we are still conducting daily bombing raids on ISIS, as well as coordinating Special Forces ops in the region, with Kurdish troops in the north and with Iraqi Army units further south. It's not going to change the fight, it's not going to change the intensive screening process for immigrants from that region, and it's not going to change the people who are already here.

The biggest factors active in these domestic terrorism incidents, Orlando and San Bernardino in particular, are the First and Second Amendments, and our collective unwillingness to budge on either of them.

The (let's call them) phrasers seem almost intentionally ignorant of the dynamic going on here. They seem to think that ISIS groomed them back in Syria, gave them their missions, and snuck them here through a sieve-like immigration process. Per usual, John Robb could enlighten them on how this really works:

These attacks show it's now possible to turn online supporters into a self-activating terrorist without heavy investments in individualized social grooming. This is accomplished by:
  • turning the effort required plan, prepare, and execute a terrorist act into a ritual of initiation.  Initiates are expected to undertake this effort on their own, without support.
  • turning the act itself into a forum for a public, online declaration of fealty -- an extremely potent medieval loyalty pledge made by knights to their lords -- to the Caliph of ISIS.  This pledge is made public (both attackers used Facebook to publicly pledge fealty to al Baghdadi) at the moment of the attack to maximize the meaning to the attacker and the audience.  Think of it as social media performance art.
  • immediate acceptance into the ranks of ISIS.  Inclusion in the group and acceptance as a vassal by the Caliph.  In other words: ISIS has found a way to provide social belonging and meaning through an online activation process.
So the phrasers have their meme exactly ass-backwards here -- these nutjobs are doing their deeds entirely of their own volition. They are "inspired" by what ISIS is doing in the sense that they see coverage of it on the internets (democratized information technology -- in other words, the First Amendment), and decide to expiate their demons thusly, self-actuated martyrdom in murder-suicide.

Only Drumpf has proposed -- opaquely, like every other of his proposals -- "closing down" these volatile quadrants of the internets, as if the US somehow has complete control of every word and image coming and going. Hey, maybe he wants to use the Chinese system as a model. That should work just swimmingly. Whatever the case, if someone has a proposal to filter what potential mass killers might see and hear on the internet, let's hear it.

More problematic is that other amendment. With the bodies barely cold, hick music merchant Ronnie Dunn showed the world that he is apparently either illiterate or just plain stupid, with his insistence that Obama "implied" that domestic terrorism would "stop if guns are taken away." Nowhere in the President's statement is this true, nor even implied -- what Obama said, quite explicitly, was that gun control laws need to be reviewed, and possibly changed, in order to prevent psychopaths from getting their hands on machines that are designed to fire dozens of rounds every minute.

That this important distinction is lost on an idiot like Dunn (and to be fair, there are more than plenty of idiots just like him, with no reading or logical comprehension at all) is no surprise; it's not even surprising that the usual professional political suspects can't or won't parse the difference. But it's the key to the whole thing. I doubt if any serious politician thinks that guns could be taken away in this country, or even that it would make a huge difference.

But reasonable background checks and waiting periods should not be in dispute, and if someone is on a terrorism watch list or the no-fly list, they should not be able to buy a gun, period. Are you on that list "unfairly"? Well, just like getting a $20 photo ID card so you can vote, maybe you better take a look at yourself, and your so-called life, figure out where the fuck you went so wrong that this is the big difference-maker in the trajectory of your moral universe, and find a way to fix the problem.

Now, there are a few areas and entities on which the magic phrase can be used to some effect. What do the San Bernardino and Orlando shooters have in common, besides being Muslims? Well, they all visited Saudi Arabia within the past few years. I wonder if that might have anything to do with anything.

There seems to be a toxic triangle (if you will, and hey, you just might) in the region that tacitly or explicitly supports ISIS efforts in the region, if reports are to be believed:  The Saudis are providing funding and ideological support; the Gulf states are paying them protection money; and Turkey is selling their oil and providing them with weapons. Is their radicalism fueled by Islam, or is their particular brand of Islam fueled by radical thought? Does it really matter at this point?

So, uh, maybe it's time we started leaning on them. If we are approaching energy independence, and Europe is getting most of its energy from Russia, can we (and Russia) start pressuring these countries with economic sanctions, force them to be accountable for what they're doing? As long as we have a free and open internet (which we should, to a reasonable extent; some things, such as child porn, are rightfully banned and aggressively prosecuted), and a largely unrestricted access to dangerous amounts of firepower (which sorely needs to be addressed, but almost certainly won't be), we are going to continue to have these all-too-common bursts of unbridled violence.

And until enough people see that there's a mental health crisis and a gun crisis, as much or even more than a "radical Islam" crisis, we'll keep circling around the same dumb questions, fixating on the same useless phrases.

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