Tag Archives: Islam

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Why Iceland Doesn’t Have an Alt-Right Problem – Article by Camilo Gómez

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The New Renaissance HatCamilo Gómez
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With the recent rise to prominence of right-wing populist parties across Europe, it’s refreshing that Iceland has remained largely immune to such nationalistic rhetoric. On the continent, figures like Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands are capitalizing on what political scientists are calling a third wave of European populism that began after the international financial crisis of 2008. These parties are characterized by their anti-immigrant, and specifically, anti-Muslim sentiments. They fashion themselves the “protectors” of their homelands’ traditional culture against cosmopolitan globalism.

Yet, tiny Iceland has resisted this dirty brand of politics because of the rise of social movements that challenged the power structure of the Icelandic political establishment after the financial crisis of 2008. Unlike in other European countries, these social movements transformed themselves into a political movements, filling the vacuum of traditional center-right and center-left political parties, while also preventing far-right political projects from succeeding.

For starters, Iceland is a relatively young country that only became independent in 1944. It is a parliamentary democracy, based on coalitions because the Althing (parliament) has 63 members but a single party rarely has a clear majority. Unlike other Nordic countries, Iceland has been governed by the right for most of its history, either from the liberal conservative Independence Party or the center-right agrarian Progressive Party.

This changed after the international financial crisis of 2008, which led all three Icelandic commercial banks to default. The crisis generated massive anger as Icelanders didn’t know what was going to happen with their savings. This led to massive protests that culminated in the resignation of the Prime Minister who was a member of the Independence Party.  Consequently, in April 2009, a left-wing coalition by the Social Democratic Alliance and the Left-Green Movement formed a government together for the first time in the country’s history.

This grassroots activism led to the appearance of outsider political projects like the now defunct Best Party, which started as political satire but ended with its leader Jón Gnarr winning the mayoral election in Reykjavík in 2010. More importantly, grassroots activism was further encouraged by the Panama Papers, which revealed that the Prime Minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson of the Progressive Party and his wife, had an undisclosed account in an offshore tax haven. The ensuing protests became the largest in Iceland’s history, and made the Prime Minister resign. This led the way for the Pirate Party — a loose collection of anarchists, hackers and libertarians — to rise in prominence. Because of the Pirates, the national discussion shifted to a more socially tolerant narrative of a society willing to be open to the world.

Thus, Iceland’s 2016 elections presented very different options from the relatively traditional Independence Party and Progressive Party or the Social Democratic Alliance and Left-Green Movement. In addition to the Pirate Party,  voters could also choose from the Bright Party, an eclectic socially liberal party, and the Reform Party, a new liberal party formed by defectors of the Independence Party. The elections led to a center-right coalition between the Independence Party, the Reform Party and the Bright Party.

Rather than blaming immigrants for their problems, Icelanders confronted the political class and created new parties that didn’t resemble the wave of far-right populism. Now even the government realizes that Iceland needs immigrants, skilled and unskilled, to fulfill the demand in different aspects of the Icelandic economy. Contrary to other countries in Europe, and despite its size, Iceland had been willing to receive refugees, and the number of immigrants in Iceland keeps growing year by year. In times of demagoguery, Iceland remains friendly to foreigners. One can only hope that the world learn from this small country that foreigners bring prosperity.

Camilo Gómez is a blogger at The Mitrailleuse and the host of Late Night Anarchy podcast. He can be found in Twitter at @camilomgn. He is a Young Voices Advocate.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

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What Are the Chances That a Muslim Is a Terrorist? – Article by Sanford Ikeda

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The New Renaissance HatSanford Ikeda
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It’s flu season and for the past two days you’ve had a headache and sore throat. You learn that 90% of people who actually have the flu also have those symptoms, which makes you worry.  Does that mean the chances of your having the flu is 90%?  In other words, if there’s a 90% chance of having a headache and sore throat given that you have the flu, does that mean there’s a 90% chance having the flu given that you have a headache and sore throat?We can use symbols to express this question as follows: Pr(Flu | Symptoms) = Pr(Symptoms | Flu) = 90%?

The answer is no. Why?

If you think about it you’ll realize that there are other things besides the flu that can give you a combination of a headache and sore throat, such as a cold or an allergy, so that having those symptoms is certainly not the same thing as having the flu.  Similarly, while fire produces smoke, the old saying that “where there’s smoke there’s fire” is wrong because it’s quite possible to produce smoke without fire.

Fortunately, there’s a nice way to account for this.

How Bayes’ Theorem Works

Suppose you learn that, in addition to Pr(Symptoms | Flu) = 90%, that the probability of a randomly chosen person having a headache and sore throat this season, regardless of the cause, is 10% – i.e. Pr(Symptoms) = 10% – and that only one person in 100 will get the flu this season – i.e. Pr(Flu) = 1%.  How does this information help?

Again, what we want to know are the chances of having the flu, given these symptoms Pr(Flu | Symptom).  To find that we’ll need to know first the probability of having those symptoms if we have the flu (90%) times the probability of having the flu (1%).  In other words, there’s a 90% chance of having those symptoms if in fact we do have the flu, and the chances of having the flu is only 1%. That means Pr(Symptoms | Flu) x Pr(Flu) = 0.90 x 0.01 = 0.009 or 0.9% or a bit less than one chance in 100.

Finally, we need to divide that result by the probability of having a headache and sore throat regardless of the cause Pr(Symptoms), which is 10% or 0.10, because we need to know if your headache and sore throat are flu Symptoms out of all headache-and-sore symptoms that have occurred.

So, putting it all together, the answer to the question, “What is the probability that your Symptoms are caused by the Flu?” is as follows:

Pr(Flu | Symptoms) = [Pr(Symptoms | Flu) x Pr(Flu)] ÷ Pr(Symptoms) = 0.90 x 0.01 ÷ 0.10 = 0.09 or 9%.

So if you have a headache and sore throat there’s only a 9% chance, not 90%, that you have the flu, which I’m sure will come as a relief!

This particular approach to calculating “conditional probabilities” is called Bayes’ Theorem, after Thomas Bayes, the 18th century Presbyterian minister who came up with it. The example above is one that I got out this wonderful little book.

Muslims and Terrorism

Now, according to some sources (here and here), 10% of Terrorists are Muslim. Does this mean that there’s a 10% chance that a Muslim person you meet at random is a terrorist?  Again, the answer is emphatically no.

To see why, let’s apply Bayes’ theorem to the question, “What is the probability that a Muslim person is a Terrorist?” Or, stated more formally, “What is the probability that a person is a Terrorist, given that she is a Muslim?” or Pr(Terrorist | Muslim)?

Let’s calculate this the same way we did for the flu using some sources that I Googled and that appeared to be reliable.  I haven’t done a thorough search, however, so I won’t claim my result here to be anything but a ballpark figure.

So I want to find Pr(Terrorist | Muslim), which according to Bayes’ Theorem is equal to…

1) Pr(Muslim | Terrorist):  The probability that a person is a Muslim given that she’s a Terrorist is about 10% according to the sources I cited above, which report that around 90% of Terrorists are Non-Muslims.

Multiplied by…

2) Pr(Terrorist):  The probability that someone in the United States is a Terrorist of any kind, which I calculated first by taking the total number of known terrorist incidents in the U.S. back through 2000 which I tallied as 121 from this source  and as 49 from this source. At the risk of over-stating the incidence of terrorism, I took the higher figure and rounded it to 120.  Next, I multiplied this times 10 under the assumption that on average 10 persons lent material support for each terrorist act (which may be high), and then multiplied that result by 5 under the assumption that only one-in-five planned attacks are actually carried out (which may be low).  (I just made up these multipliers because the data are hard to find and these numbers seem to be at the higher and lower ends of what is likely the case and I’m trying to make the connection as strong as I can; but I’m certainly willing to entertain evidence showing different numbers.)  This equals 6,000 Terrorists in America between 2000 and 2016, which assumes that no person participated in more than one terrorist attempt (not likely) and that all these persons were active terrorists in the U.S. during those 17 years (not likely), all of which means 6,000 is probably an over-estimate of the number of Terrorists.

If we then divide 6,000 by 300 million people in the U.S. during this period (again, I’ll over-state the probability by not counting tourists and visitors) that gives us a Pr(Terrorist) = 0.00002 or 0.002% or 2 chances out of a hundred-thousand.

Now, divide this by…

3) The probability that someone in the U.S. is a Muslim, which is about 1%.

Putting it all together gives the following:

Pr(Terrorist | Muslim) = [Pr(Muslim | Terrorist) x Pr(Terrorist)] ÷ Pr(Muslim) = 10% x 0.002% ÷ 1% = 0.0002 or 0.02%.

One interpretation of this result is that the probability that a Muslim person, whom you encounter at random in the U.S., is a terrorist is about 1/50th of one-percent. In other words, around one in 5,000 Muslim persons you meet at random is a terrorist.  And keep in mind that the values I chose to make this calculation deliberately over-state, probably by a lot, that probability, so that the probability that a Muslim person is a Terrorist is likely much lower than 0.02%.

Moreover, the probability that a Muslim person is a Terrorist (0.002%) is 500 times lower than the probability that a Terrorist is a Muslim (10%).

(William Easterly of New York University applies Bayes’ theorem to the same question, using estimates that don’t over-state as much as mine do, and calculates the difference not at 500 times but 13,000 times lower!)

Other Considerations

As low as the probability of a Muslim person being a Terrorist is, the same data do indicate that a Non-Muslim person is much less likely to be a Terrorist.  By substituting values where appropriate – Pr(Non-Muslim | Terrorist) = 90% and Pr(Non-Muslim) = 99% – Bayes’ theorem gives us the following:

Pr(Terrorist | Non-Muslim) = [Pr(Non-Muslim | Terrorist) x Pr(Terrorist) ÷ Pr(Non-Muslim) = 90% x 0.002% ÷ 99% = 0.00002 or 0.002%.

So one interpretation of this is that a randomly chosen Non-Muslim person is around one-tenth as likely to be a Terrorist than a Muslim person (i.e. 0.2%/0.002%).  Naturally, the probabilities will be higher or lower if you’re at a terrorist convention or at an anti-terrorist peace rally; or if you have additional data that further differentiates among various groups – such as Wahhabi Sunni Muslims versus Salafist Muslim or Tamil Buddhists versus Tibetan Buddhists – the results again will be more accurate.

But whether you’re trying to educate yourself about the flu or terrorism, common sense suggests using relevant information as best you can. Bayes’ theorem is a good way to do that.

(I wish to thank Roger Koppl for helping me with an earlier version of this essay. Any remaining errors, however, are mine, alone.)

Sanford (Sandy) Ikeda is a professor of economics at Purchase College, SUNY, and the author of The Dynamics of the Mixed Economy: Toward a Theory of Interventionism. He is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

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America’s Concentration Camps Are a Warning, Not a Model – Article by Gary McGath

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Categories: History, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatGary McGath
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But some politicians are trying to revive their legacy

Woodrow Wilson’s reputation has recently taken a well-deserved beating because of his racial policies. He restored segregation in the federal civil service, and the infamous movie Birth of a Nation highlights his support for the Ku Klux Klan. Those policies are dead today, with very few advocates.

However, a more recent president implemented an even worse race-based policy against Americans, and some politicians say we should emulate it today. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s executive order forcibly removed about 120,000 Japanese-Americans, mostly US citizens, from their homes.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, people feared a Japanese attack on the West Coast, and many regarded the Japanese American population in California as disloyal. On February 19, 1942, Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized the military to remove people from designated military areas.

As explained in Greg Robinson’s By Order of the President, Roosevelt’s language was broad, but everyone understood “any and all persons” to mean Japanese-Americans and “military areas” to mean the West Coast. The removals included “Issei” — resident immigrants — as well as “Nisei” — native-born Americans with Japanese parents. Immigration from Japan had been banned since 1924, and all Japanese immigrants were ineligible for citizenship, although all had been living in America for at least eighteen years.

They were forcibly removed to ten concentration camps. The government officially called them “relocation centers,” but Roosevelt himself used the words “concentration camp” in a recommendation as early as 1936, as did a military proposal in 1942. The occupants were kept behind barbed wire, and armed guards kept them from leaving.

The mass displacement of Japanese-Americans, but not people of German or Italian extraction, was the result of racial rather than security considerations. Roosevelt showed a lifelong hostility toward the Japanese. Robinson states:

FDR had a long and unvaried history of viewing Japanese-Americans in racialized terms, that is, as essentially Japanese in their identity and emotional allegiance, and of expressing hostility toward them on that basis.

In the years before World War I, Roosevelt considered immigration part of the Japanese threat to the West Coast. During the 1920s, when Roosevelt urged better relations with Japan, he supported immigration restriction and legal discrimination in order to deter Japanese-American settlement.

A report commissioned by Congress concluded that

Executive Order 9066 was not justified by military necessity, and the decisions that followed from it — exclusion, detention, the ending of detention and the ending of exclusion — were not founded upon military considerations. The broad historical causes that shaped these decisions were race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.

As documented by Thomas Fleming in The New Dealers’ War, Roosevelt proposed removing an even larger number of Japanese and Japanese-Americans in Hawaii. The military objected because so many of them were skilled workers who were necessary to the war effort.

The order banning Japanese-Americans from the West Coast was lifted in January of 1945, and the camps were shut down soon afterward. Many returned to find they couldn’t reclaim their property or return to their homes.

These events should be a shameful chapter in America’s past, but even today people cite them as an example to follow. David Bowers, mayor of Roanoke, Virginia, ordered the city government to stop helping Syrian refugees, citing Roosevelt’s internment order as justification.

Al Baldasaro, a New Hampshire state representative and co-chair of Donald Trump’s state veterans’ coalition, has defended Trump’s proposal to ban Muslim immigration by citing World War II internment: “What he’s saying is no different than the situation during World War II, when we put the Japanese in camps.”

Trump has made the connection between his call for banning Muslim immigrants and creating a national registry and FDR’s policies explicit:

What I’m doing is no different than FDR’s solution for German, Italian, Japanese, you know… They stripped them of their naturalization proceedings. They went through a whole list of things; they couldn’t go five miles from their homes. They weren’t allowed to use radios, flashlights. I mean, you know, take a look at what FDR did many years ago and he’s one of the most highly respected presidents.

Trump evaded the question of whether he would have supported Japanese internment, saying, “I would have had to be there at the time to give you a proper answer.” He wasn’t there, but there are still living Americans who were. One was George Takei, who played Lt. Sulu on Star Trek and was sent off at the age of five. He recalls how it happened:

Without charges, without trial, without due process — the fundamental pillar of our justice system — we were summarily rounded up, all Japanese-Americans on the West Coast, where we were primarily resident, and sent off to 10 barb wire internment camps — prison camps, really, with sentry towers, machine guns pointed at us — in some of the most desolate places in this country.

For the sake of a false sense of security, the US government ruined countless lives, imprisoned tens of thousands without charges, without even accusation, with only the mere fact of their skin color and ancestry. The internment stoked hatred against a minority group, squandered potential assets in the war, and fueled the Axis’s anti-American propaganda.

The lesson that America’s concentration camps should have burned into our national consciousness that we must never do that again — not to a racial, national, or a religious minority, nor anyone else — no matter how afraid we are. They are a warning, not a model.

Gary McGath is a freelance software engineer living in Nashua, New Hampshire.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

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The Islamic State by Any Other Name – Article by Sarah Skwire

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The New Renaissance HatSarah Skwire
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Terrorists Don’t Deserve to Choose What They’re Called

ISIS does not want to be called Daesh. The group considers the acronym insulting and dismissive. An increasing number of its opponents do not want it to be called the “Islamic State.” They fear that this shorthand reifies the terrorist group’s claims to be a legitimate government.

The debate reminds us that names have power.

Avid readers of fairy tales have always known this. Calling Rumpelstiltskin by his real name banishes him and foils his baby-stealing plans. Speaking your name to a witch or wizard can give them power over you. Patrick Rothfuss’s wildly popular Kingkiller Chronicles contains a magic system where learning the name of an element — like the wind — gives a person magical control over it. And everyone knows what happens when you say Beetlejuice’s name three times.

Converts to new religions often take new names to honor the transformation. We mark significant passages in our lives — birth, marriage, death — with new names. Miss Smith becomes Mrs. Jones. Junior becomes Senior when Senior dies. There’s even an old Jewish tradition that says that, in times of serious illness, one should take a new name in order to fool the Angel of Death.

Whether we believe in magic or religion or not, we feel the power of names throughout our lives. Who didn’t go through a childhood phase of wanting a different name? I was wildly jealous of Catholic friends who got to choose confirmation names. A college friend declared that her first day in college was “time to get a nickname” and had us all brainstorm until she found one she liked. It stuck for the whole four years, and long after. Other college friends made legal name changes to more accurately reflect their cultures or their lives. As an adult, I declined to change my name when I got married because I wanted to hold onto myself. I thought for months about choosing my daughters’ names.

I’m a strong advocate of calling people what they like to be called. My kids try on nicknames like I try on jewelry — experimenting with their identities from day to day and solemnly explaining that from now on, they shall answer to nothing other than “Pumpernickel,” or that “Abby” is now verboten and “Abigail” is in favor. I happily acquiesce in all the changes as they figure out who they are. And I love the new nicknames they create for me. (The latest is “Bob,” because that’s what it sounds like when you say “Mom” with a head cold.)

I think, too, that it is important to use the names that transgendered individuals have chosen for themselves, and the pronouns that reflect their gender — even if it’s an awkward or hard-to-remember change for me. The same goes for other communities based on culture, race, religion, or other common identity. At a bare minimum, as we go through the world, we should have the liberty to say peacefully who we are. And it is a small thing for us to do, generally, to give the respect and the acknowledgement that comes with using someone’s requested name.

But ISIS, or Daesh, is another matter entirely.

It is too late to treat Daesh as Yoko Ono requested that John Lennon’s assassin be treated — by denying it the dignity of a name we deign to speak aloud. We have done nothing but name it and talk about it and publicize its actions. It is probably inappropriate for a family publication to suggest that we might take the Wonderella approach to express our contempt. But we certainly can use an accurate translation of the name they have chosen and turn it into a mildly insulting acronym.

Apparently, it bugs them.

Good.

Sarah Skwire is the poetry editor of the Freeman and a senior fellow at Liberty Fund, Inc. She is a poet and author of the writing textbook Writing with a Thesis. She is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

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What War and Terror Do to Principles – Article by Abdo Roumani

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The New Renaissance Hat
Abdo Roumani
September 25, 2015
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A Young Syrian Recounts the Years in His Smoldering Homeland

Editor’s Note from the Foundation for Economic Education: War is hell. And for those living in Syria, hell is currently a way of life. Armchair statesmen and foreign policy mavens have a lot to say about these matters. Here at FEE, we advocate “anything peaceful,” but often in distant, theoretical terms.

In this article, we present the unique opportunity to hear from someone who has lived the Syrian conflict. We cannot verify all of the author’s claims, but we can offer a glimpse into the mind of someone who, though he desperately wants to cling to his ideals, struggles to maintain them as he witnesses his homeland being torn apart.

I lived in Syria for three out of the four and half years of war. I’ve never been physically harmed, even though there were several close calls. In another sense, though, I’ve come to realize this war has killed so much in me that I’ve turned into something completely unfamiliar; something that often works like a calculator.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither.”

Not a long time ago, he used to be my example. I often repeated that line to those who defended the Assad rule, to those who said that his reign was better than the chaos the country had endured from 1958 to 1970. After a catastrophic union with Egypt between 1958 and 1961, Syria had to deal with the aftermath of its failures until 1970, when the late Hafez al-Assad stabilized the country. Until 2011, Syria was very secure socially, economically, and militarily. Damascus was one of the safest cities in the world — but that was irrelevant to me. I believed in certain principles and demonized the regime that failed to live by them.

I would soon change my mind.

Over the last five years, the Syrian establishment has grown more brutal. Those reforms that were foreseeable in 2011, such as limiting the secret service’s influence and empowering political pluralism, now seem impossible. Corruption has reached unprecedented levels. The establishment’s values and propaganda have never been as exposed. And yet, my opposition to this regime has faded so much that I no longer know whether I’m learning to be pragmatic or if I’ve resigned myself, given up my former convictions, and, in the end, traded everything for temporary safety.

Last August was one of the most violent months of the war in Damascus. Once the negotiations collapsed and a ceasefire expired in the strategic border town of al-Zabadani, the rebels controlling the part of the Barada Valley that was home to Damascus’s main source of fresh water cut off water supplies to the capital. That was August 14. The next day, the Syrian military retaliated by bombarding the area, forcing those rebels to turn on the taps again.

As I browsed opposition websites, reading reports of the destruction and the number of casualties, I paused at a photograph of the bodies of three children. The picture didn’t specify whether the children were killed in the August attacks or if this was yet another horrifying image pulled from the seemingly endless archives of carnage caught on film.

They were two little boys, about seven years old, with a slightly older girl lying between them. They were dressed in vibrant colors: navy blue, pink, and yellow. Their outfits were very neat, as though they had just decided to rest for a few moments. There were no signs of trauma. They looked peaceful.

I was thinking of how their parents, if indeed they had survived the bombing, would feel about seeing their children lying dead in those clothes. Would they remember the day they bought the fabrics? Would they remember how they felt picking out something special for their children, excited to see the look of joy on their children’s faces when they brought home the surprise of a new outfit? Or were the children themselves there, carefully selecting just the right shade of yellow for a dress for the first day of ‘Eid — for a future that once seemed certain?

These children died because rebels in a small town with a tiny population cut off water supplies to millions of people in Damascus, the capital whose community embraces the patchwork of Syria’s ethnoreligious diversity, in the peak of the Middle Eastern summer, where temperatures exceed 104 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s difficult to blame the army for striking the town where they happened to live. The rebels who cut off the water supplies may have done so out of frustration, but the flow still had to return, no matter the cost. The children paid with their lives.

Securing and occupying strategic locations around Damascus — especially those isolated pockets of rebel control where the only aim is to destabilize the capital, not to achieve any strategic goal — is certainly an objective I support. Darayya, which lies on the southwestern gate of the heavily populated capital and faces its most important airbase, is one example.

On August 6, the Islam’s Martyrs Brigade declared Operation Darayya’s Flames, claiming to have killed 70 soldiers on the first day, and capturing strategic buildings near Mezza Airbase. In retaliation, according to Al Jazeera, by August 17, the Syrian military bombed Darayya with 325 barrel bombs, 4 vacuum bombs, 130 surface-to-surface missiles, 375 “hell” shells, 5 naval mines, 585 artillery shells, and 75 napalms. The city’s death toll reached 33 casualties in 11 days, including a woman and 3 children. Another 60 had been injured.

The violence is unspeakable, but when we look at the big picture again, we’ll see how Damascus was subjected to rocket and mortar attacks throughout August as well. On August 12 alone, activists counted 67 mortars fired against Damascus, killing 14 civilians and wounding 70. Saving Damascus, which is also where the majority of Darayya’s citizens took shelter after their city became a war zone, takes priority.

I had to experience that personally in April 2014, when the major battle for my mother’s hometown, Mleha, began. Until 2012, I lived in and owned an apartment in Mleha, which also houses the Air Defense Administration and lies on the road linking Damascus with its international airport. Our town had a population of 25,000 at the time, most of whom fled to Damascus or to the government-held town of Jaramana after the rebels captured the larger part of Mleha and the army began to lay siege by the end of 2012. Nearly 3,000 people lived there under siege until the last week before the battle began, when most of them headed for either the capital or the neighboring towns and cities.

Shortly before the town fell to the army, on the 112th day of the battle, the pro-rebel activists in the town documented 677 airstrikes; 701 surface-to-surface missiles; 6,000 tank and artillery shells, mortars, and rockets; and 12 barrel bombs. They documented 335 rebel deaths and 50 civilian casualties. We don’t know how many soldiers were killed, but it’s usually at least double the number of rebel casualties. By the time the battle ended, the commander of the Air Defense Administration had been killed. He was the second ADA commander to be killed in one year.

We, as citizens, longed for the earlier reconciliation efforts held between the government and the rebels in Mleha. Many failed negotiations had taken place in the past two years. Once the negotiations completely collapsed, however, we had to take sides. I now had to live with the idea of supporting an army that was leveling my town. I lost relatives, friends, and my own home, yet that seemed to be a smaller cost than risking Damascus, where the people of Mleha now live.

It’s not easy to live between the details and the big picture. Sometimes it can be soul-wrenching to support the army, an institution that holds my country together but that also contains villains capable of unspeakable inhumanity. There are soldiers who torture your recently drafted brother. Sometimes drunk soldiers will abduct a minibus with your girlfriend in it, and direct the driver to a battle zone. One of them will sit next to her, with one hand holding an AK-47 and another between her inner thighs. You have to live with the story she tells you about how she was so afraid that she was sticking her face on the window, crying, trying to get away from him. You have to ignore these details in the big picture of an army that has lost twice as many soldiers as America lost in Vietnam, just to defend your country.

The biggest challenge of all is to be able to make any sense out of the concept of retaliation. It is one thing to bomb a ghost town, where just a few unlucky civilians remain; it’s a whole different thing to target the heart of an enemy stronghold just to deter them from crossing a line in the sand.

On August 15, Zahran Alloush, the head of the Islam Army, launched an offensive against strategic Harasta, which is very close to the M5 highway route linking Damascus with what’s left of Syria. The army reportedly retaliated by targeting the marketplace in Duma, Alloush’s stronghold, killing 110 people. It was a massacre in every sense of the word.

It wasn’t the use of “illegal” and “indiscriminate” barrel bombs, which tend to be the focus of reporters and diplomats even though barrel bombs don’t kill nearly as many as shells and bullets do. Rather than barrel bombs, reports indicate the regime deployed guided bombs against a location known to be crowded with civilians. If these reports are true, this would mean the attack was the worst kind of retaliation: deliberately targeting civilians just to place pressure on those who rule them.

We may never know for sure what happened in Duma, except that 110 people were killed within seconds. But if the army did deliberately target civilians, how should I react? Should I condemn the army now? And what does it mean to condemn the army or the establishment? Does it mean to take measures against them, at a time when there has been already too much pressure undermining the whole country?

I have always thought of Damascus as the Middle East’s most conservative yet most libertarian city. The question that puzzles me the most now is: How much of Damascus is worth saving?

On the one hand, some will find no problem justifying the Duma attack, or any other like it. We live in a world where “the leader of the free world,” after suffering the attacks of 9/11, reacts by signing the PATRIOT Act and invading two countries, one of which had nothing to do with 9/11.

The problem in Damascus isn’t only that it’s surrounded by radical Islamic rebels. The problem is that the frontline is inside the city, in the south, where we have the presence of the Islamic State, and in the east, where the Islam Army and its Eastern Ghouta allies operate. Not that I think these people are evil, but they certainly pose an enormous threat to Damascus’s diverse community. I don’t think any government, no matter how democratic or civil, would tolerate such a presence that close.

Yet in Damascus, I met the kind of people who tolerated the Islamists operating around us, even though their neighborhoods, just like mine, were targeted with rebel mortars. Ammar, an IT worker who helped me set up my Internet connection, detested the regime so much that he said he would prefer that the Duma rebels take over Damascus. Before he moved to Damascus for a job, he lived in Duma under the radical Islamists and didn’t seem to have any difficulties with them that he wouldn’t have had with the Syrian authorities. He was a conservative Sunni Muslim — there was nothing that they wanted him to do that he didn’t want to do himself.

As an atheist and a secularist, I find it unimaginable to live under Islamic rule. The Syrian semisecular state itself is already too religious to me. Half of my friends are Christians and half the people in my family are Shiites; I fear they will be automatically doomed once ruled by the Islam Army, Jabhat al-Nusra, or Ahrar al-Sham. It’s not only the Libya-style chaos that scares me, but also an alternative religious establishment similar to that in Iran and Saudi Arabia. Perhaps my big picture is nothing more than my own political agenda. Perhaps Ammar, coming from a religious majority, has a different big picture in mind, in which people like me are insignificant.

There are few things I know for certain now. As much as I try to balance what’s personal with what’s political, the cost is that I completely detach myself from the situation. I can’t understand how some foreign governments fail to be pragmatic when it comes to dealing with my country, as if it were personal to them. First they feel sorry for us, then they demonize us, and then they sanction us and call us terrorists — and eventually, our refugees become their biggest problem.

Abdo Roumani studied English literature at Damascus University.

This article was originally published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

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#IStandWithAhmed Tells Us Something about Public School – Article by B.K. Marcus

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Categories: Culture, Education, Justice, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
B.K. Marcus
September 17, 2015
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There’s zero tolerance for drawing outside the lines.

“None of the teachers know what I can do,” said Ahmed Mohamed of Irving, Texas.

Does that sound ominous — or does it sound like any gifted 14-year-old reflecting on his public school environment?

Mohamed is a tinkerer. He makes his own radios and repairs his own go-kart. He has a box of circuit boards at the foot of his bed. In middle school, he belonged to the robotics club, but it’s a new school year, and Ahmed hasn’t yet found a similar niche in high school.

So shortly before bedtime last Sunday, September 13, Ahmed wired a circuit board to a power supply and a digital display, and strapped the result inside a pencil case, hoping to show his engineering teacher what he could do.

Monday morning, his teacher admired Ahmed’s homemade clock. It was hardly his most sophisticated project, but more complex no doubt than anything Ahmed’s peers were doing on their own.

Ahmed’s engineering teacher admired the boy’s handiwork but added, “I would advise you not to show any other teachers.”

So Ahmed followed the advice and kept the clock in his bag — until another teacher complained that it was beeping during a later lesson, and Ahmed made the mistake of showing her his project after class. She told him it looked like a bomb and refused to return it.

A police officer pulled Ahmed out of his sixth-period class and, after questioning him in a schoolroom full of other cops, took him away in handcuffs.

“We have no information that he claimed it was a bomb,” said police spokesman James McLellan. “He kept maintaining it was a clock, but there was no broader explanation.”

Why should this kid have to explain a clock?

“It could reasonably be mistaken as a device if left in a bathroom or under a car,” according to McLellan. “The concern was, what was this thing built for?”

Because Ahmed is Muslim, and because Irving mayor Beth Van Duyne made national news over the summer making what have been generally interpreted as anti-Islamic statements, the Council on American-Islamic Relations has taken note. “This all raises a red flag for us: how Irving’s government entities are operating in the current climate,” said Alia Salem of the council’s North Texas chapter.

McLellan insists that “the reaction would have been the same regardless” of the student’s skin color, but the council is skeptical. Had a blonde Baptist boy brought a homemade clock to school, we would never have heard anything about it.

But is Ahmed’s treatment only a story about anti-Islamic hysteria?

“The concern was,” according to the police, “what was this thing built for?”

It was built to tell the time. It was built to impress an engineering teacher. It was built to help a talented boy find a place at his new school where he could fit in.

But it wasn’t assigned. It wasn’t sanctioned. Like Ahmed himself, the jerry-rigged timepiece doesn’t fit the expectations of the local powers that be.

The engineering teacher understood — and he warned Ahmed that no one else would. That tells us everything we need to know about the people responsible for Ahmed’s education.

B.K. Marcus is managing editor of the Freeman. His website is bkmarcus.com.

This article was originally published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

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We Must Proudly Reassert Free Speech and Universal Western Values – Video by G. Stolyarov II

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The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
January 12, 2015
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The horror of the attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine – the murder of 17 people – journalists, policemen, and ordinary shoppers – by Wahhabist Islamist fanatics in Paris on January 7-9, 2015, highlights the stark threat that religious fanaticism poses to Western civilization. The perpetrators of this barbarism have thankfully been eliminated due to the concerted, decisive, and careful work of French police, who managed to destroy the murderers and hostage-takers without harming or terrorizing innocent, peaceful civilians in the process. But unless the Western world resolutely affirms the untrammeled right of free expression of ideas, the already commonplace heckler’s veto over speech will turn into the murderer’s veto.

Mr. Stolyarov explains the need for an assertive revival of Western Enlightenment values (which are also universal human values) and a widespread, unconditional defense of freedom of speech – in order to prevent humankind from relapsing into the muck of barbarism.

References

– “We Must Proudly Reassert Free Speech and Universal Western Values” – Article by G. Stolyarov II – January 12, 2015
– “Excellent News from Turkey Regarding the Possibility of a More Humane Islam” – Post by G. Stolyarov II – November 28, 2008 – Excellent News from Turkey Regarding the Possibility of a More Humane Islam
– “German Newspaper Attacked After Publishing Charlie Hebdo Cartoons” – The World Post – Kirsten Grieshaber – January 11, 2015
– “These Are The Charlie Hebdo Cartoons That Terrorists Thought Were Worth Killing Over” – The Huffington Post – Catherine Taibi – January 7, 2015
– “Transhumanism” – Wikipedia
– “Wahhabism” – Wikipedia

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We Must Proudly Reassert Free Speech and Universal Western Values – Article by G. Stolyarov II

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Categories: Culture, History, Philosophy, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
January 12, 2015
******************************

je_suis_charlie_fist_and_pencil

The horror of the attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine – the murder of 17 people – journalists, policemen, and ordinary shoppers – by Wahhabist Islamist fanatics in Paris on January 7-9, 2015, highlights the stark threat that religious fanaticism poses to Western civilization. The perpetrators of this barbarism have thankfully been eliminated due to the concerted, decisive, and careful work of French police, who managed to destroy the murderers and hostage-takers without harming or terrorizing innocent, peaceful civilians in the process. But unless the Western world resolutely affirms the untrammeled right of free expression of ideas, the already commonplace heckler’s veto over speech will turn into the murderer’s veto.

Anything but complete, unconditional condemnation of this attack allows the murderers and thugs to win. Anyone who claims, “I condemn the attack, but…” is blaming the victims and suggesting that any provocation, any motivation is capable of forming an acceptable causal connection between peaceful expression of ideas and murder. For those who resolutely defend the Western values of individual rights and secularism, the only question should be, “Does the expression of a viewpoint ever, under any circumstances, justify the death penalty?” If the answer is a resounding “No!” – as it should be – then there can be no “but…”.

The Western values that developed over millennia of philosophical evolution and finally emerged brilliantly during the 18th-century Age of Enlightenment are universal human values – affirming human dignity and decency, the potential for peaceful cooperation among diverse viewpoints, the superiority of the creative mind over brute force, the potential for the human condition to be elevated through reason and persuasion, not intimidation. The Age of Enlightenment tamed Christianity in the West, turning it from a religion of bloodthirsty Crusaders, superstitious witch-hunters, and intolerant inquisitors, into a relatively soft cultural force that, at any given time, largely echoes the prevailing moral climate some thirty years prior. Christians who have been influenced by the Enlightenment – and even those who reject it, who have nonetheless found it necessary to adapt to the world it shaped for over two centuries – accept, with the exception of a fringe of fundamentalist fanatics, the basic preconditions for life in a civilized society, including the respect for the political, economic, and philosophical freedoms of those who think differently from them.

The Islamic world still awaits its own Age of Enlightenment, though some Muslims have, to their credit, accepted the Western Enlightenment as their own or attempted a courageous modernization of Islamic theology. Those Muslims who say “Je suis Charlie” are my allies, and I wish to see more Muslims embrace this attitude. But they have an uphill battle to fight – not just against their fanatical co-religionists, for whom no human life is sacred, but against the purveyors of postmodernist political correctness in the West, for whom the avoidance of giving offense trumps the necessity of standing on principle when the stakes are high. And the stakes are high indeed: if the murderer’s veto can result in any idea becoming inexpressible due to self-censorship and pressure from the “reputable” elements of society, then it does not matter what laws or constitutions say. If a sufficiently large element of society exists, whose members have a hair-trigger for offense and will kill you if you infringe upon their arbitrary taboos, then freedom of speech becomes a legal fiction, and de facto blasphemy law is the reality.

The best protection for freedom of thought is its frequent and prominent exercise by as many people as possible. Had prominent newspapers and magazines given frequent circulation to the wittily and refreshingly irreverent cartoons that Charlie Hebdo produced – which does not, by the way, rule out also publishing critiques or rebuttals from any other peaceful perspectives – then the murderous quartet that planned the Paris attacks would have had trouble choosing a target. Indeed, much about Western culture and lifestyles “offends” Wahhabist Muslims today, yet we do not see Westerners being routinely shot for failing to pray five times per day, facing Mecca. Almost everything about Western science, representational art, music, and clothing is inimical to Wahhabist Islam, yet the purveyors of these ubiquitous aspects of Western life – many Muslims among them, too – go unharmed by the fanatics. If politically correct fears are allowed to marginalize any form of expression for fear that it might “offend”, then any person who dares stand up for that expression – as is that person’s inalienable right – becomes a target for those who would relinquish even their own lives in order to cow a society into submission to their twisted, progress-stifling ideology. Political correctness accelerates the transformation of rights into taboos, until nothing of importance can be said, and any act of substance, any design to improve the human condition, would involve maneuvering through a minefield of hysterical, volatile, contradictory, and irrational “sensibilities” of the offended parties du jour.

So what is the solution? The elimination of the murderers themselves does not guarantee that similar murders will not recur. Indeed, the few courageous newspapers that reprinted the Charlie Hebdo cartoons have themselves become victims of threats and even an actual attack on the Hamburger Morgenpost in Germany. The solution is to resolutely reject victim-blaming, and for the prominent political, journalistic, and cultural figures of the Western world to themselves espouse the sentiments that the murderous fanatics considered so enraging. “Je suis Charlie” is a decent start, but a reiteration of the messages of particular cartoons would be far more effective. If the cartoons were republished on whitehouse.gov, parliament.uk, and elysee.fr, as well as the websites of all other national governments and publications with large readership, then a strong signal would be sent that Western societies still stand for the complete ability of any intellectual expression to occur, without its author receiving the death penalty or the kind of politically correct condemnation that invites the executioners to try. While it is not the role of governments to opine on matters of religion, it is their role to protect the rights of their constituents against infringement. Standing by the Charlie Hebdo cartoons – and similar critiques of any religion – would be a stand for the safety of anyone who would express a controversial or unpopular idea. Without a clear promise that such safety will be pursued, free speech means nothing in practice, since the expression solely of bland, prevailing, or popular ideas can occur in any society, with or without legal protections. We should be thankful to the few publications that did re-post the Charlie Hebdo cartoons – such as the Huffington Post, which presented a prominent sample here.

To encourage the expeditious arrival of an Islamic Enlightenment, a clear distinction between “moderate” and “radical” Muslims should be made. Every cultural figure of prominence should emphasize the following minimal criteria to be considered a “moderate” Muslim:

  • Complete rejection and denunciation of any killing motivated by religion
  • Opposition to the enactment of blasphemy laws or any laws prohibiting the criticism of any religion
  • Opposition to the legal establishment of Islamic sharia law in the West
  • Opposition to the persecution and/or prosecution of any person, Muslim or otherwise, who refuses to adhere to sharia law
  • Opposition to the persecution and/or prosecution of “apostates” who choose to leave Islam for any reason
  • Opposition to all laws that bring special restrictions upon women, homosexuals, atheists, and others, based on gender, sexual orientation, or lack of religious belief
  • Support for the right of those who disagree with any tenet or practice of any variant of Islam to peacefully express their disagreement or criticism, even if such expression is uncomfortable to some Muslims and offends their sensibilities
  • Recognition that any individual should have the right to draw Mohammad or any other religious figure, and the choice to exercise that right or not is a purely personal matter.

Finally, the alarming tendency of many long-time residents of European societies to drift toward fundamentalist Islam should be culturally combated by means of a New Renaissance of Western culture. For those who consider, rightly or wrongly, contemporary Western life to lack a sense of purpose or direction, there are far better antidotes than a murderous creed of militant fanaticism, whose spread is explained by its function as a “mind-virus” that short-circuits logical thinking and renders its carrier impervious to empirical evidence. Here, the damage done by the postmodernist critics of Western culture and its universal human values should also be reversed. In particular, the idea of progress – of the ability of humans to dramatically improve their condition through the application of reason, science, and technology – should be revived and asserted with renewed vigor in all areas of life. Beyond survival, what is the purpose of life? To achieve progress, to uplift human lives by harnessing the laws of nature to solve previously insoluble problems.

The humanism of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment should be extended into its logical next phase – transhumanism: the application of science and technology to overcome age-old limits to the human condition. The deployment of the next generations of technologies – from medical breakthroughs to efforts to colonize other worlds – should occur as rapidly as possible in all fields. No amount of help is excessive in pursuing this goal, and so anyone can find meaning in contributing. While we implement such a decisive push forward along the path of progress, we should also remember that we stand upon the shoulders of giants. Great historical achievements of Western art, music, science, literature, architecture, and engineering should be emphasized and celebrated. The achievements of Middle Eastern thinkers of the early Islamic era – prior to the lapse into doctrinaire orthodoxy that occurred due to Al-Ghazali’s influence during the 11th century – could also be incorporated into this celebrated legacy, as doing so would show many Muslims that their own cultural history offers a way out of the quagmire of fanatical intolerance. New cultural monuments should emerge, inspired by the achievements of the past but also embodying an aspiration toward a better future. The legacy of the Enlightenment, in particular, could by itself create an exquisitely sophisticated, cosmopolitan, and proudly assertive cultural manifestation that would have far more to recommend itself than an orthodoxy based on a seventh-century creed ill-adapted to a hyper-pluralistic world of accelerating technological progress.

The murder of human beings for the expression of ideas draws humankind back into the muck of barbarism. It has no place in the twenty-first century, and no part of the world can claim itself to be civilized unless it decisively resists and neutralizes such threats to free speech. The threats, however, have metastasized beyond the individuals who carry them out. A major reassertion of the universal human values of the Enlightenment must happen in order to defuse the hostile environment in which these threats incubate. All decent human beings everywhere are welcome to take part in the revival of these values. Perhaps one day all of us can once more raise our eyes to the stars, without the fear of descending into the quagmire of savagery in which humans murdered each other over disagreements for vast stretches of history, until the Enlightenment raised some of us out.

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Against Collectivist Violence in the Middle East – Video by G. Stolyarov II

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Categories: Justice, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Mr. Stolyarov condemns the murderous attacks on U.S. facilities in Libya, Egypt, and Yemen and discusses how the philosophy of collectivism and collective guilt is the motivation for the attacks. These completely unjustified killings should result in the recognition that individuals should only be judged as individuals and only for the deeds that they personally committed, and that guilt by association is unacceptable. Mr. Stolyarov also calls for a non-interventionist foreign policy, for the individual perpetrators of the atrocities to be brought to justice, and for a more general Enlightenment to occur in the Middle East.

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References

-“US envoy killed as Libya mob storms embassy” – Agence France-Presse – September 12, 2012
-“New details emerge of anti-Islam film’s mystery producer” – Moni Basu – CNN- September 13, 2012
– “2012 U.S. diplomatic missions attacks
– “Yemeni protesters storm U.S. embassy compound in Sanaa” – Reuters – Mohammed Ghobari – September 13, 2012
– “Libya arrests four suspected in deadly US Consulate attack in Benghazi” – NBC News – September 13, 2012