Let’s Not Get It Wrong This Time

Within hours of the terrorist attacks in Paris, politicians and presidential candidates in America and abroad have stated their desire to ramp-up military “involvement” in the Middle East. Given the horrors we witnessed, it’s certainly understandable on a certain level. But before jumping on the “tough on terrorism” bandwagon, we should reflect on the lessons learned in the 14 years since the 9/11 terror attacks and consider what actually works to counter this global problem and what doesn’t.

We can’t kill our way to victory:

There is a role for the U.S. military in responding to terrorism, however counterterrorism policy that relies too heavily on warfare and not enough on addressing the causes of terrorism is doomed to fail. As President Obama said in July:

Countering violent extremism is not simply a military effort. Ideologies are not defeated with guns, they’re defeated by better ideas — a more attractive and compelling vision.

While I am generally very critical of the president’s policies in this area, he is exactly right in this statement. There are no easy solutions, but helping countries address the causes of terrorism; including human rights abuses by governments and the rise of extremism, is critical to making everyone safer. Simply killing more suspects and unintended civilians doesn’t do the job but it does fuel terrorist recruitment.

Suppressing human rights creates more terrorists:

In the wake of the September 11 attacks on the United States, a panicked U.S. government rounded up thousands of suspects, both at home and abroad, and denied them basic due process rights. Those at home were detained based on minor visa violations as “persons of interest” to authorities.

Overseas, suspects were abused during interrogations, sent to CIA “black sites” where they were tortured, and eventually sent to the detention center at Guantanamo Bay in an attempt to circumvent the requirements of U.S. law. That backfired: not only did the Supreme Court eventually step in, but to this day, al Qaeda and ISIS invoke Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and US torture of Muslims in their recruitment propoganda.

That network of global recruitment is what makes terrorists so difficult to defeat. We should not be adding fuel to their fire and we should likewise make every effort to encourage our allies to treat suspects humanely.

We lose critical counterterrorism cooperation from our allies when we don’t respect human rights and the rule of law:

Our allies have refused to share intelligence with us out of concern about the United States’ drone program, and refuse to turn over terror suspects out of concern that they’ll be sent to Guantanamo Bay. The United States should instead be the model of lawful behavior and remind our allies that valuable U.S. cooperation depends on their adherence to the rule of law as well.

Refugees are fleeing the same terrorism we’re fighting, so it’s in our interest to help them and not demonize them:

In the wake of the Paris attacks, we’ve already seen politicians in the U.S. and abroad suggest this is cause for denying admission to Syrian refugees. The opposite is true: Refugees to the U.S. are more carefully vetted than any other immigrant population, and offering them assistance and asylum not only helps desperate people in need, but supports the stability of our allies in the region as well as our own standing in the Middle East which has greatly eroded since 9/11.

The US can’t afford to alienate Muslims:

The post-9/11 mistakes and abuses understandably led many Muslims to mistrust U.S. authorities. We can’t afford for that to continue. If law enforcement and the military want an effective policy to counter ISIS and al Qaeda, it will need to work with and support Muslim communities, both at home and abroad.

Muslims suffer from Islamic terrorism more than any other religious or ethnic group, particularly in the Middle East. As they craft their counterterrorism policies, politicians and presidential candidates need to keep in mind that, aside from the actual terrorists, we’re all on the same side and we will be most effective if we fight terrorism together.

Muslims Condemn Paris Violence While Ted Cruz Calls for Tolerance…of Killing Civilians

One CIA estimate puts ISIS’ total manpower at 31,500, about one-third the capacity of Rose Bowl stadium, or roughly, 0.0019% of the world’s total Muslim population when you round down to 1.6 billion. The idea that the remaining 1,599,965,000 Muslims ought to immediately jump on Twitter and condemn ISIS isn’t just silly, it’s the definition of prejudice. But here we are. Another attack, another round of people calling on moderate Muslims to condemn something they had nothing to do with. Or as Mohamed Ghilan tweeted last year:

Asking me to condemn the obviously condemnable presumes my basic moral code is in question. I refuse to take part in this,

Nevertheless, Muslims from around the world are making it clear ISIS does not represent their values. Iran’s Supreme Leader Hassan Rouhani denounced the attacks, postponing his trip to Europe to renew peace talks on the Syrian conflict. Iran and Iran-backed Hezbollah fight ISIS and other extremists in Syria (as well as non-Salafists). The day before the Paris attacks, militants claiming allegiance to ISIS bombed a civilian area of Beirut in an effort to undermine Hezbollah’s support there.

Joko Widodo, president of Indonesia, the largest Muslim country on earth, roundly condemned the attacks, telling reporters, “Indonesia condemns the violence that took place in Paris.” In a now-viral video on YouTube, a Moroccan man expressed his condolences to the victims, saying, “These so-called jihadists only represent themselves.”

The governments of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Egypt have all condemned the attacks, though it should be noted, the unelected rulers who run the Saudi Kingdom and Qatar have themselves routinely funded and armed jihadists in Syria and elsewhere.

The largest Muslim group in the United States, CAIR, quickly condemned the attacks, insisting,

These savage and despicable attacks on civilians, whether they occur in Paris, Beirut or any other city, are outrageous and without justification.

The US Council of Muslim Organizations released a statement also condemning the attack.

Thousands more Muslims took to Twitter to express sorrow, solidarity and solace. A good breakdown can be seen here and here.

Meanwhile, human-shaped pile of shit Ted Cruz wasted no time after the attacks in Paris to issue a bellicose statement insisting President Obama is a little too concerned with civilian casualties in Syria.

It will not be appeased by outreach or declarations of tolerance. It will not be deterred by targeted airstrikes with zero tolerance for civilian casualties, when the terrorists have such utter disregard for innocent life. We must make it crystal clear that affiliation with ISIS and related terrorist groups brings with it the undying enmity of America—that it is, in effect, signing your own death warrant.

Cruz also took time to go on Fox News last night to demagogue against Syrian refugees seeking asylum. He also pushed for an Expatriate Act that automatically strips any American of citizenship if they are accused of joining ISIS or other extremist groups. The idea of “returning foreign fighters” committing acts of terrorism in the United States remains entirely hypothetical since it has never happened or even been attempted.

So there you have it, Muslims around the world nearly universally condemning an act of terrible violence while right-wingers in America call for more violence with even less regard for civilian deaths, which is the exact over-reaction the terrorists wanted incidentally.

Myth of the Christian Nation

One of the more enduring myths on the religious right is the notion that America is a “Christian” nation, or at the very least a nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles. Despite having no basis in fact or history this has become central to conservative mythology. One hears it from virtually every Republican politician, and it’s always accepted uncritically by conservative commentators and audiences.

Earlier this week, Republican candidate for president Ben Carson repeated this on Fox News, and he did it in typical nonchalant fashion, as though it were a truism. Near the end of a rambling interview about traditional marriage and religious liberty, Carson said: “This is a Judeo-Christian nation, in the sense that a lot of our values are based on a Judeo-Christian faith.”

This statement isn’t remotely true but it reflects a widespread ignorance about American history. America is currently populated by a majority of Christians, but this isn’t a Christian nation in any meaningful or legal sense. This inconvenient distinction is often lost on conservatives, and it’s why they’re under the impression that the government should respect their religious morality at the expense of all others (i.e., Kim Davis/Mike Huckabee).

There are two primary ways to argue that America is a Christian nation: One is to claim that our laws and Constitution are grounded in Christian values. The other is to say that the Founders of the country were Christians and that they conceived the government on the basis of those beliefs.

Both of these arguments are patently false.

First, the Constitution, which is sacrosanct in conservative circles (the parts they like anyway), makes no mention of Jesus, the Bible, Christianity or even God. In fact, when it does mention religion, it’s to prohibit the state from favoring one over another. When confronted with this fact, Christians eagerly point to the Declaration of Independence, particularly the part that reads “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.”

But again, with no mention of the Bible, Jesus, etc. that statement in no way justifies the view that America is a specifically Christian nation. Nearly all religious traditions have a “Creator.” Plus, even a casual reading of the Bible reveals that “all men are created equal” and posses “inalienable rights” are not values that the writers and early (or even many current) practitioners held.

As for the Founders themselves, many of them were deists, not Christians and certainly not Christians in the sense that Mike Huckabee or Ted Cruz or Bobby Jindal are. John Adams, for instance, the principal author of the Massachusetts constitution and our second president, signed the Treaty of Tripoli, which stated that “The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” Thomas Jefferson, the main author of the Declaration of the Independence and our third president, wrote in the Virginia Statue for Religious Freedom (the precursor to the First Amendment) “That our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.”

There is nothing unclear about the Founders’ intentions in other words. America’s political roots are decidedly secular, only fundamentalists are confused about this.

The irony of all this is that the Founders (most of them, at least) are precisely the kind of people modern conservatives openly hate. They were elitist European-style intellectuals who were inspired by the (for the time) progressive ideals of the Enlightenment. They looked to history and Western philosophy for guidance, not to the Bible. They wanted to create a government based on classical republican principles not divine-right monarchy, the preferred method of government found in the Bible. No objective or disinterested analysis of our founding documents suggests otherwise.

Conservatives can (and almost certainly will) ignore this, but that doesn’t change the fact that America is and was intended to be a secular republic, not a Christian theocracy. If the myth of America as a Christian nation endures among conservatives, it’s because people like Ben Carson repeat it endlessly without evidence and for political purposes.

Not Fooling Anyone

Gov. Mike Pence (R-IN) signed legislation Thursday that allows business-owners to discriminate against pretty much anyone based on religious objections. Mainly because he thinks that he’s running for president in 2016 and feels he needs to pander to the religious fundamentalists in the Republican base.

Naturally, same-sex couples, gays and lesbians, along with perhaps even mixed-race couples and random minorities will be impacted the most, creating a convenient loophole for business-owners to refuse service to anyone who might make the business-owner feel icky.

The law is the first of at least a dozen proposals nationwide, a last gasp for anti-gay conservatives in the face of, among other things, legal and recognized same-sex marriages. But what it achieves is a return to the pre-Civil Rights Act era when bigoted shop owners could refuse service to African-Americans and other minorities.

Along those lines, you might be familiar with the story of Ollie’s Barbecue in Birmingham, Alabama. The owner, Ollie McClung Jr., sued the government in 1964 following the passage of the Civil Rights Act, insisting that allowing black customers in his restaurant would drive away the white customers. The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously against McClung, upholding the Civil Rights Act. With this precedent in mind, it’s difficult to imagine the Indiana law holding up in court.

But let’s say it does. The Court today is loaded with neanderthals like Justices Scalia and Alito, and it’s difficult to imagine legitimate precedent topping the brute force of their obvious ideological bias. So, anything can happen, you don’t need to look any further than the Hobby Lobby decision.

The question remains however: If a religious objection is based on a business-owner being worried about violating biblical dogma and potentially committing a sin, where’s the chapter and verse pertaining to selling cakes to gay people?

In other words, where’s the part of the Bible in which God or any other character condemns the selling of goods and services to gay people or gay couples as a trespass? Don’t bother trying to find it because, as I alluded to in the last post, it’s not in there. The Bible has a few lines condemning same-sex intercourse, but there aren’t any “activist judges” or lawmakers forcing Christians to engage in gay sex, requiring this series of “religious freedom” laws.

Again, this law is about giving religious people the freedom to refuse to sell goods and services to customers because doing so would violate their religious beliefs. But those beliefs have to be based on some kind of biblical teaching and there aren’t any passages suggesting or even hinting at the idea that selling a pie to a so-called sinner also makes the pie-seller a sinner.

In order to legally justify a religious objection, shouldn’t a Christian business-owner cite biblical evidence for his or her objection? And if they do, what will they cite in this case? “It’s just what I believe” doesn’t cut it.

Now, where the issue gets sticky is the matter of officiating same-sex marriages. In that case, I’m not sure that same-sex couples would necessarily want to be married by someone who vocally objects to their marriage. Then again, there are religious same-sex couples who’d like to be married in a religious service by an officiant from their church.

The church could object based on the biblical references forbidding same-sex intercourse, or papal mandates, however marriage isn’t sex and officiating a marriage isn’t a direct endorsement of sex. Again, the Bible only forbids a man having sex with other man, not performing a wedding that will likely lead to the participants having sex. In the Catholic Church, the Pope can establish rules that augment what’s in the Bible. The Pope’s words are, in effect, the words of God and Pope Francis has condemned same-sex marriage. Catholic priests, therefore, could cite a specific ruling. That’s just the ballgame.

All told, this is a huge step backward. Obviously. It’s the return of segregation, not only impacting the LGBT community but all minorities (the Bible can, and was, used to justify segregation, slavery, etc). The sooner this makes it to the Supreme Court, the better. Until then, anyone with religious objections better know their Bible because they need to be prepared to cite the explicit basis for their objections.