Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Review: Fascism and Theater

The first time I watched a political convention to nominate and select presidential and vice-presidential candidates – I forget whether it was a Democratic or Republican one, it hardly mattered then, and does not matter now – I was astounded and not a little appalled by the sheer mindlessness of the event. There they were, hundreds of party delegates from all the states, a great slobbering mass worked up into consecutive bouts of noisy, frenzied rapture over supposedly charismatic nonentities whose platforms and speeches were measures of carefully crafted banality and skillfully inserted buzz words.

There they were, hundreds of adults of both sexes and various ages and sizes, wearing buttons and masks and funny hats and other goofy party paraphernalia, shouting and cheering themselves hoarse on cue in unison, forming conga lines and waving flags and signs, behaving as though they had all checked their brains, dignity and self-respect at the door. Which they evidently had. It was politics as a football game, it was a life-and-death matter of “our team” versus “their team” – all ideational content abandoned and replaced by raw emotion triggered by faces associated with particular sounds emptied of meaning.

The capacity for abandoning one’s mind and for taking orders from delegate leaders has always seemed to be an important qualification for being a convention delegate. On the convention floor a delegate was and is still expected to surrender his “autonomous inner man” or individuality and merge into a smothering, communal gestalt with his party colleagues.

It is well known that television game show guests and contestants are selected for their quotient of enthusiasm and ability to communicate it to and with an audience. By this measure, a political convention has any game show beat by a factor of a thousand. And the prize is not a fancy car or living room set or a Caribbean cruise or $100,000, but the White House and “our guy” sitting in the Oval Office. In such escapist moments, when delegates seem to undergo a kind of mass “out of body” experience, the candidate is reduced to a mere symbolic image, regardless of character or qualification. He is “it.” They become human counterparts of Pavlov’s dogs, able to bark and drool and froth at the mouth on command and at the slightest autosuggestion by an overbearing delegate whip.

This is “democracy” in action. It was and still is stage-managed theater. It has not changed at all from the first time I saw a convention on black and white television. Being caught in the middle of such a phenomenon would be as scary to me as being surrounded by a mob of Muslims carrying signs that read “Behead those who insult Islam.” One would be tempted to strike out at the maddened, sweating fools on the convention floor, only at the risk of being pummeled to death by delegates from Wisconsin and Idaho and Massachusetts and California. They would all plead temporary insanity, and get away with it.

After all, you had insulted their candidate, their Mahdi, their Thirteenth Imam. Their Savior. You deserved to die.

The religious hysteria, as an element of the phenomenon, is not coincidental, or an anomaly, or a fluke. It is part and parcel of modern convention behavior. It clearly was not a governing factor of the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Then, delegates brought their brains with them, they brought their principles and rectitude. Can you imagine the Founders wearing funny hats and chanting slogans and forming conga lines to press a point of Constitutional law? No? Is the contrast too ludicrous and obscene to contemplate? Yes. Each and every one of those men, even the villains and fence-sitters, was an exemplar of intellectual and moral decorum. Then look at the baboons and halfwits who are charged with selecting an individual whom they want to “run the country.” Their choices over the last half century or more are reflections of what transpires on convention floors.

Today, the catalyst for the hysteria is not an invisible deity, but a flesh-and-blood human being. With calculated “behavioral” conditioning (à la B.F. Skinner), and a willingness to submerge one’s identity in the collective, the sight and sound of a candidate can reduce these delegates to quivering masses of raw emotion. One almost expects them to fall to the convention floor, wreathing and shrieking in deliverance, and speaking in tongues like any Holy Roller. Call it Political Pentecostalism.

Reading Fascism and Theatre: Comparative Studies on Aesthetics and Politics of Performance in Europe, 1925-1945*, I was not surprised to find in this collection of essays similarities between the methods employed by Nazis, Fascists and Communists to create and sustain support for their régimes, and the methods by which the Democrats and Republicans recruit and maintain their hard core, registered voters, activists and especially their convention delegates, the ones charged with nominating their parties’ candidates – that is, the people responsible for foisting onto this country for the last half century or more a succession of fork-tongued demagogues and empty suits.

There are eighteen chapters in Fascism and Theatre, but only a few can be highlighted here. Some deal with the subject more successfully than others, but all discuss the role of “theater” in fascism. The term fascism is used generically in the essays to stand for Mussolini’s Italian Fascism, Hitler’s Nazism, and, to a lesser extent, General Francisco Franco’s Falangist or Nationalist régime, which was a tepid admixture of Fascism and Nazism. (Although Spain remained “neutral” during World War II, Franco approved of sending approximately 19,000 Spanish volunteers to serve in a special division of the German army, to fight exclusively the “Bolsheviks” on the Eastern Front, but not the forces of Western armies. Spanish troops fought with the SS during the Soviet taking of Berlin.)

The term theater as used in the essays means either extravagant mass events such as the annual Nuremberg rallies or the political subornation of high and popular culture, from operas to plays to folk festivals to suit or conform to fascist aims and purposes.

One indisputable characteristic of fascism is that its theater borrowed heavily from Christian and especially Catholic practices and rituals, selectively exploiting the emotional nature of religion. Roger Griffin, in “Staging the Nation’s Rebirth,” introduces this idea which is elaborated on in most of the other essays:

…[F]ascism, if it can seize power, is able to remain true to its core myth and legitimate itself only by generating an elaborate civic liturgy (or a ‘civic,’ or ‘political’ religion) based on the myth of imminent national rebirth. In the two cases where it managed to conquer the State, it rapidly developed characteristic rites and ceremonial, its own iconography and symbology, its own semiotic discourse, aping (but only aping) any established Church. [p. 25]

For Hitler and Germany, “rebirth” meant the resurrection of a Teutonic or Aryan state superior to all, and to rise from the ashes of the Versailles Treaty and the failed Weimar Republic; for Mussolini and Italy, it meant reviving the imperial grandeur of ancient Rome. Hitler and Mussolini, however, had first to concoct and propagate “myths” about the lost greatness of their countries, and then pose as saviors or messiahs who alone had the power to reclaim the greatness and lead their nations to glory. Propaganda ministries and bureaucracies were created in both countries to establish and enforce official party lines about a nation’s past, present and future the subjects of art or in plays, national holidays, and even in opera.

Much of editor Günter Berghaus’s contribution to the collection of essays, “The Ritual Core of Fascist Theatre: An Anthropological Perspective,” is flawed by psycho-babble and sociological semiotics, but much of it also is lucid and on-point. To wit:

Fascist parties rose to positions of power by gaining mass support and winning democratic elections. Millions of people were inspired by Mussolini and Hitler and developed a genuine enthusiasm for their politics, because they promised an answer to a need that was widely felt in different sections of the population. People were fascinated by what fascism proposed in response to a crisis that affected the economic, social and cultural spheres of their lives. Political promises played a role in this, but the emotional appeal of the leaders and their programs was probably stronger. Fascist leaders avoided the rational rhetorics typical of bourgeois politicians, and instead employed performative language that had a captivating force unequalled by traditional means of propaganda. {pp. 39-40. Italics mine.]

Sound familiar? Does that passage hark back to the 2008 presidential campaign and election? Does it not describe the method by which the current occupant of the White House rose to power? However, Berghaus correctly dwells on the relationship between the religious and secular elements of fascism.

This grafting of the Christian redeemer and savior image onto a historical person was a post-figuration technique often employed in the Christian drama of the Baroque period and was ultimately derived from medieval theology. Both Hitler and Mussolini were well versed in the literary traditions of Christian religion and were fully capable of adopting their conventions. Hitler helped the transformation of his own person into the archetypal, divine redeemer figure through his mythological biography, Mein Kampf. [p. 62]

Berghaus quotes Hitler on the purpose of the Party rallies held in Nuremberg and other German cities. From Mein Kampf:

Mass meetings are a necessity because the individual (…) who feels isolated and easily succumbs to the fear of loneliness, is given here an idea of a greater community. (…) When he as a seeker is swept along by the mighty effect of the ecstasy and enthusiasm of three to four thousand others, when the visible success and agreement of thousands confirm to him the rightness of the new doctrine (…), then he will submit to the magic spell of what we call “mass suggestiveness.” The will, the longing, as well as the power of thousands of people are accumulated in every individual. The man who entered such a meeting doubting and wavering leaves it with an inner conviction: he has become a member of a community. [p. 60]

One could also say that this was no less true for Hitler, that he was literally nothing if not the leader of such a community. Without all those chanted “Sieg Heils” and tens of thousands looking up at him on a high rostrum with adoration and worship, he was a vacuum, an isolated and fearful nonentity who assumed an identity only in the presence and eyes of disciplined and attentive mobs.

Many uninvolved contemporary observers were struck by the fact that the public rituals of fascist régimes were “more than a gorgeous show; [they] also had something of the mysticism and religious fervor of an Easter or Christmas mass in a great cathedral.” “Is this a dream or reality?” asked one of the visitors to the Reichsparteitag 1936 after the spectacle on the Zeppelinwiese and concluded: “It is like a majestic church service (Andacht) where we have congregated to find new strength…”

[Albert] Speer said that Hitler canonized the formations, processions and celebrations so that “they were almost like rites of the founding of a Church.” Once he had worked out the right forms, he wanted to fix them as “unalterable rites” that gave him the status of a “founder of a religion.” [p. 53]

Mussolini was of a like mind concerning the religious “experience” possible in the Italian version.

Mussolini stated in 1923 that “Fascism is a religious phenomenon of vast historical proportions” and that fascism was “a civic and political belief, but also a religion, a militia, a spiritual discipline, which has had – like Christianity – its confessors, its testifying witnesses, its saints.” The Fascist Party was often described as “a new Church (La nuova chiesa is the title, for example, of a play by [Virgilio] Caselli) or as a “religious or military order.” [pp. 53-54]

For example, from 1933 on, from Hitler’s assumption of the chancellorship through the next eleven or so years, German playwrights (those who prostituted their talents to the Party) wrote plays that portrayed the past struggle of the German people to assume their “rightful” place in the world. If this meant fudging history or ascribing to past historical persons presaging yearnings for Nazi or Fascist domination and identity, such hacks were perfectly willing to falsify history, submit their work to Party censors and make the requisite changes. As Berghaus notes:

Consequently, fascist playwrights evoked a large number of situations that indicated a return to a united people. They propagated a new ethics that was aimed at overcoming egotism, uniting one individual with other individuals, creating a firm bond between them, making them identify with the aims of the fascist State and submit to the orders of a leader….The conduct of this leader was modeled, of course, on the historical examples given by the Führer, Duce, and Caudillo. Or rather, one should say, on the way those historical figures were mythisised, legendised and sanctified in fascist hagiography. [p. 61. Italics mine.]

Neither Hitler nor Mussolini was ever portrayed in these plays. Some species of false but more likely fearful fastidiousness in Party censors prohibited it; no actor could have been trusted to faultlessly impersonate Hitler or Mussolini, even had a hack written a play that featured them, and probably no actor would have wished to risk the role, either. Hitler and Mussolini were instead substituted with stand-ins or proxies, such as Frederick the Great or Bismarck or Garibaldi or some two-dimensional fictional character, always ready to sacrifice himself for the greater good in the most cavalierly selfless manner, which was the unity of the German or Italian people. Acceptable plays were set in the past, to convey a false historical overture to Nazism or Fascism – or the alleged inexorable inevitability of Nazism and Fascism, which a mere individual was helpless to oppose and whose only recourse was to submit to it.

Barbara Panse, in her essay, “Censorship in Nazi Germany: The Influence of the Reich’s Ministry of Propaganda on German Theater and Drama, 1933-1945,” discusses several of these plays, and cites how one playwright even perverted the American Revolution:

In Hanns Johst’s play [Thomas Paine], Thomas Paine is the ideological Führer of the American War of Independence. He, too, upholds the notions of colonialism and conquest. With the propagandistic slogan, “America needs land,” he seeks to mobilize the exhausted and hungry insurgent army so that they venture to take the path into the unknown, to victory or death. His appeal to faith and comradeship forges the “racially worthy citizens” (volkisch wertvollen Glieder) of America into a nation. In this play, the life of the Führer character also ends tragically, but his mission is fulfilled: the ‘national idea’ has come to fruition. [p. 149]

Johst wrote this play in 1927. He was a career anti-Semite who wrote a play, Schlageter, which extolled Nazi ideology, to celebrate Hitler’s victory and birthday in 1933. It is interesting to note also that Howard Fast, a steadfast member of the American Communist Party, also appropriated the American Revolution as a means to advance the “people’s struggle” narrative (à la Howard Zinn) on the origins of the United States. Citizen Tom Paine (1943) is one of a number of novels he wrote set in that period.

No discussion of the theatrics of fascism would be complete without mentioning Leni Riefenstahl’s documentary, Triumph of the Will. This task fell to contributor Hans-Ulrich Thamer and his essay, “The Orchestration of the National Community: The Nuremberg Party Rallies of the NSDAP.” Writing about the purpose and style of the rallies, Thamer observes about the 1934 Nazi Party Congress:

The heroic style and dramaturgy of the event were fixed on celluloid by Leni Riefenstahl in her film Triumph of the Will (1934). Much more than simply a documentary, this film foregrounded the symbolism and liturgy of the ceremonies and established their pattern for the years to come. At the same time, the film disseminated the mass spectacle of Nuremberg throughout Germany. It was a “production of a production” and thereby a reduplication of the “mass appeal” of National Socialist political aesthetics. Triumph of the Will turned the military parade of the National Socialist movement into a platform for the Führer-cult. [p. 175]

Thamer then takes the reader on a tour of the typical succeeding rallies, all based on what Riefenstahl had recorded in 1934, which acted as a template, and then were expanded in scope and in the number of participants. These rallies lasted for days. Thamer follows Hitler from elevated rostrum to a ceremony of flags and banners when he rubbed shoulders and pressed flesh with rank-and-file, to a ritual of consecration of the “martyrs” that was much like a glorified mass of the dead. Hitler was the focal point of every important event. But, it was all a manufactured show.

Nothing was left to chance in the stage-management of the Nuremberg rallies. Every stylistic device had a purpose. The flags were determined in number, size and position; shortcomings in the urban development and gaps in the old town fortifications were covered up by scenery. Everything was subjected to the meticulous plans of the bureaucratic and technical apparatus. The men in charge of the cult were cool-headed technicians, sons of a rational era. Yet they were also theatrical wizards who knew intuitively how to exploit age-old cultic practices for their political aims. It was exactly this link between atavistic ideology, mystical ceremony and the modern age, which helped to eliminate all critical reasoning in both audience and participants. [p. 186. Italics mine.]

Before the entire length of Triumph of the Will was removed from YouTube for copyright infringement (the full version now can be watched with ads), I watched it twice, and I can attest to the effectiveness of the stage management described by Thamer. I distinctly remember Jimmy Carter’s appearance at the conclusion of the 1976 Democratic Convention, when he and his wife Rosalind appeared on stage before a brilliant blue background. That was calculation.

The typical American political convention is also planned and laid out in meticulous detail, from the flags and bunting, to the timed applause and cheers, to the demonstrations of dancing and chanting, to the bands and choreography and lighting, all the way to the climax of the acceptance speeches. Little during these cattle calls could be called spontaneous, except for the essential emotional character of the proceedings that verges on a mass revival meeting. But the spontaneity is also cued and calculated to advance or obstruct a point of order or dissension. For the typical delegate, a convention is a vacation from reality, from the facts of political and economic life.

I doubt that many delegates, upon returning home from a Grand Gestalt, pause long enough to acknowledge just how much they have degraded themselves and regret having let loose a monster. And the ensuing political campaigns have become more and more shallow and meaningless popularity contests, with candidates stooping to the level of rock stars repeating the most popular lyrics and buzz words. Thamer concludes his essay with:

The Führer-myth as the propagandist core of the rally distracted from the political reality of Party as well as everyday life and became the most important means of stabilizing the rule of the Nazi Party. The dream world conjured up by the events manipulated consciousness and created a second reality, which of course could not change the outside world, but could counteract and control it. [p. 188.]

The Obama/McCain campaigns of 2008 were also products of such dream worlds, the one more masterfully managed and staged than the other. And then the winner encountered the “outside world” and, like King Canute, as the legend goes, he attempted to command its tides to cease. In fact, Canute was making a point for his supporters, that he was only a king and not a miracle worker. Perhaps Obama will be imbued with the same wisdom.

The Republicans, however, seem determined to offer their own Æthelred the Unready to oppose him. Election year 2012 is going to be interesting.

*Providence/Oxford: Berghahn Books: 1996. Edited by Günter Berghaus.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Washington’s Rocket Bombs

Think what you will about George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. After all, you might say, it was written by a lapsed Communist and veteran of the Spanish Civil War (fighting on the Communist-dominated Republican side) and author of the Trotskyite parable, Animal Farm, an apologia for Communism. All of which is true.

But I do believe that had he not died of tuberculosis (1949), he would have become one of the first neo-conservative intellectuals and writers in the West. He had been creeping in that direction ever since the Spanish Civil War, driven by his growing and articulate animus for totalitarianism (born during WWII, during which he saw elements of it in British government domestic wartime policies). This direction could only have ultimately led him to renounce collectivism, but probably have not motivated him to advocate capitalism or found a fresh new political philosophy (as Ayn Rand did, but from a philosophical perspective, and not from a solely political one). In that respect, he was not a profound thinker or philosophical innovator. But he was a first-class and honest observer.

I have always enjoyed reading Orwell’s prose, whether or not I agreed with him on any specific topic. He was such a consciously fine writer, which explains his deceptively effortless style. My favorite essay of his is “Politics and the English Language” (1946).

As I have tried to show, modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug.

Orwell is one of the very, very few writers of the liberal/left who actually respected his readers’ minds and adopted an appropriate policy of writing clearly and stated his intentions and meanings without obfuscation or equivocation.

Humbug, however, is the subject here, and while reading something else, Peter Carl’s six-part essay in The Brussels Journal, “Surviving Islam…and Right/Left Politics: Churchill’s Principle,” caused me to recall the whole “war on terror” coupled with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s hosting of a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Washington this week. That was the subject of Clare Lopez’s “Criticism of Islam Could Soon be a Crime in America” on Family Security Matters. This in turn caused me to recall something from Nineteen Eighty-Four, the role of rocket bombs that fell on London. From Part 2, Chapter 5:

The proles, normally apathetic about the war, were being lashed into one of their periodical frenzies of patriotism. As though to harmonize with the general mood, the rocket bombs had been killing larger numbers of people than usual. One fell on a crowded film theatre in Stepney, burying several hundred victims among the ruins. The whole population of the neighborhood turned out for a long, trailing funeral which went on for hours and was in effect an indignation meeting. Another bomb fell on a piece of waste ground which was used as a playground and several dozen children were blown to pieces. There were further angry demonstrations, Goldstein was burned in effigy, hundreds of copies of the poster of the Eurasian soldier were torn down and added to the flames, and a number of shops were looted in the turmoil….

In some ways she [Julia, Winston’s lover] was far more acute than Winston, and far less susceptible to Party propaganda. Once when he happened in some connection to mention the war against Eurasia, she startled him by saying casually that in her opinion the war was not happening. The rocket bombs which fell daily on London were probably fired by the Government of Oceania itself, 'just to keep people frightened'.

The mind works in not entirely mysterious ways.

“Just to keep people frightened.” How appropriate an observation to make about our own government. What have Americans seen since 9/11 but attempts to keep them frightened and pacified? The Department of Homeland Security, the “war on terror” now graduated from hunting down the kamikaze soldiers of Islamic jihad to include anyone who questions government policy (re the National Defense Authorization Act, discussed in a previous commentary, “Portrait of a Police State”), the appeal to snitch on one’s neighbors and friends, the completely useless but very expensive, intrusive, and arrogant TSA, Obamacare and other socialist legislation, the campaign to govern one’s diet and light bulbs, the government’s push to take over the Internet, the campaign to demonize freedom of speech in regards to Islam, the excising of all references to Islam, Muslims and Jihad from official documents and training materials (With whom are we at war? Eurasia or East Asia? Who knows? Terrorists just materialize from a parallel universe, not all the time from Islam, but often on blog sites and newspaper columns and not always about terrorism) – all calculated to keep the public dumbed down, diverted, quiet, misinformed, and in a constant state of semi-fright and anxiety.

They are all Orwellian rocket bombs.

Here is another rocket bomb: U.N. Resolution 16/18, which would “criminalize” any and all kinds of criticism of Islam, whether they are cogent essays or cartoons, will be an effort to utilize “techniques of peer pressure and shaming,” and is endorsed without reservation by Secretary of State Clinton. (These same remarks were repeated virtually verbatim by Daniel Baer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, which also concerns itself with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender issues, among other earth-shaking matters, at the Compass to Compassion Conference), and a career bureaucrat whose academic curriculum vita includes degrees in every woozy, humanitarian subject imaginable.) After a mountain of fluffy and venal rhetoric, Clinton noted on July 15th of this year, during a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation:

The Human Rights Council [of the U.N.] has given us a comprehensive framework for addressing this issue on the international level. But at the same time, we each have to work to do more to promote respect for religious differences in our own countries. In the United States, I will admit, there are people who still feel vulnerable or marginalized as a result of their religious beliefs. And we have seen how the incendiary actions of just a very few people, a handful in a country of nearly 300 million, can create wide ripples of intolerance. We also understand that, for 235 years, freedom of expression has been a universal right at the core of our democracy. So we are focused on promoting interfaith education and collaboration, enforcing antidiscrimination laws, protecting the rights of all people to worship as they choose, and to use some old-fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming, so that people don’t feel that they have the support to do what we abhor.

There is an instance of what Orwell would call the “gumming together of long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug.”

By the U.N. resolution, and through “peer pressure and shaming” advocated by our Secretary of State, “Islamophobia” will include these “criminal offenses”: Religious profiling, defamation, vilification, fear-mongering, discriminatory speech, hate speech, intolerance…ad nauseum. The resolution clumps together the antics of Terry Jones of the Dove Outreach Church and his Koran burning with authoritative essays and books by Robert Spencer, Steve Emerson, Ali Hirsi, Ibn Warraq, Pamela Geller, Melanie Phillips, Walid Shoebat, and many other experts on Islam.

The irony is that Islam that is guilty of everything its defenders charge others with. Call it “Westphobia,” or “Speechaphobia,” or “Reasonophobia.” As Pamela Geller put it, truth is the new “hate speech.” That the OIC and the U.N. would go to such lengths to oppose freedom of speech should cause one to ask: What have the Islamists to hide, that they wish to suppress the truth? What don’t they wish others to know? What truths do they not want identified, exposed and spoken and written about?

What they and their companion organizations, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Islamic Circle of America, and other such “civic” outfits, wish to hide is the fact that Islam is antithetical to every rational political concept in the West, that it is totalitarian in nature and in practice, that it is anti-man, anti-life, and anti-value. That it is essentially and incontrovertibly nihilist in theory and in implementation. And that Muslims who are devoted to it are essentially “dead souls,” living ballast in the form of 1.3 billion manqués on which to establish Sharia law and a global caliphate. All those dead souls: Allah owns them – this they know, for the Koran tells them so – to paraphrase Anna Bartlett Warner’s hymn, and they don’t mind.

The OIC gathering in Washington is merely one rocket bomb among others launched by our own government to keep us worried and distracted and always ducking for cover.

As Winston Smith did Part 1, Chapter 8, when a rocket bomb suddenly strikes.

Winston clasped his forearms above his head. There was a roar that seemed to make the pavement heave; a shower of light objects pattered on to his back. When he stood up he found that he was covered with fragments of glass from the nearest window.
He walked on. The bomb had demolished a group of houses 200 meters up the street. A black plume of smoke hung in the sky, and below it a cloud of plaster dust in which a crowd was already forming around the ruins. There was a little pile of plaster lying on the pavement ahead of him, and in the middle of it he could see a bright red streak. When he got up to it he saw that it was a human hand severed at the wrist….

If the government launches this particular rocket bomb, and agrees with the OIC and the U.N. to enforce a ban on “hate speech” in America by statute or by “peer-pressure and shaming,” we will not see anything as prosaic as a severed wrist, but the heads of the champions of freedom of speech, severed at the neck. For the purpose of this particular rocket bomb is not to cause physical destruction and death, but to destroy the mind and establish a reign of living death.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Portrait of a Police State

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”

Portion of Emma Lazarus’s poem, “A New Colossus,” for the Statue of Liberty

The chief thrust of this article is that none of this would occur, or even be thought “necessary,” if we had eliminated states that sponsor terrorism after 9/11. But when one reads the text of Senate Bill 1867, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), one gets the impression that many in positions of power and influence, particularly Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona and Democrat Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, have a vested interest in sustaining an indefinite “war” against terrorism. This would entail establishing, or laying the groundwork for, a police state in which citizens would be lawfully accountable to the state, and not the other way around.

Fundamentally, they have a vested interest in waging a war against America and individual rights. Many sections of the bill are overtures to establish a permanent police state or an authoritarian government. As with many instances of legislation in the past, the bill is chiefly a finance bill, but contains riders, amendments, and sections that have little to do with finance but whose inclusion requires that their authors and sponsors resort to contemptible subterfuge.

One of the consequences of not having properly defended this country from attacks by our enemies – and Islam is certainly an enemy, the strenuous denials of George W. Bush and President Barack Obama to the contrary notwithstanding – is that to defend the country against “terrorism” without taking effective and final action against those enemies, the government must establish a “Fortress America,” or policies which not so much ensure our protection as ensure the survival of the government. What happened to our liberties? They take a back seat. Eventually, they must be thrown from the vehicle of statism.

The Library of Congress inexplicably removed the links I found to the two versions of Senate Bill 1867 (my search was “timed out” and the links no longer work), but I found another one that contains the text of the bill. I have also included separate links to the texts of the notorious Sections 1031 and 1032, which discuss detention of U.S. citizens. These two sections were opposed by some Senators without success. Senators McCain and Levin sponsored the bill and were its principal architects, drafted in secret with not much to-do and only now making its debut. It almost makes one sigh with relief that McCain lost the 2008 election (Was the alternative any better?) The heading of Section 1031 reads:

Sec. 1031. Affirmation of authority of the Armed Forces of the United States to detain covered persons pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force.

Despite assurances in the bill of Constitutional guarantees, the Secretary of Defense and the director of national intelligence may "waive" the inapplicability of Sections 1031 and 1032 to U.S. citizens after leave from Congress to do so. The assurances are merely devious lip service to a document that has been all but gutted of meaning, and to a political philosophy that began to expire with the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. (Some would argue that it began to expire with the first imposition of the draft and income tax under President Abraham Lincoln, but that’s another story.) A paragraph of Section 1032 reads, in relation to the status of American citizens who may or may not be detained by the military:

32. (4) WAIVER FOR NATIONAL SECURITY.—The Secretary of Defense may, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence, waive the requirement of paragraph (1) if the Secretary submits to Congress a certification in writing that such a waiver is in the national security interests of the United States.

From the McCain-Levin bill:

ACT OF TERRORISM- The term `act of terrorism' means an act of terrorism as that term is defined in section 101(15) of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (6 U.S.C. 101(15)).

The term "terrorism" means any activity that - (A) involves an act that - (i) is dangerous to human life or potentially destructive of critical infrastructure or key resources; and (ii) is a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State or other subdivision of the United States; and (B) appears to be intended - (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping. (16)(A)

The left is up in arms over the bill because Sections 1031 and 1032 do specify that captured or apprehended enemy combatants or agents who happen to be U.S. citizens or legal alien residents, and who have taken “hostile” actions against the U.S., may be detained without trial. The Left is more concerned with that than with the power of waiver granted to the government. Terrorists, apparently, have rights, but not their victims. But terrorists – the homegrown or foreign kind – have forfeited all rights by attacking the government and country that upholds individual rights with the purpose of destroying it and imposing totalitarian rule – whether that rule is Nazi, Communist, Fascist – or Islamic.

Lindsey Graham and other defenders of the bill’s controversial riders referred to the United States as inclusive in a global “battlefield.” On a battlefield, however, there are no rules of combat or engagement. One kills, wounds, or captures as many of the enemy as possible, with all means available. A battlefield is the stage of focused, controlled violence. Graham’s remark was inappropriate, but reveals his estimate of his country and its citizens. His “battlefield” analogy is reminiscent of the propaganda of Nazi Germany, Communist Russia and Fascist Italy, where citizens were constantly reminded that the “battlefield” was their homes, their jobs, their families, their leisure, their churches, their friends, and the enemy anyone who opposed, resisted or questioned the respective ideology.

Not covered by either McCain’s bill or the Homeland Security Act is the subject of war. What is an “act of war” but what is covered in the definition of “terrorism” cited above? Why has our attention been diverted from ‘acts of war” to “acts of terrorism”?

(4) the term “act of war” means any act occurring in the course of —
(A) declared war;
(B ) armed conflict, whether or not war has been declared, between two or more nations; or
C) armed conflict between military forces of any origin;

War would mean armed conflict with the advocates and enablers of another ideology. War means open, armed hostility, not necessarily for the enemy nation’s cultural sum, but for its political ideology. A “war on terrorism,” however, discards the ideology and focuses on the enablers (plotters, foot soldiers, etc.) as though they come from some generic template, and does not declare war on what motivates the plotters, soldiers, and so on. Neglecting to oppose and refute the enemy’s ideology while focusing only on its carriers, propagators and advocates, is futile.

One could say that one cannot be at war with Islam, because Islam, as an ideology, seems to be “stateless.” But, is it? No. Islam is what governs Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt and all of the North African states. Islam is not some disembodied entity that infects individuals and causes them to fly planes into buildings or attempt to suppress freedom of speech. Islam is not the common cold. It isn’t even typhus, or influenza. It is the bubonic plague of the mind.

If Islam declares war on freedom of speech, then it has declared war on an ideology, that is, on the political philosophy that professes and upholds the universality of individual rights. Why is it deemed inappropriate to declare war on Islam? Because it is also a theology? Because it propagates and perpetuates the belief in a supreme being or all-knowing and omnipotent deity? Christianity does that, as well, but Christian doctrine has been boxed in and stripped of the power to enforce its doctrine on all. One may believe in God or not; belief in a deity is immaterial in a society governed by secular law. There are those, of course, who assert that God is the source of all individual rights, but such a position ignores reality; it defies the law of identity and the evidence of the senses, as well.

Islam, however, cannot be boxed in or delimited in its political ambition. Its politics and theology are cut from the same cloth, which is belief without reservation, question, or doubt.

Ayn Rand posited a handy and eminently appropriate characterization of the dichotomy that can be applied to Islam: the Witch Doctor and Attila. The Witch Doctor depends on Attila to impose his mysticism; Attila depends on the Witch Doctor to sanction his reign of force. The Witch Doctor stands for the mystics of the mind – don’t question, doubt, or think, just believe – while Attila is the mystic of muscle – force is the solution to all problems. The Witch Doctor is any imam or mullah or ayatollah or sheik; Mohammad is their ideal Attila. (While Allah, as portrayed by Islamic scholars, is the perfect symbol of the mystics of mind and muscle, a being governed by whims and who is not governed by reality or morality).

It is noteworthy that while the government, on one hand, is bowing to the complaints of Islamic activists (the Council on American-Islamic Relations and its Muslim Brotherhood affiliates) and is culling all references to Islam and Muslims from defense documents and training materials and courses for counter-terrorism, on the other, Senators McCain and Levin do mention Al-Quada and the Taliban in their bill (Section D, 1031). But Al-Quada and the Taliban are nothing if not Islamic organizations, from their burqa tops to the hems of their thawbs.

Put one way, the organizations charged with defending the country against terrorist attacks – the CIA, the FBI, and state and local law enforcement entities – are expected to conduct the “war on terrorism” blindfolded, dizzy from being turned around dozens of times by contradictory orders and criteria, and armed with a stick with which to strike at an empty piñata, which is moved away from them every time CAIR or some other Islamic front organization cries “victim” or “Islamophobia.”

Representative Justin Amash (R-MI) wrote today on his Facebook page that S. 1867 is “one of the most anti-liberty pieces of legislation of our lifetime.” Moreover, Amash maintains that the bill capitalizes on misleading semantics; regarding section 1032 , he says “‘The requirement to detain a person in military custody under this section does not extend to citizens of the United States.’ This language appears carefully crafted to mislead the public. Note that it does not preclude U.S. citizens from being detained indefinitely, without charge or trial, it simply makes such detention discretionary.”

But, who is defined as a U.S. citizen? And if a U.S. citizen wages war against his own country, should he not be charged with treason? And if he is charged with treason, is he not entitled to the full protection of the Constitution he wished to obviate?

Does the bill genuinely define a belligerent as an individual or “person,” whether or not he is a U.S. citizen, who has taken up arms against the U.S., or has taken actions within its jurisdiction with the purpose of subverting or overthrowing the government or harming its citizens or “infrastructure”? Does it specifically exclude newspaper columnists, writers, satirists, or Internet bloggers, or anyone else who questions the wisdom or morality of government policies?

The six-hundred-plus pages of Senate bill 1867 do not answer these questions. This bill is the kind of legislation that is knocked together in the purgatory of non-objective law and fuzzy, evasive, non-objective thinking.

Another part of the bill, Section 584, “Report on the Achievement of Diversity Goals for the Leadership of the Armed Forces,” is particularly onerous. It does not even define the term “diversity,” but since the term was sired by multiculturalism, one presumes that it means not excluding Muslims from command and advisory roles. There are several “prohibitions” or limitations in the bill, but who or what is to enforce them when the bill grants the executive branch, Congress, and bureaucrats the discretionary power to designate who may or may not be an “enemy of the state”?

The U.S. would not be a “battlefield” had we eliminated states that sponsor terrorism over a decade ago. But the Senate bill underscores the fact that our policies do not now and never will identify the specific enemy. This is the deadly neurosis of a nation that has convinced itself that it is not worthy of self-preservation as a free country, but as just another “unexceptional” country which must turn on its own citizens to preserve the state and not the rights and liberties America was once famous for.

The police state proposed in S. 1867 needs and requires Americans to be tired, poor, and huddled, but not yearning to be free. Like "The Picture of Dorian Gray," that “beauteous” welfare and regulatory state established early in the 20th century and welcomed by so many, is turning very, very ugly.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ambidextrous Statism

The standard Left-Right yardstick of political identity places President Barack Obama on the Far Left, which means Communism and the total state. On the Far Right? Newt Gingrich, Michelle Bachmann, Glenn Beck and others, according to the received wisdom. The Far Right is synonymous with fascism, racism, anti-Semitism, and autocracy, with some religion mixed in.

But another measure takes into account the actual implementation of his political agenda and would place Obama on the Far Right. Indeed, political cartoons that emulate Nazi and Communist propaganda posters from the past have depicted Obama in the correct attire and waving the appropriate swastika or hammer-and-sickle banner. The one image is just as credible as the other.

The standard, ubiquitous yardstick begins on the left side with Communism and ends on the Far Right with fascism. But is this yardstick of any value? Is it a valid measure of political systems? Is it a trustworthy indicator of an individual’s or organization’s political beliefs? For decades it has served only the Left when the Left wishes to characterize a politician or political agenda in deprecatory terms as being on the Far Right.

In truth, there is no fundamental difference between the Far Left and the Far Right. They are both totalitarian in nature. Their median is a mushy socialism posing as “Progressive” welfare statism that leaves no whine or grievance left behind. And in all historical cases, the median has always drifted inexorably in one direction or another. The “liberty, equality, and fraternity” of the French Revolution that threw off the aristocracy – a revolution colored by egalitarian collectivism – gave way to the Reign of Terror, a dictator, and two decades of war. In truth, the direction is irrelevant. One can be enslaved, robbed, imprisoned, and beaten by a man wearing a brown shirt as thoroughly as by a man wearing a red one. Or a black one. Or even by a man in an Earth First T-shirt.

The 2010 Super Bowl Audi commercial was a tongue-in-cheek depiction of “Green Police” lording it over violators of government environmental regulations with all the fervor and intrusive power of TSA screeners. Whose progeny are they? The Left’s, or the Right’s? Who sowed the dragon’s teeth of environmentalist tyranny and let loose the uniformed harpies? Tom Haydn and Bill Ayers, or Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush?

The standard yardstick is ambidextrous in nature, and is useful only to the totalitarians of either “side” when they wish to resort to name-calling and pre-digested bromides. There is no yardstick that truly incorporates the antithesis of the alleged opposites, which is individual rights under laissez-faire capitalism. Seen from the perspective of an “outsider,” the Left-Right yardstick is useful only if one wishes to measure the contradictions and conundrums posed by modern political trends and how they imperil individual liberty.

The device of “ambidextrous politics” to measure and explain political trends and consequences is not new. Search the Web and one will find dozens of references to the subject, and long essays about how the standard yardstick is inadequate to explain contemporary or even historical political systems. The Left-Right yardstick has been critiqued before. But because there is a common revulsion among “conservatives” and Progressives alike for unfettered free markets and the rule of secular law (and not of bureaucrats or priests), laissez-faire is missing from the yardstick. And justly so. Laissez-faire breaks the ruler in half. But that yardstick has been burned into the minds of millions over decades of indoctrination in schools.

Norman Berdichevsky, editor for The New English Review, is the author of The Left is Seldom Right, published in 2011 by The New English Review Press. It is a collection of essays and articles by Berdichevsky from over the last five to six years. It challenges the Left-Right yardstick and offers ample evidence of its inadequacy to explain and incorporate all the varieties of statism and freedom. Berdichevsky, however, does not offer an alternative measure that would handily identify the particulars of the Left and Right. It owes much to Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, which pioneered the critiquing of the Left-Right yardstick.

The Left is Seldom Right is a virtually unedited collection of twenty-two of Berdichevsky’s pieces. It suffers from numerous typos, awkward syntax and sentences, and duplicated paragraphs that pop up in different articles or chapters. There is no index of subjects, only a selective bibliography. An index would have been helpful because so many of the names, kinds of government, and historical instances recur or overlap in the chapters. The book is disorganized and lacks a thematic flow. And often one will find whole paragraphs lifted from sources like Wikipedia without attribution (e.g., the account of the Luxor, Egypt massacre of tourists by jihadists in 1997, p. 244). Attorney General Eric Holder is referred to as “District Attorney.” One is at a loss to understand why so little care was invested in a book that purports to refute an important ideological premise.

An instance of how the Left-Right yardstick can tilt one’s perspective on politics (not cited in the book) is offered here from “Our Bipolar Politics” on The Working Reporter website about politics in Wisconsin and Minnesota:

Minnesota and Wisconsin are politically bipolar. Wisconsin, in particular. The home to so many progressives and union activists is the same state that gave us Joe McCarthy and Paul Ryan. McCarthy’s record of deception, witch-hunting, black-listing, career-wrecking and defamation, speaks for itself. Congressman Ryan, who grew up in a nearly all-white town, attended a nearly all-white college and then went to work for his family’s small town business before being encapsulated by the bubble of conservative politics (great range of experience), is “ranked among the party’s most influential voices on conservative economic policy.”

Lucky us. No surprise that this guy is to the right of Attila. Before long, he’ll probably be calling for hearings on un-American activities. Like his fellow-traveler Michele Bachmann, he’s on the “Less government and more God!” track.

“Our founders got it right when they wrote in the Declaration of Independence that our rights come from nature and nature’s God, not from government.” – Paul Ryan

Apparently Mr. Ryan sees no gap between the figurative and the literal, feels no real need for context (a number of the founders were Deists), and thinks that if we all pray hard enough everything will be just fine. Hallelujah.

My home state of Minnesota is also on tilt. They’ve given us Humphrey, Mondale and Franken. The good ol’ DFL. Common sense at every turn. Garrison Keillor’s written a wonderful book about Minnesota politics entitled, “Homegrown Democrat: A Few Plain Thoughts from the Heart of America.” And now, like a bad cold that won’t go away, the great state of Minnesota continues sending us the uninformed right-wing mental machinations of Michele Bachmann.

The author would be less flummoxed had he not employed the Left-Right yardstick, which makes him the prisoner of an unnecessary paradox. But, note the repeated usage of the term “right” in the screed, always as a term of disparagement. The term “left” is not in evidence. This is because the implied “correct” direction is left and needn’t be mentioned in print or outloud. There is no other default direction. The term “left,” after all, might alert the reader to unsavory elements of that position better left unsaid and un-implied. “Left,” however, is synonymous with welfare state entitlements, “empowered people” vs. political cronyism and corruption and unrepresentative government, caring for the poor, soaking the rich, guaranteeing a “quality of life,” opposing an ossified “establishment,” and so on. All of it “good.” All of that is implied or insinuated.

Conservatism, allegedly a “right-wing” phenomenon, always stands for penny-pinching, heartless, union-busting, old-boy networking Scrooge-ism, not to mention unfettered, unregulated capitalism. In fact it does not stand for any of those things. Conservatism means: conserving or preserving the status quo, even if it means preserving a wealth-consuming and wealth-spreading, right-violating, deficit-financing welfare state. The Left always wins in these circumstances, even if it loses elections. Conservatives do not challenge the moral premises of the Left. It shares the basic altruistic, collectivist premises of the Left. It would rather “progress” to full statism in a soap-box racer, instead of on the Left’s Harley-Davidson. But both sides depend on building their statist utopias on the standing rubble of a semi-free economy.

It is this kind of blinkered, epistemologically arrested measure that can be dispensed with. In the first chapter, “The Origins of the Right-Left Metaphor; The True Right-Left Dimension,” Berdichevsky presents several alternative yardsticks, or graphs, or compasses which, while they are inadequate in themselves, demonstrate that the notion that all politics must be viewed as either Left or Right or somewhere in between (the “center” or “middle ground”) is absurd and misleadingly simplistic.

Surely, a pictorial guide is needed. Berdichevsky depicts one on page 30 of his book, a compass with four directions emanating from liberty and tyranny, with Republicans on the right and Democrats on the left, Objectivists, independents and centrists on the top of liberty, pointing to freedom, and communists, fascists and other totalitarians on the bottom, pointing to serfdom.

Berdichevsky presents abundant evidence throughout his book that the Left-Right dichotomy is patently false. He describes how various authoritarian regimes in history were designated “right” or “left” by their opponents. Mussolini’s Fascist Italy, supposedly a “pro-business” regime that oppressed the workers, was simply a pale imitation of Hitler’s National Socialist regime, complete with major industries and businesses entering into government-private sector “partnerships” in command economies. The sauerkraut of Nazism was complemented by the pasta of Fascism.

Oddly, Berdichevsky does not mention Otto von Bismarck’s socialist welfare state, thus missing a chance to underscore the nascent and watershed fascist origins of a unified Germany and how its welfare statism spread to the rest of Europe. Were Mussolini, Hitler and Bismarck “right-wingers,” or “left-wingers”? Neither. They were statists of varying degrees and styles of tyranny. The details of the regimes are almost irrelevant. Force was the sole and final arbiter of an individual’s relationship with the state. The Hitler and Mussolini regimes were noted for their “right-wing” violence and brutality: street warfare, assassinations of opponents, party purges, show trials, and the like, all staged in the pursuit or retention of power. As were the Lenin-Stalin brands of Communism. But they were all instances of socialism and collectivism in action. That is, of the “Left” in action. Or the “Right.”

Berdichevsky’s book, if nothing else, can enlighten a reader about so many past paradoxes, such as why the Left originally endorsed the founding of Israel but now is engaged in anti-Semitic and anti-Israel vitriol. Berdichevsky discusses the Spanish Civil War, the Greek and Argentine episodes of authoritarianism, and why the Left allies itself with Islam and the Right refuses to condemn that particular species of totalitarianism (to question Allah and Mohammad, after all, must eventually lead to questioning God and Jesus Christ – this is my observation, not Berdichevsky’s).

In a chapter too short by several hundred pages, Berdichevsky also tackles Hollywood’s Leftish paradigm and our Leftish literary establishment but leaves one unsatisfied. Ayn Rand is mentioned once as the only screenwriter in Hollywood who had lived under Communism, and a quotation from her HUAC testimony would have been illuminating. Director Elia Kazan is mentioned as the bane of Hollywood communists. Berdichevsky, however, fails to mention one movie that would have helped to underscore his point that Hollywood was under the strong influence of American communists, For Whom the Bell Tolls.

I saw this film, directed by Sam Wood and released in 1943, for the first time decades ago before I knew anything about the Spanish Civil War, that is, about who was on the Left or Right (or who were the Republicans and who were the Franco-Falangists, or who were the good guys and who were the bad). Or before I knew anything about Sam Wood. Hemmingway’s novel was a disappointment. But the film still leaves me almost uncontrollably moved – especially the ending – as much as does the ending of Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac (the Ralph Richardson audio production, not the José Ferrer, 1950 film production, although I won’t gainsay the film). Is liking For Whom the Bell Tolls an indication of political naiveté? Does liking it place me on the Left or Right?

Berdichevsky, apparently an anti-abortionist religious conservative, reveals his own “right-wing” leanings (in many instances he includes abortion as another left-wing imposition) when he excoriates the film Inherit the Wind (the 1960 version) and claims that the depiction of William Jennings Bryan as a fundamentalist, bible-thumping, non-intellectual yahoo, which he actually was, constituted a disgrace and evidence of Hollywood’s Leftism.

And it is here that Berdichevsky also reveals his own Left-Right yardstick confusion. Bryan’s populist appeal meshed neatly with the Progressive or socialist message that grew louder and louder from the 1880’s throughout the 1920’s (culminating in FDR’s New Deal). Somehow, Bryan is revered by Berdichevsky as a tragic martyr of the Right. Yet it was the Progressive movement of the 19th century, coupled with imported statist ideas from Europe, notably from German universities, that resulted in the accelerating growth of big government and the Left’s welfare and regulatory state in the United States. Bryan contributed to that growth, as did many, many “right-wing” Republicans.

How would Berdichevsky place H.L. Mencken on any yardstick or political measure? What does he think of Mencken’s sardonic obituary of Bryan, who died shortly after the Scopes Monkey Trial? Mencken:

“The evil that men do lives after them. Bryan, in his malice, started something that will not be easy to stop. In ten thousand country towns his old heelers, the evangelical pastors, are propagating his gospel, and everywhere the yokels are ready for it…. Heave an egg out of a Pullman window, and you will hit a Fundamentalist almost anywhere in the United States today. They swarm in the country towns, inflamed by their pastors, and with a saint, now, to venerate.”

Mencken was arguably of the “Right” – when the “Right” meant respect for individual rights and opposing an intrusive, invasive, and shepherding government. Where would he fit in Berdichevsky’s political universe?

Is Berdichevsky of the Left, or of the Right? Go figure.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Storm Troopers of OWS

It would be interesting to draw some parallels between Occupy Wall Street and a phenomenon that preceded and that fed the rise of Nazism and the ascension of Nazi power in Germany. That phenomenon was the post-World War I paramilitary Free Corps (Freikorps), or Freebooters.

When Germany lost the war, its army was disbanded, setting loose hundreds of thousands of German soldiers into a stagnant, debt-ridden, and government-controlled economy that had yet to begin paying the Versailles Treaty-mandated reparations that came to billions of dollars. Armies of Free Corps roamed the country, fighting pitched battles with the Communists. They probably decided the outcome of the German Revolution of 1918-1919. The common enemy of the Free Corps was the Communist Party. However, before the Weimar Republic was formed – and even after it had been installed – Germany was ruled by anarchy, with armed mobs of Free Corps and Communists clashing in city streets, with casualties in the thousands.

In early 1919 the strength of the Reichswehr, the regular army, was estimated at 350,000. There were in addition more than 250,000 men enlisted in the various Free Corps. Under the terms of the Versailles Treaty, Germany was required to reduce its armed forces to a maximum of 100,000. Free Corps units were therefore expected to be disbanded.

The parallels discussed here are not the social or even military ones, but the moral ones.

After World War I, the German Army was restricted to 100,000 men, so there were a great amount of soldiers suddenly de-mobilized. Many of these men were hardened into a Frontgemeinschaft, a front-line community. It was a spirit of camaraderie that was formed due to the length and horrors of trench warfare of WWI. These paramilitary groups filled a need for many of these soldiers who suddenly lost their "family"—the army. Many of those soldiers were filled with angst, anger and frustration over the loss and horror of the war. (Italics mine.)

What have we here? One could say that the protesters of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) have been addled by the “length and horrors” of, well, making a living. By having to earn their own keep. By dealing with a welfare state which they approve of but which they claim isn’t generous enough with other people’s money. Of being fed up with a Congress that doesn’t respond immediately to their “needs.” By being congenitally outraged by the alleged “pro-business” corruption and lobbying in Congress (but not too outraged by the Solyndra scandal, because that kind of taxpayer fraud and malfeasance is okay with them, it only hurts taxpayers, and it was for a “good cause” – all lobbying and cronyism forgiven). They are unfairly burdened by student loan debt (funded by taxpayers), personal lifestyle debt, and other annoyances.

The irresponsible, the indebted, the reckless, the hankerers after the unearned – that is their “family.”

So, there they are, brimming to their eyebrows with “angst, anger, and frustration.” Many of them are now infested with diseases and illnesses that soldiers during WWI actually contracted in those trenches. The OWSers complain about the police using pepper spray and using force (having to compel a protester to have his wrists restrained with plastic cuffs). Would they like to experience a dose of mustard gas, instead? How about having one’s body riddled by machine gun fire, or being blown to a dozen pieces by an artillery shell? Or being bayoneted? Of simply expiring in water-logged trenches from pneumonia or rickets or typhus? Or dying neglected in a body-strewn, crater-dotted landscape of No Man’s Land because medics couldn’t get to them for fear of being blown to bits, as well.

No, the OWSers have no taste for that kind of misery. Their misery has no antidote, no cure, no magic pill that would make the “pain” and “anger” go away except the expansion of government powers. Theirs is the pain of the unearned uncollected, the frustration of the entitled who cannot be satiated except by the slavery of those who must provide or subsidize the entitlement.

Occupy Wall Street was no spontaneous phenomenon, but a planned and organized instance of “community organizing,” on a scale that would make Saul Alinsky proud. It is orchestrated anarchy intended to cripple the “system,” careening towards whatever target its mobs reach a consensus to freeze, personalize, isolate, and polarize, angling for “confrontation” with the police that would put them in the role of “victims of violence” – when they are the initiators of force. One OWS chant is, “The whole world is watching.” Unfortunately for the chanters, what the world is watching is a farce, of the police not obliging the trespassers and profanities and noise by cracking skulls and water hosing the hordes. Which is what ought to have happened the first time OWS blocked a street or broke a window.

(Interesting side-note: secular leftists do not have a monopoly on Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals.” Islamist outfits like the Council on American-Islamic Relations, The Islamic Circle, and other Muslim “advocacy” groups already practice targeting and personalizing issues, and with growing success. They are masters of those rules.)

“Occupying” a public space and blocking its use by the public, however, is an initiation of force. Zuccotti Park in New York, for example, is a nominally private park open to the public. OWS closed it to all but its own. The whole world was watching while the filth accumulated in that park, while crimes like rape and theft and threatening local businesses occurred, while a “flying squad” of pillagers went on a rampage in Oakland, while hundreds have been arrested with kid-gloves and led away to school buses. One strongly suspects that what OWS was plotting and hoping for was a repeat of the violence of the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. The news media were on the side of the left even back then. But, it hasn’t happened – not yet. It doesn’t even have a Tom Hayden to excuse, explain, and sanction their cause and its violence. On the surface, OWS has a central nervous system but no brain, no guiding agenda or petition of grievances except a desire to destroy and loot the ruins.

Also, on the surface, OWS does not resemble the pre-Nazi Free Corps. The rabble sports no uniforms, no semblance of military or other discipline, no decorum to speak of, no homogeneity of any kind. It is a conglomeration of slobs, wannabe criminals, punks, weirdos, women with bees in their bonnets and men with only half a deck of cards in their craniums. The variety of protest signs, usually scrawled on cardboard, and often revealing a profound illiteracy in spelling and grammar, testify to the unity of “angst and anger” and the triumph of a university education. OWS brandishes a variety of banners, including the American, but the Palestinian and Puerto Rican flags were also in evidence. On the whole, what OWS is rebelling against is reality, a reality their elective ilk have created.

But like the Free Corps, OWS is a kind of syndicate or an uneasy alliance of disparate collectivist causes and organizations. Some Free Corps upheld the Weimer Republic. Others fought to bring it down. OWS is an amalgam of communists, welfare state liberals, old school radicals, gray panther leftists, new age hippies, holders of worthless degrees, the professionally unemployed, the perpetually alienated, the clinically certifiably disgruntled, career vagrants, vehicles of middle class guilt, black power advocates, Muslims, anti-Semites, Hispanics of indeterminate national origin, unions, AmeriCorps manqués, Peace Corps veterans, environmentalists – all the bilious movements that mushroomed on the mulch of American educational philosophy, and that were prepared and sanctioned by grade and high schools and universities and patronized, idolized, and encouraged by the news media.

But while Barack Obama is blamed for OWS and its violence and health issues and the whole mess, it would be unfair to lay it all on his doorstep. Obama and OWS, like Tom Hayden and the radicals of the 1960’s and 1970’s, are a consequence of the collapse of philosophy and the disparagement of reason. OWS is merely the post-Woodstock, second wave of Borg raiders with bachelor’s degrees.

The protesters of OWS are prime cannon fodder, and perfect recruits for an American version of the Free Corps. We have seen how quickly they can be called up for “action”; that mobs of “Occupiers” sprang up almost simultaneously in cities all over the country testifies to the availability of so many aimless foot soldiers and to a committee or cabal of planners and “community organizers” working behind the scenes and who remain undiscovered and undiscussed by the news media. As we get further into the presidential election campaign, we will see more of this kind of “action.” The “interruption” of Michelle Bachmann’s speech in South Carolina by OWS, and the attempted storming of the Americans for Prosperity event in Washington DC, are but a taste of what is ahead – unless the planners decide that OWS has been a failure, even for the dereliction of responsibility of various municipal leaders of having let the movement grow out of control, as Mayor Bloomberg did in New York. He had Zuccotti Park cleared out – and then invited OWS back, sans tents, tarps, and other camping gear. As though that would make a difference.

The denizens of OWS can be organized into roaming and violent Free Corps. They can be taught discipline and minimal decorum. The SEIU, the UAW, and other strong-arm outfits can give them advice on logistics, manpower, and offer seminars on the art of news-hogging police provocation. They can be given any cause their philosopher-kings wish to give them, and most OWSers will be amenable to it. The news media will give the new Free Corps their blessing, and cheer them on from their insulated TV studios and round tables, and call it freedom of speech, when in fact OWS is an enemy of the First Amendment.

As with the German Free Corps and the consolidation of power that brooks no rivalry – the Free Corps SA was purged, while the Free Corps SS was elevated – there will be purges from OWS and a campaign to paint it in respectable colors. The purges won’t be pretty; there will be weeping and wailing and the gnashing of teeth. As with the non-violent Tea Party movement, it will seek to become an influential “voice” in Washington (not that it lacks such a voice now, as witness the endorsement of OWS by the POTUS, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and other America-changing activists).

OWS in this instance is merely an exploratory phenomenon, to see what will or will not be tolerated, of feeling out the “establishment” for weaknesses and sizing up its strengths. As of this writing, the “establishment” has no proven strengths to counter the intended terrorism of OWS but its own inertia. It has no philosophy of individual rights, of laissez-faire, of limited government, of an understanding of the purpose of government. Fundamentally, in the deepest sense, the federal, state, and municipal governments are one with OWS.

2012 will be a watershed election year. Chickens came home to roost in 1968. In 2012, it will be vultures who flock in large numbers to pick at the carcass of the American Republic.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Firebombing Freedom of Speech

There have been numerous fine articles condemning the November 2nd firebombing of Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical newspaper in Paris that dared mock Islam and front-paged a cartoon of Mohammad with the balloon caption, “One hundred lashes if you don’t die laughing.” Needless to say, this act of terrorism is just another instance of censorship by force.

Robert Spencer drew my attention to a November 2nd Time Magazine article by Bruce Crumley, “Firebombed French Paper is No Free Speech Martyr.” Crumley is Time’s Paris bureau chief. Spencer handily rebuts many of Crumley’s statements in that article in his FrontPage article of November 3rd, “Firebombing Free Speech in Paris,” and I won’t repeat them here.

Crumley, unfortunately, is merely indicative of the problem with the American press; in fact, with most of the Western press. Aside from its unabashed multiculturalist liberal-leftism and wholesome political correctness, and penchant for endorsing every welfare state piece of legislation, proposed or enacted, it has gravitated inevitably and obtusely into an ideological détente with that other major totalitarian contender, Islam. Before correcting Crumley’s dhimmitudal ramblings, however, there are precedents to revisit – numerous precedents – of that meek halal journalism and publishing behavior. Here are a few of them.

In October 2008 the offices of Gibson Square Books, a British publisher, were firebombed, causing the publisher to “suspend” publication of Sherry Jones’s The Jewel of Medina, a novel about Mohammad’s wife, Aisha. This was after Random House in New York scuttled plans to publish it in the U.S. after a University of Texas professor, Denise Spellberg, bird-dogged the novel, citing possible offense to Muslims, saying that it turned “sacred history” into “soft pornography.”

Random House then sent the manuscript to three Muslim scholars. Two said the subject matter could offend some Muslims. On May 21, Random pulled the plug.

So, on the basis of potential offense and imagined reprisals, Random House caved. Beaufort Books in the U.S. picked it up. The novel itself is of marginal literary value. Sequels to it are planned. One may as well have written a fictional account of the romantic life of Adolf Hitler and how he met Eva Braun. For the whole sorry history of the novel, see the Wikipedia entry here.

On November 2nd, Tom A. Peter, writing for The Christian Science Monitor, after a brief report on the firebombing of Charlie Hebdo, reprised three other “violence-provoking” incidents involving images of Mohammad. The article is interesting only because it goes to great pains to be “balanced” in its assessment of the value of the images as instances of freedom of speech, mentioning the advocates of freedom of speech but insinuating caution concerning the “sensibilities” of Muslims to such images. Recounting the reactions to the Danish Mohammad cartoons in 2005, Geert Wilders’s trial over his 2008 film Fitna, and the “Everybody draw Mohammad Day” imbroglio instigated in April 2010 by cartoonist Molly Norris (who has since vanished into the purgatory of unpersonhood on the recommendation of the FBI) over the South Park Mohammad in a bear suit episode, Peter thought it necessary to end each narrative with a “balancing” proviso. After the Danish cartoon story, he writes:

In an article explaining Muslim outrage over the cartoon, the BBC wrote that the cartoons fueled the “widespread perception among Muslims across the world that many in the West harbour a hostility towards – or fear of – Islam and Muslims.”

Ad libbing a line from Crumley’s article, one is tempted to say, “Well…yeah,” there is a hostility towards Islam and Muslims, and even a fear. After all, in whose name have 99.99% of the terrorist attacks over the last thirty years been made, but Mohammad’s and Islam’s?

At the end of his recounting of the Geert Wilders story, he felt it necessary to add,
In 2010 the far-right politician was put on trial for inciting hatred against Muslims in the Netherlands. In June of 2011, Wilders was acquitted. A Dutch court noted that his speech was legitimate political debate, but walked a fine line.

That “fine line” is drawn by whom? The Dutch judiciary, or by “radical” Muslims? And at the end of his squib about “Everybody Draw Mohammad Day,” he noted:

The stunt had a number of outspoken critics in the West who said the day was not part of a constructive discourse. “The problem with the ‘in-your-face message’ of ‘Everybody Draw Mohammed Day’ is not just that it is inconsiderate of the sensibilities of others, but that it defines those others – Muslims – as being outside of our culture, unworthy of the courtesy we readily accord to insiders,” wrote James Taranto in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.

James Taranto made several other statements in that April 26, 2010 Wall Street Journal op-ed, “Everybody Burn the Flag,” that reveal the tenuous state of journalism’s regard for the First Amendment. In the op-ed, he quotes Ann Althouse, a University of Wisconsin Law School professor:

Our reflexive response to "Everybody Draw Mohammad Day"--which we too thought was serious, not having seen Norris's cartoon or her disclaimer--was sympathetic. But Althouse prompted us to reconsider. Here is her objection:

“Depictions of Muhammad offend millions of Muslims who are no part of the violent threats. In pushing back some people, you also hurt a lot of people who aren't doing anything. . .I don't like the in-your-face message that we don't care about what other people hold sacred.”

If depictions of Mohammad offend millions of Muslims, why? Because they look at them. Has anyone forced them to look at them? Or to read Sherry Jones’s novel? Or to watch Geert Wilders’s film? No. The issue here is not whether or not such things offend Muslims. The issue is that most Muslims lead such pitifully insular lives that neither the cartoons, the novel, or the film would have been noticed by them had not their “champions,” such as CAIR and university professors and dhimmified media brought the offending actions to the attention of these pious folk.

As noted above, Taranto ends his article with:

The problem with the "in-your-face message" of "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" is not just that it is inconsiderate of the sensibilities of others, but that it defines those others--Muslims--as being outside of our culture, unworthy of the courtesy we readily accord to insiders. It is an unwise message to send, assuming that one does not wish to make an enemy of the entire Muslim world.

Is not Taranto aware of the fact that America is already an enemy of the entire Muslim world, that the United States is Dar al-Harb, or the “Land of War”?

Yes, Islam and Muslims are outside American culture, which Taranto does not define, but which I will: it is the culture of individualism, of capitalism, of self-reliance, of being responsible for one’s own life and actions, of being left alone by state and religion – anyone’s religion. Islam reflects none of these qualities. Muslims who flaunt their “Muslim-ness” in dress and behavior in public do not reflect that culture. They are alien to it, and hostile to it, and I will say here and now that I am hostile to Islam and to anyone who submits to it or apologizes or defends it. Islam is anti-individual, and anti-mind. I stand with Jefferson who swore “eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." Islam is demonstrably an enemy of the mind. See my review of Robert R. Reilly’s excellent disquisition on the nature of Islam, The Closing of the Muslim Mind, about why Islam necessarily must suborn and sabotage independent minds.

Back to Bruce Crumley’s sniveling prudery. Robert Spencer, in a Jihad Watch article on the Charlie Hebdo firebombing, made a number of observations.

So Crumley's argument boils down to saying that we should capitulate in the face of violent intimidation. This is not really about being sensitive. It is about doing what the thugs want so they won't hurt us again.

Or even a first time, as Spencer experienced, together with Pamela Geller, when the Hyatt Palace Hotel in Houston and the Hutton Hotel in Nashville cancelled their talks about the perils of Sharia law in this country after the hotels received threatening calls objecting to their appearances.

Spencer later in the Jihad Watch piece scores Crumley for his suggestion that Muslims should be patronized and protected from “hate speech” or offensive cartoons because they haven’t the mental equipment to understand some basic principles:

There are millions of Christians in France even now. And their religion is routinely insulted and mocked on comedy shows, in movies, etc. Do they riot? Do they firebomb? They do not. And why not? Because they understand what civil liberty means. How ethnocentric of Crumley to expect that Muslims will never be able to grasp this point, and call for us to lower our expectations for them.

I must qualify my agreement with Spencer on this point. Frankly, my own expectations are low, not for any “ethnocentric” reasons, but because of the mind-altering drug of Islamic ideology, instilled in Muslim children at a very early age and administered to them in increasing dosages as they mature into adolescents and adults.

How else to explain second and third generation Muslims who never left France or Britain or the Netherlands but became “radicalized” “extremists”? Who was responsible for their “addiction” to Islam? All those humble Muslims one never hears about, “a lot of people who aren't doing anything,” as Ann Althouse put it. The parents and relatives and teachers of those “extremists,” firebombers, and other “radicals.” In lieu of forming rape gangs in Britain and the Netherlands, terrorizing Jews in Malmo, or taking over public streets in France for mass pray-ins, that is what those anonymous Muslim manqués do: turn their children into post-conceptual savages by having nothing to say about the violence of their ideological brethren. The creed forbids it. Submitting to Islam entails the Faustian bargain of self-censorship, and if such a bargain stigmatizes Muslims, so be it.

On the other hand, it would be fair to stigmatize Bruce Crumley as a dhimmi. Observe the wholly locker-room rap-session manner with which he begins his Time article:

Okay, so can we finally stop with the idiotic, divisive, and destructive efforts by “majority sections” of Western nations to bait Muslim members with petulant, futile demonstrations that “they” aren't going to tell “us” what can and can't be done in free societies? Because not only are such Islamophobic antics futile and childish, but they also openly beg for the very violent responses from extremists their authors claim to proudly defy in the name of common good. What common good is served by creating more division and anger, and by tempting belligerent reaction?

First of all, the “antics” of Charlie Hebdo are not “Islamophobic,” not in the sense that Crumley means. Expressing one’s satirical or even damning view of Islam is exercising one’s freedom of speech. The editor, Stephane Charbonnier, did just that, and in a country that is experiencing an inexorable conquest by Muslims. Crumley ought to know that, being Time’s Paris bureau chief and being a first-hand witness to that conquest. Charbonnier fears the Islamization of France. He does not equate Islam with freedom of any kind. That is not a “phobia,” but a justifiable worry. His way of expressing his objection to his country’s Islamization is satire. Mine is the written word. Our means differ, but our goals are the same: to expose Islam for what it is, a killer of freedom.

But Crumley would rather no one cause “division and anger” and tempt “belligerent reaction.” France, Denmark, Sweden, Spain, even the United States, should just expire quietly without making a ruckus and concede a caliphate. Those who value their freedom had better be divisive and angry. Muslims don’t have a monopoly on them.

As Spencer points out in his Jihad Watch and FrontPage articles, Crumley blames the victim for the violence. Just as Islamic terrorist groups and Muslim clerics and Muslim thugs do when non-veiled women are raped, Jews murdered, and hotels threatened when they don’t comply with the Islamic world-view of how things and people should be.

Crumley sticks out his tongue and chides the editor of Charlie Hebdo:

But do you still think the price you paid for printing an offensive, shameful, and singularly humor-deficient parody on the logic of “because we can” was so worthwhile? If so, good luck with those charcoal drawings your pages will now be featuring.

Not exactly adult behavior, is it? No camaraderie or journalist brotherhood or support in evidence there. Just nasty spitefulness. Crumley charges Charbonnier with wanting to provoke Muslims with the “Mohammad-edited” edition of Charlie Hebdo. Probably not. Charbonnier was exercising his freedom of speech. Crumley didn’t like the way he exercised it. Neither did the firebombers. An appropriate kinship.

Crumley isn’t satisfied with holding Charbonnier’s feet to the fire for having shown what he thinks of Islam. The Paris bureau chief is soured on France’s pathetic, draconian gestures of defiance against the Islamic occupation of the country. To him it’s an “over-heated issue” that can only drive Muslims crazy and make them feel alienated and “outside the culture.”

Because like France's 2010 law banning the burqa in public (and earlier legislation prohibiting the hijab in public schools), the nation's government-sponsored debates on Islam's place in French society all reflected very real Islamophobic attitudes spreading throughout society. Indeed, such perceived anti-Muslim action has made France a point of focus for Islamist radicals at home and abroad looking to harp on new signs of aggression against Islam. It has also left France's estimated five million Muslims feeling stigmatized and singled out for discriminatory treatment—a resentment that can't be have been diminished by seeing Charlie Hebdo's mockery of Islam “just for fun” defended as a hallowed example of civil liberty by French pols.

So, it’s better to not talk about growing Muslim arrogance, of the Sharia-governed, crime-ridden banuiles no longer under French law, of the reduction of non-Muslims to the status of second-class citizens in their own country for fear of inculcating division and anger. Crumley’s sarcasm makes one wonder whose side he would’ve been on during the Nazi occupation of France. What was the Noël Coward song? Don’t let’s be beastly to the Germans?

After an obligatory chastising memo to Muslims that they mustn’t let things like Charlie Hebdo get their goat and cause them to misbehave, Crumley pimps for censorship:

But it's just evident members of those same free societies have to exercise a minimum of intelligence, calculation, civility and decency in practicing their rights and liberties—and that isn't happening when a newspaper decides to mock an entire faith on the logic that it can claim to make a politically noble statement by gratuitously pissing people off.

Other Frenchmen might want to mock Islam and Muslims, too, you see, because intelligence, calculation, civility and decency have failed to stop Muslims from wanting to take over France.

Defending freedom of expression in the face of oppression is one thing; insisting on the right to be obnoxious and offensive just because you can is infantile. Baiting extremists isn't bravely defiant when your manner of doing so is more significant in offending millions of moderate people as well. And within a climate where violent response—however illegitimate—is a real risk, taking a goading stand on a principle virtually no one contests is worse than pointless: it's pointlessly all about you.

It wasn’t “moderate” Muslims who firebombed Charlie Hebdo, those “silent majority” manqués who have nothing to say about their more consistent colleagues. Crumley earlier mentions that “Muslim leaders in France and abroad also stepped up to condemn the action,” but apparently he has never heard of taqiyya, the art of Muslim double-speak. (Demonstration: Muslim cleric says to your face in English, French, Dutch, German, pick your language: “We condemn violence, we are for human rights!” Cleric turns to his companions: “He is an ape, a pig, a dog and not human. When the time comes, we’ll clean his clock, take his daughter, his wallet, his property, and his head, just as Mohammad did and said we must do, blessings and peace be upon him!”)

So, yeah, the violence inflicted upon Charlie Hebdo was outrageous, unacceptable, condemnable, and illegal. But apart from the “illegal” bit, Charlie Hebdo's current edition is all of the above, too.

I’ve read better journalism in The Rolling Stone. You expect to encounter this level of semi-literate smarminess and ignorance in the denizens of Occupy Wall Street, not in a national news magazine. And, as Robert Spencer emphasizes, what Crumley’s article boils down to is a call for censorship, for “responsible” discourse that won’t encourage Muslims to carry Molotov cocktails or bombs or knives to the debate. This kind of gagging will be accompanied by unspecified penalties for “risking” any kind of violence with words.

Crumley made a point in his article of asserting that one doesn’t have a right to shout “Fire!” in the “increasingly over-heated theater.” But suppose the heat is caused by actual fire, a conflagration set by Muslim arsonists? This scenario Crumley refuses to imagine. And if hot-headed Muslims did set the fire, he asks, who can blame them?

Crumley shouldn’t worry much about it, however. President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, The Muslim Brotherhood, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation are all working assiduously but secretly to bring about the criminalization of freedom of speech. Words, images, and attitudes, after all, they claim, can be just as hurtful and injurious as bombs, fire, and knives at one’s throat.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Book Review: The Closing of the Muslim Mind

Even if one has read the Koran, or sampled its most outrageous verses, injunctions, and imperatives, or discussed Islam with other concerned individuals, nothing could better guarantee a fundamental and essential grasp of the utter irrationality of Islam than Robert R. Reilly’s The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamic Crisis.* This work can help one understand precisely why Islam is so intractably irrational and inherently violent. It renders irrelevant any hope or notion that Islam can be “tamed” or rendered “moderate” or redeemed as a benign faith.

What one will grasp is that Islam, that berserker ideology in a cilice rampaging around the world in pursuit of a global caliphate of totalitarianism, leaving countless dead and maimed and incalculable destruction in its wake, is irrational by intent, that is, it is explicitly, unapologetically, and irrevocably irrational and beyond the realm of reason. As Reilly brilliantly explains it, the Islam we know and fear today is a product of a deliberate, conscious rejection of reason, of causality, of reality, of comprehension.

No review of Reilly’s book would do it justice. Reilly has performed an intellectual feat and service of incalculable value. What follows here are merely highlights of some of the more salient points Reilly elucidates.

Reilly delves into the intellectual history of Islam, going back to the so-called “golden age” of Islam when it nearly conquered Europe, not long after Muslims had secured the Arabian Peninsula and spread their power over North Africa.

In this early jihad, Islamic thinkers and theologians encountered Hellenic thought: Plato, Aristotle, and the surviving works of other Greek thinkers. Reading these works opened up the minds of many of these men and allowed them to venture tentatively beyond the strictures of the Koran, the Hadith and other Islamic documents. Up until then, inquiry into the nature of Allah and the universe had not been an issue, because the minds of most Muslims were already closed to the possibility that the universe or reality was comprehensible and explainable.

Along came the Mu’tazilites who dared to uphold reason and claim that Allah was a benevolent god who meant well, rewarded a volitional man for his good or evil character and actions, and could be known, and that reason could lead men to a knowledge of him or his revelation. It is interesting to note (though Reilly does not dwell on the point) that the Mu’tazilites became influential under the Umayyad caliphate that existed a little after Mohammad’s death, became controversial and then dangerous, and fled to Spain where the school of enquiry thrived under the caliphate-in-exile of Córdoba (until extinguished, after a civil war, by its enemies, traditionally the Berbers of North Africa).

Reilly writes:

Most learned men in these sciences [medicine, mathematics, natural science, alchemy, and astrology], however, were also schooled in philosophy and theology, which meant that Muslim interest began to spill over into philosophical and theological issues. Muslims were also called upon to defend and advance their faith against Christians and others who used philosophical methods in their apologetics. Some Muslim converts in these new territories were already versed in Greek learning and prepared to deploy it on behalf of their new faith. Thus, by the late eighth and early ninth centuries, a new kind of discourse began to affect Islamic thought that had hitherto been largely doctrinal and jurisprudential. New words were created in Arabic to take in Greek concepts. Philosophy opened the Muslim mind in a way in which it had never been before in the spirit of free inquiry and speculative thought. It is at this juncture that the greatest intellectual drama of Islam took place.

Opposing them were the Ash’arites (and their doctrinal allies), who asserted that reason had no power to “know Allah” (or God), that reason could not lead to the revelation of his existence, and that it was an illegitimate means on which to found one’s faith in Allah. Of the two general schools of Islam at that time, the more consistent school won. These were the Ash’arites, who chose faith over reason and banished actual thought and speculation and deemed them heretical if not blasphemous. The less consistent school was the Mu’tazilite, because its proponents attempted to reconcile reason and reality with faith and a capricious and literally unknowable deity, Allah. Reilly narrates this conflict with an adeptness that belies the intricacies of the conflict.

The Mu’tazilites differed from their opponents in their teaching that God had endowed man with reason specifically so that he can come to know the moral order in creation and its Creator; that is what reason is for. Reason is central to man’s relationship to God….Therefore, reason logically precedes revelation.

The Mu’tazilites wished to retain a Supreme Being and at the same time claim that reason not only can aid man in his establishing what is good or evil, but that it must, among other things, aside from enabling men to lead virtuous lives of their own volition, lead to faith in God. The Ash’arites vehemently objected to this line of thinking, claiming that man is unable to formulate what is good or evil – chiefly because such an ability would allow men to hold Allah in judgment for his actions, and Allah, they claimed, is beyond judgment. Ultimately, they feared that men would even question Allah’s existence, if allowed to follow a logical train of thought.

The Ash'arites’ solution was to shut the door on all speculation and substitute literal faith and submission to the unknowable. To use novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand’s term, the Ash’arites argued in favor of a complete, universal, across-the-board “blank out.” They were the equivalent of the Islamic thought police, who answered to any queries about what was going on: There’s nothing to see here. Move along, or we’ll poke out your eyes.

Rand wrote:

Reason integrates man’s perceptions by means of forming abstractions or conceptions, thus raising man’s knowledge from the perceptual level, which he shares with animals, to the conceptual level, which he alone can reach. The method which reason employs in this process is logic—and logic is the art of non-contradictory identification. (“The Objectivist Ethics,” The Virtue of Selfishness, 20)


The senses, concepts, logic: these are the elements of man’s rational faculty—its start, its form, its method. In essence, “follow reason” means: base knowledge on observation; form concepts according to the actual (measurable) relationships among concretes; use concepts according to the rules of logic (ultimately, the Law of Identity). Since each of these elements is based on the facts of reality, the conclusions reached by a process of reason are objective. The alternative to reason is some form of mysticism or skepticism. (“The Left: Old and New,” Return of the Primitive, 162)

Reilly explicates these observations and demonstrates how the Ash’arites waged a consistent and merciless campaign against man’s perceptual and conceptual faculties. They claimed, ultimately, as they developed and honed their arguments, that no one can be certain of his knowledge, because Allah has the power to change things whether they are stationary or in motion, that he controls everything’s existence from second to second, that he makes things exist, and can change their perceived nature at whim. An arrow flying through the air could wind up being a Playboy bunny or a flea. Furthermore, they claimed that Allah controls every atom in the universe – that he is the universe, and because he is beyond judgment of mortals, is essentially an amoral entity. Allah is pure Will. As Reilly demonstrates, Islam in its Ash'arite form is a species of pantheism.

The Ash’arites and their allies preceded philosophers such as David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Hegel and the rest by a millennium. The Ash’arites motive in opposing the Mu’tazilites differed not a whit from Kant’s, who fashioned a brain-cracking system of philosophy to save religion from the Enlightenment. The Ash’arites wished to save Islam from the first steps away from faith and mysticism.

The Koran itself was central to the dispute between the Mu’tazilites and Ash’arites. The Mu’tazilites contended that the Koran was an act of creation by man via Mohammad. Thus it was open to correction and interpretation. The Ash’arites contended that the Koran and Allah are one and the same and had always existed. They were a single unity. They were eternal and so could not be changed, corrected, or interpreted. To say otherwise was to suggest that Allah could be changed, corrected, or interpreted. Which, of course, is heresy or blasphemy.

One must ask oneself: So, the Koran was never “created” but always existed and was Allah himself, inseparable in “unity,” and Allah won’t be merciful if you burn one in protest? Was the original Koran a mass of rolled-up parchment? Or a book? Or an iPod?

And the Hadith? Wikipedia notes that “Hadith were evaluated and gathered into large collections during the 8th and 9th centuries. These works are referred to in matters of Islamic law and history to this day.” So, the Hadith is a collection of rumors, gossip, and apocryphal sayings and episodes of Mohammad collected long after his death. Can you imagine Muslim scribes having a lot of fun making this stuff up in the Koran and the Hadith? Picture the comedic ancestors of Jay Leno and Dave Letterman: “Did you hear the one about Mohammad and Aisha…?”

As Reilly explains it, in contrasting the Mu’tazilite position that God does not have reason but is reason (and therefore can know good and evil and instruct man in what are good and evil), with the Ash'arites’ position:

Therefore, He cannot do anything unreasonable. This is not a constraint; it is freedom. The ability to negate who and what you are is not freedom; it is nihilism. For the Ash’arites, however, God, as pure will, is not bound by anything, including Himself. His freedom of will is absolute. He has no ‘nature’ to deny. He has reason, but is not reason. Therefore, by removing God’s attributes from His essence, the Ash’arites made these attributes products of His will. In other words, God was not mercy, but merciful when He wished to be. Likewise, there was no impediment to His acting unreasonably when He wished to do so.

The Mu’tazilite position is closer to the Christian idea of man’s relationship with God, as an individual in charge of his own life, thinking and actions, with God conceived as a deity who wishes him to be good and who establishes comprehendible moral behavior (in order to save his own, and not anyone else’s soul). The Ash’arite position requires that individuals erase their own identity to merge themselves with a “community” whose sole purpose is to submit to and worship Allah, who is not beholden to any comprehensible measure of morality, his own or man’s. (One is strongly reminded of the Borg Hive in the Star Trek TV and movie series, in which Borg-conquered races are given two choices: absorption and assimilation into the Hive to serve it without thought, or death.)

Free will, volition, thought, choosing to be moral or not (according to Koranic injunctions, that is) – these are the bane of the Ash’arites’ version of Islam (chiefly the Sunni or Saudi brand, Reilly does not focus on the Shi’ite side of Islam). This is the brand of Islam that dominates the Muslim world today.

No injustice can be conceived on the part of Allah because, according to al-Ghazali, justice means performing an obligation – something that would cause serious harm if not performed. God has no obligations, and cannot be harmed. Good and bad, justice and injustice, pertain to whether something achieves or frustrates a purpose. Since God [Allah] has no purpose, these terms are superfluous to Him. He can do anything, and there could not possibly be any blame. As the Qur’an states, ‘He cannot be questioned concerning what He does’ (21:23.


If Allah is pure will, good and evil are only conventions of Allah’s – some things are halal (permitted/lawful) and others are haram (forbidden/unlawful), simply because He says so and for no reasons in themselves. Evil is simply what is forbidden. What is forbidden today could be permitted tomorrow without inconsistency. God, in short, is a legal positivist.

This explains the ubiquity of beheadings, mutilations, child marriages, wife-beatings, censorship, 9/11, suicide bombers, and every jihadist atrocity on record emanating from the Muslim world. The Koran, which is one with Allah, says so; ergo, it is to be without question or hesitation or reference to any moral code whatsoever.

The Immanuel Kant of Islam was Imam Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali (died 1111), who pounded the final nails into the edifice of Islam as we know it. In his various works, according to Reilly, he codified Islam’s final and permanent stance on all matters, personal, political, and social, including what he claimed was the ephemeral nature of reality itself. Man perceives reality through the evidence of his senses, but because Allah controls not only what man perceives but his means of perceiving, reality is illusory, because Allah can change things at will. For man, there is not even a “primacy of consciousness” (as opposed to the primacy of existence, which is the rational position) that allows him to see things as they are not or as he wishes. At first glance, that would seem to be the privilege of Allah. Reilly writes of the Ash’arites:

They began with a conclusion received from revelation, and then deduced what they thought was necessary to support it in metaphysical terms. This drove them to abandon causality in the natural world. In short, the Ash’arites were compelled by their theology to deny reality.

But the possibility of Allah “seeing things as they are or are not” would mean that reality is apart from Allah, whether or not he created it. This the Ash’arites would not allow. Only Allah is “conscious” and everything is him. Ergo, he is conscious only of himself and of everything he “created.” But this is too “logical.” Allah “created” nothing. He just was and everything in the universe just was. This conception of Allah obviates the concept of time, of eternity, and even the argument from the primacy of consciousness. Allah is just “the One.” Period.

Reilly relates that al-Ghazali compared reason and the evidence of the senses to dreams. When one awakens from a dream, once “…in that new sphere you will recognize that the conclusions of reason are only chimeras.” Reilly remarks:

Of course, speculations such as these reduce everything to gibberish and make it impossible to think. Once you negate the reliability of the senses and jettison the principle of contradiction, all meaningful discourse comes to a halt.

It should not be surprising that Reilly writes that al-Ghazali, towards the end of his life, having dispensed with reason, rationality and reality – with epistemology and metaphysics – found solace and refuge in Sufism, or a “spiritual” union with Allah which required not the intellect or the mind or theological sophistry, but “experience” or pure emotion. Writing about al-Ghazali’s conversion to Sufism, Reilly notes:

This, then, was not so much an intellectual as a spiritual exercise. “It became clear to me that the last stage could not be reached by mere instruction, but only by transport, ecstasy, and the transformation of the moral being.” Therefore, says al-Ghazali, “I saw that Sufism consists in experiences rather than in definitions, and that what I was lacking belonged to the domain, not of instruction, but of ecstasy and initiation.”

This is the Islamic version of “rapture,” in which emotions are used as tools of cognition. To “be one” with Allah one must have a temporal “out of body” experience, and lose one’s mind. Allahu Akbar, indeed. If the 9/11 hijackers were really “perfectly united” with Allah, if Allah had predestined 9/11, and if everything and every human action was of a piece and non-discrete, then Islam ought to be condemned as the most nihilistic faith that ever was. But, then again, Islam is more an ideology than it is a faith.

I have very few reservations about Reilly’s opus, and they are so minor I will not mention them here. The only major fault with his book is that it does not include a glossary of Arabic and Islamic terms. One does tend to lose the train of thought if one encounters such a term several pages after a first encounter, and must hunt it up again.

That being said, The Closing of the Muslim Mind should be required reading for anyone who hopes to argue effectively against Islamic jihad. I think it would also be indispensible in formulating arguments against statism and collectivism, for many of the fallacies, mystical, and collectivist concepts to be found in the book have doppelgangers in modern secular political and philosophical thought. If you can grasp the insidious nature of Islam in Reilly’s book, grasping the ends and means of Obama, the Democrats, and their own jihadist agenda for this country then ought to be a cinch.

*ISI Books (Intercollegiate Studies Institute), Wilmington DE. 2010. Paperback 2011.