Tag: Pulse Shooting

Why We Fight; and How We Will Win

no to terroris

When philosopher Erich Fromm introduced George Orwell’s novel 1984, he warned readers that the book was not about the Soviet Union and life under communism.  1984 was about the West, about democracy and the ease with which it can turn itself into dictatorship by succumbing to fear and hatred.  The novel was Orwell’s warning that in the conflict between the western democracies and the communism of the Eastern Bloc, both systems would become less distinct, more like each other.  Eventually, in fighting an ideological struggle, democracy would become more ideologically orthodox, more totalitarian.  Communism would for its part borrow ever more the Western language of liberation and freedom.  Orwell and Fromm both argued that, in ideological conflict, the main danger is not being defeated from the outside by the enemy.  The main danger is that in fighting their enemy, each side will assume the characteristics of the other until the struggle becomes only a semantic excuse for a fight over power, pure and simple.

The US has entered a new ideological struggle, this time against ISIS, an incoherent network of extremists who share a radical perversion of Islam (arguably an anti-Islamic vision), who have opened their arms to the disgruntled peoples of the world in the hopes of fomenting violence against their enemy.  ISIS’s enemy is the Muslim community; a community whose nations universally reject the pretended “state” and its “message.”  The Muslims of Syria and Iraq have formed an even more incoherent “alliance” of sorts, with Shi’a and Sunnis fighting seemingly side by side (or at least against the same opponent) to dislodge ISIS from its power base.  That power base was constructed in the vacuum of power created by Bush’s dissolution of the Iraqi Army in 2003.  The base was greatly strengthened after the Arab Spring, which briefly united many Arabs and Muslims of diverse beliefs and political views against corrupt governments like that of Egypt and brutal dictatorships like that of Syria.  ISIS called on extremists to reject the democratic principles that some Arab leaders promoted during the Spring, and instead to embrace a doctrine of fear, anger, and hatred toward those outside of their bubble.  They have warred against minorities like the Kurds and Yazidis, they have foisted a rape state of brutal sexual slavery upon women, and they have even looted and destroyed Arab, Muslim, and Christian cultural landmarks for profit and for attention.

Furthermore, as ISIS’s initial success in capturing a territorial base has now resulted in an alliance of forces steadily taking back that territory from them, ISIS is turning ever more to a strategy of “decentralized terror” against external forces predominant in aiding their chief Muslim enemies, especially Russia, Western Europe, and the US.  ISIS has reached out to other extremist groups throughout the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere to create an image of a “network” of groups that were already using terror to war against the forces of reason and community.  This network is a momentary alliance of groups that have shifted their alliances among groups like al Qaeda, and represent not a growth of ISIS, but an “alliance” of convenience between groups already extant and active.  Finally, ISIS has called on those outside the organization to “come to the dark side,” to commit terror in ISIS’s name regardless of their lack of actual connections to the organization.  This call has been answered in places like Paris, San Bernardino, and Orlando, where disgruntled people suddenly proclaimed “allegiance” to the group, an “allegiance” eagerly accepted by ISIS as a cost-free means of confusing their enemies into thinking that they are more widespread, embedded, and powerful than they are.

ISIS is using these tactics to build a regime of hatred, racism, and fear.  They hate Muslims who are not committed to their vision; and they of course also hate infidels and foreigners for the same reason.  They perpetrate racism against groups within and near their area of control in Syria and Iraq, and they perpetrate rape and slavery against women.  They work strenuously to frighten those in their base area to remain quiet about the extremist “state” that they are trying to establish, and to frighten those outside their power into doing their bidding.  Their chief external aim is to force other societies into more extreme anti-Muslim positions, to convince Muslims that their only viable option for retaining their Muslim identity is to embrace ISIS radicalism.  Those foreign leaders who do ISIS’s bidding; who follow ISIS’s game-plan by fomenting suspicion, fear, and hatred of Muslims; are helping to prop up ISIS’s failing outhouse of orthodoxy, and are keeping ISIS’s enemies from achieving victory.  Those leaders are building, both in their states, as well as in ISIS, a larger world dis-community of hatred, racism, and fear.

This is the enemy against which the US is poised.  In view of this enemy, Orwell’s and Fromm’s arguments from 1984 have become no less relevant today than they were in 1948.  In fighting ISIS, some like Donald Trump have sought to do exactly that which ISIS requires of them, and exactly that against which Orwell and Fromm warned us.  Trump seeks to “fight” ISIS by transforming the US into another version of ISIS, to transform the thing ISIS hates into the thing ISIS is trying to build:  a world regime of hatred, racism, brutality, and fear.  Trump followed the recent Orlando atrocity not with kind words and praise for the victims, but with calls for ever more astringent measures directed solely at Muslims, exactly the response ISIS hopes such actions will inspire.  Trump could not have followed ISIS’s playbook more faithfully if he were directly in their pay.

The response of Democrats (and even some Republicans) to Trump’s partnership with ISIS, however, reflected the better angels of America’s “shining City on a Hill.”  Democrats like President Obama and Secretary Clinton, and Republicans like Senators Bob Corker and Lindsey Graham, condemned Trump’s inexcusable partnership with our enemies, declaring that the US was not about to turn aside from its historical legacy of building a greater community from diverse peoples, or from America’s record of taking in refugees and immigrants as new builders of our nation.  The legitimacy of our City is best exemplified in the fight with ISIS by a specific strength which Trump even denied without any factual basis.  The FBI has repeatedly reported that the American Muslim community continues to serve as the nation’s best early warning system against terror attacks, helping enormously to keep such incidents to a minimum.  Trump simply ignored our law enforcement and intelligence specialists, and the abundantly available facts, blaming Muslims for not supporting law enforcement or working with the government.  These unfounded verbal attacks by Trump on Muslims, for not doing exactly what our intelligence and law officials say that they have been doing exceedingly well, are not only “uninformed” or ridiculous.  They are seditious, slanderous, and dangerous to our established, effective, and functioning security system.

During the Cold War, the US on any number of occasions succumbed to the temptations of Orwell’s warning.  The US blacklisted Communists (real and alleged), imprisoned some just for their political views, maintained surveillance against civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., put out of work people who espoused nonconformist views as when Muhammad Ali was denied his boxing awards and credentials for his anti-war views.  Ultimately, however, such tactics did not weaken the Soviet Union, strengthen the US, or lead to any victory.  Instead, the Soviet Union was weakened by democratic forces eating away at it from the inside, by pin pricks of republican values as Americans engaged with the Soviets in travel, commerce, and science.  The US welcomed Soviet citizens seeking refuge like writers Vladimir Nabokov and Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, who became leading voices for Soviet nonconformists seeking an alternative vision for their society.  It was the best liberal traditions of our City on a Hill that pushed the Soviet Union over the cliff, not the worst moments of emulating our adversary.  Our victory over ISIS, once we have achieved it, will be no different.  Becoming like unto them will only strengthen them.  Our best liberal values are exactly what ISIS is working to undermine; and extremist thugs like Trump who help them will not “win” anything other than a fuller ISIS entrenchment.

Our liberal traditions, the vision of the City on a Hill, are Why We Fight; but they are also how we must fight if we are to win, and if a victory is to mean anything other than a closer partnership with our enemies.

Headline image posted on imamsonline.com, “Islamic Scholars Must Unite to Combat Extremism.”

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Despotism, and the Second Amendment

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Despotism – the exercise of absolute power, especially in a cruel or oppressive way.    – Oxford English Dictionary

Consider a despot; one who practices despotism, who seeks to exercise absolute power over others, especially in a cruel or oppressive way.  Despotism is sometimes used as one of the arguments by advocates of the Second Amendment on why the US needs that amendment.  The possession by the people of their own arms aids, many have argued, in checking despotism, in preventing tyranny.

Certainly the American Revolution demonstrated a need for the amendment.  A people with their own weapons formed the Continental Army, defeated Great Britain, and established the British American colonies’ independence.  Thirteen new states arose, each with its own independent militia.  The immediate post-revolutionary suspicions against central authority pressured the framers of the Constitution to include an amendment guaranteeing the states’ rights to form militias and to enable their members to bear arms.  That amendment was the second of the twelve submitted to be ratified.

The American Revolution was fortunate in that it included leaders like George Washington, who was practically offered a dictatorship by men such as Alexander Hamilton.  American political leaders themselves acted (Hamilton, perhaps, notwithstanding) as patriots and refused to build a tyrannical government from the passionate forces sweeping the new nation.  Shortly after the American Revolution, the French Revolution exploded, and ran into an entirely different direction.  In France, the Revolution crafted a tyranny out of the popular revolts that far surpassed the despotism of the French Crown against which they rebelled, sending tens of thousands to their deaths.  Ultimately, the French Revolution also birthed the imperial power of Napoleon Bonaparte.  Quickly the French Revolution proved that popular revolution is not, by definition, liberal, empowering, or anti-despotic; the people themselves perpetrated, in the name of the “people in arms,” the gravest despotism that the Age of Reason had seen, and then elevated an imperial dictator.

A century after the end of Napoleon’s rule, armed revolutions tore through Russia, itself an unapologetically despotic regime.  Demoralized by war and hunger, the Tsar’s peasant army shouldered arms and went home – many taking their rifles (and more powerful weapons) home with them.  The February Revolution saw armed peasants and workers and revolutionary parties talking down the demoralized forces of the Tsar’s remaining forces in the capital, until the revolutionaries had full control of the city.  There was virtually no army in February 1917 capable of resisting the revolution; not because of lack of weapons or ammunition, but because of lack of will.  The popular forces of the revolution, the “people in arms,” used not bullets or bayonets, but facts and arguments, to defeat the Tsar’s forces and establish the Provisional Government.  However, in little time, after the Russian government refused to end the war and to distribute land and food supplies, more extreme forces, the Bolsheviks especially, used their own elite popular fighting forces (select, trained units of factory workers, the Red Guards) to defeat the forces of February.  Again, with little initial bloodshed (and the heavier firepower of a cruiser, the Aurora), the Bolsheviks took power in October.  Again, the “people in arms” triumphed – and in little more time, sent not just tens of thousands but millions to their deaths.

In Germany, after the end of World War I, popular forces of the Left fought popular forces of the Right.  There was little in the way of an effective army, as Germany’s military had been stripped to the bone by the Versailles Treaty.  Ultimately, the “people in arms” shot and bullied their way to power in the Reichstag; and President Hindenberg gave Adolf Hitler the Chancellery in the hopes that Hitler would form a coalition government with more centrist forces, defeat the Left, and establish order.  Establish order the “people in arms” of the Nazi Sturmabteilung did – a new order, the Third Reich, sending yet even more millions to their deaths.

In Iraq and Syria, following the end of World War II, popular Arab street forces (including forces that would coalesce into the Ba’ath Party) fought each other for power; and from these battles between the various Arab “people in arms” emerged Saddam Hussein and Hafez al-Assad, two of the fiercest despots seen in the Middle East.  After President George W. Bush’s “mission” was “accomplished,” the defeated Iraqi army disintegrated, and melted into the countryside as soldiers and officers took their weapons with them.  They would soon create a putative Islamic State, one of the formative groups later constituting the group referred today as ISIS.  These “people in arms”have become proficient in exactly the skills one might expect: they kill, oppress, rape, and destroy.  Time after time after time, the free availability of weapons among the people, the “people in arms,” ends with predictable results: despotism, rape, torture, murder, and war.

If this strikes the reader as pessimistic and depressing, the bright side is that despots can be defeated; but it is not best done through force of arms.  Mahatma Gandhi took India out of the British Empire through peaceful means of civil disobedience; and Martin Luther King, Jr. used the same tactics to bring civil rights to the US.  Across the Soviet bloc, from the late 1980s to 1991, Communist states which controlled weapons possession as strictly as they controlled everything else, saw peaceful revolutions toss Communist governments aside one after another (Romania was the one exception, where the government opened fire on demonstrators, and the army soon joined the revolt against the government and the Securitate).  While continued economic problems have begun to eat away at the democratic governments formed through the “Rainbow Revolutions,” the people without arms managed to do in all of these cases what people in arms cannot: change society and government, peacefully, into something better.

With despotism being, itself, a product of over-arming a population, American Second Amendment advocates have a tough sell indeed to prove that weapons possession “checks despotism.”  In just the past year, numerous American despots have in fact materialized, armed to the teeth by the Second Amendment.  These despots have not been checked by the Second Amendment, or by private armed citizens; they were enabled by the Second Amendment, and they are private armed citizens.  Dylann Roof sought absolute powers of life and death over the members of the Emanuel AME church, sought to oppress the African American community with fear and hatred and cruelty.  He was not a man in power, but just a radicalized youth manipulated by an unfettered conservative media, and armed with weapons easily acquired in a society eager to enable such acquisitions.  But wishing to exercise absolute power, oppressing minorities, Roof definitely qualifies as a despot.  Certainly his surviving hate-mates of white supremacism continue to seek a despotic seizure of power.  Robert Dear, the shooter at the Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs, similarly sought to oppress women and all poor people depending on supports like Planned Parenthood.  Another person in arms used these very arms to push, violently and despotically, an extremist agenda on the nation.  The San Bernardino shooters also used weapons to attempt, despotically, to change our nation into a more extremist, anti-Muslim regime that would push moderate Muslims into the arms of ISIS.  And most recently, Omar Mateen used legally acquired weapons and the tired tactics of despotism and violence to pursue the same mission in Orlando, this time targeting specifically the gay community.  None of these despots (and make no mistakes, as separated from legitimate political authority as they were, all of these criminals pursued despotism and were, by definition, despots) were “checked” by the Second Amendment.  They were brought down (arrested or killed), after succeeding in generating terror, not by a “good [civilian] guy with a gun,” but by good policemen.  All of these despots had their arms enabled by the Second Amendment and by the relaxation of laws on certain types of weapons.

It will, of course, be argued that, lacking access to firearms, American despots could resort to other tactics like the suicide bombers of Palestine, or the bombs of Timothy McVeigh and the Alabama bombings of the 1960s.  Indeed, halting easy access to weapons does not eliminate extremist ideas, or the occurrence of extremist actions.  But there are reasons why alternate tactics are not used while weapons are plentiful and easily acquired.  Such weapons generate the desired results of terror and death, and of personal empowerment for the despot.  The simple fact that they are the tools of choice for despotism should itself be the leading argument for limiting access to them.

The Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments of the Constitution secured a diversity of rights for American citizens.  But the Second Amendment has secured a right unlike all of the others.  With the exception of the Second Amendment, virtually all of the rights protected by the amendments are “participatory” rights, which enable us to contribute to the political environment.  Free speech, religion, the press, voting rights, trial rights and protections from the law, protection from slavery, equality of rights, all give Americans access to the political system and enfranchise us with civic responsibilities.  Only the Second Amendment produces no “participatory” right, but only a “right of denial,” denying the government a specific power over individuals.

Until 2008, the courts largely did not really consider the Second Amendment as even a “right of denial”; the amendment was not thought to actually guarantee any individual any inherent rights.  Instead, the awkwardly ambiguous “militia” clause was historically the dominant clause, determining the court’s view that gun “rights” did not exist in their own outside of states’ rights to form militia forces.  All of this changed with District of Columbia v. Heller; and the NRA has been pushing federal and state courts, federal and state legislators, federal and state executives, as well of course as private citizens, to forget 220 years of constitutional and court history, and to forget the militia clause.  The NRA continues to push the Heller interpretation of the Second Amendment.  They do this, they say, as “the nation’s longest standing civil rights organization,” and “as America’s foremost defender of Second Amendment rights.”

The NRA’s apparent defense of the Constitution might be laudable, were it not for their overwhelming preference for and financial contributions to Republican legislators (since 2010, NRA support for Democrats has steadily declined to roughly 1% of their total contributions).  They prop up a party universally hostile to minorities, to women (the nation’s actual majority), to families and marriage equality, to voting rights, to protection from religious tyranny, to letting courts and juries determine punishments to fit specific instances of crime.  All of these participatory rights are fought and limited and chiseled away, one piece at a time, by a party supported unreservedly by the NRA with its pretenses of “defending our civil rights.”

What is the solution to the problem of violence and despotism in America, to the protections afforded to despots by the Second Amendment?  The Second Amendment is, indeed, not going away in the foreseeable future.  There are over 300 million privately held firearms in the US.  Like our nation’s wealth, these weapons are steadily concentrating into fewer hands, each with greater arsenals, but as of 2015, 31% of households in the US had at least one firearm.  Private gun-owners in the US fall almost evenly onto both sides of the partisan divide.  An actual repeal of the Second Amendment is itself not a realistic option for the immediate future; far too many Americans are simply opposed to such a repeal, and that opposition is firmly bipartisan.  Nonetheless, an additional amendment clarifying the language of the Second Amendment could potentially reattach the gun right to the militia clause, as it was in the past, so that as with all of our participatory rights, gun rights could be limited where they conflict with the public safety.

Ultimately, to some extent, we Americans are going to have to get more comfortable with the need for public safety to override certain gun rights, pure and simple. We have constricted the rights to free speech, to the press, to religion, to all other rights whenever such rights become dangerous to other people or to society as a whole.  Gun rights are no different, except that the danger is not theoretical as in the case of “yelling ‘fire’ in a movie theater” for free speech.  The danger of firearms is far too real, and can be easily quantified by caliber, impact velocity, and rounds per minute.  This nation has before exercised a ban on weapons like the modified military rifles preferred today by despots.  It is ludicrous to suggest that such a ban would not work today, as it has worked before, and in fact quite recently.  The nation can implement a “self-disarmament” law that does not punish gun-owners for clinging to their guns, but does reward those who turn their guns in to the police for destruction.  Stricter gun controls do not have to require the government to “come for our guns,” but they can still reduce the possession of lethal technologies by people not professionally trained or authorized by the public for their use.  Such a “buy back” measure helped to reduce murder rates, actual firearms crimes, and absolute crime incidents in Australia by substantial numbers, even while the population increased from 18 million to 23 million.

Publicly, we the people need even more to disarm the NRA, an actual threat to our safety rather than the individual hunter or the rape victim seeking to protect herself with a self-defense piece.  Without enhancing our governments’ own potentials for despotism, we the people need to take our governments back from special interests that interfere with our liberty and our safety.  The NRA does not represent in good faith even its own members (for example, in fighting against increased background checks which 74% of NRA members support), or gun-owners (with almost half of them being Democrats whose other rights the NRA fights by supporting Republican legislators), let alone the American public.  We need to hold our legislators’ feet to the fire for taking NRA contributions and for supporting an anti-safety agenda.

Finally, we can use the methods that have always worked to check despotism:  the political process, voting, and civic action.  We the People must push our local, state, and federal governments to restrict weapons possession by suspicious persons, restrict arsenal sizes, restrict types of weapons shown to be preferred tools of despotism, and even to deny outright such rights to certain persons (people on no-fly lists, people with histories of hate-crime arrests, people affiliated with known hate groups, etc.).  The American public has to accept that the Second Amendment has been twisted far past the original intent and conditions of the framers.  The Second Amendment is enabling despotism, not checking it; and to combat against the growing threat of despotism, we need first and foremost to disarm that threat.

Headline image from “Podcast: A Reasoned Debate About the Second Amendment” (National Constitution Center, October 22, 2015).

Utah’s Spencer Cox on the Pulse Massacre

On June 13, 2016, Utah Lt. Governor Spencer Cox spoke out about the massacre at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando.  He uttered a strong message of love, using powerful words, especially for a Republican; and his stance defies the sheer hatred and fear of Donald Trump’s ignominious reaction to the shooting.

KSL.com of Utah posted the YouTube video together with a transcript of the address.