It seems clear that many Americans are less concerned than they should be about the threat of radical aggressive Islam…ranging from intimidation of cartoonists in the US and Europe to direct military aggression in the Middle East. This seems to be particularly true among the well-educated (or at least well-credentialed) and affluent. I’ve commented on this situation in several previous posts, for example, The Perfect Enemy; today I’d like to throw out for discussion some of the factors that I think are largely driving this head-in-the-sand phenomenon. They range from fairly rational (but flawed, IMO) thought processes to ignorance to obvious logical errors to malevolence and outright crazy thinking.
1) Some people really don’t understand the full range of what’s going on. Those of us who follow politics and international affairs pretty closely can easily lose sight of just what an information desert exists for those whose only info source is the mainstream media…it is very unlikely, for example, that the NBC and CNN-watcher is aware of the full range of anti-free-speech intimidation conducted under the banner of Islam, in the US as well as in Europe.
2) Some people do have an idea about what’s going on, but tend to repress thinking about the threat because while they on some level perceive its awfulness they do not think anything can really be done about it…probably often, this threat is lumped together with seemingly-unstoppable malign trends, such as an ever-worsening economy and a deteriorating culture.
In Arthur Koestler’s 1950 novel The Age of Longing, a young American woman living in France–who has belatedly come to understand the likelihood of an imminent Soviet invasion–corners a French security official and asks him why so many people are in denial about the forthcoming attack. His response:
“No, Mademoiselle, don’t be misled by appearances. France and what else is left of Europe may look like a huge dormitory to you, but I assure you nobody in it is really asleep. Have you ever spent a night in a mental ward? During the Occupation, a doctor who belonged to our group got me into one when the police were after me. It was a ward of more or less hopeless cases, most of whom were marked down for drastic neurosurgical operations. When the male nurse made his round, I thought everybody was asleep. Later I found out that they were only pretending, and that everybody was busy, behind closed eyes, trying to cope after his own fashion with what was coming to him. Some were pursuing their delusions with a happy smile, like our famous Pontieux (a philosopher modelled on Sartre–ed). Others were working on their pathetic plans of escape, naively hoping that with a little dissimulation, or bribery, or self-abasement, they could get around the tough male nurses, the locked doors, the operating table. Others were busy explaining to themselves that it wouldn’t hurt, and that to have holes drilled into one’s skull and parts of one’s brain taken out was the nicest thing that could happen to one. And still, others, the quiet schizos who were the majority, almost succeede in making themselves believe that nothing would happen, that it was all a matter of exaggerated rumours, and that tomorrow would be like yesterday. These looked as if they were really asleep. Only an occasional nervous twitch of their lips or eyes betrayed the strain of disbelieving what they knew to be inevitable…No, Mademoiselle nobody was really asleep.”
But in our case, as noted above, there are quite a few people who really are asleep.
3) Some people believe that all religions are essentially equivalent…generally they will argue that all religions are basically equally awful and that Evangelical Christians (for example) are as dangerous as radical Muslims and that it is only a matter of time until their dangerous tendencies explode into widespread violence. But sometimes they will argue that religion is inherently good and that hence, acts of terrorism cannot be motivated by religious belief but must be driven by something else.
4) Some argue that terrorism, while deplorable and tragic, isn’t really that dangerous in the scale of things, and that your risk of being killed or crippled from slipping while getting out of the bathtub (for example) is greater than your chance of being killed or crippled in a terrorist attack. This view is often coupled with the view that fear of terrorism is being stoked for political and/or bureaucratic reasons: for example, increased surveillance of citizens. There is great suspicion that the oil industry and the “military-industrial complex” are encouraging warfare for their own economic purposes.
5) Many are greatly concerned that Americans will blame *all* Muslims for terrorist actions, pointing out that this is no fairer than blaming *all* Christians for, say, actions taken by governments during WWI under cover of the Christian duty.
6) Related to the above, there is a considerable fear of the American public at large, which is viewed by many highly-educated people as a dangerous beast, ready to lynch innocent Muslims and left-leaning dissidents if given the least excuse or opportunity.
Shortly after 9/11, The Diplomad recalled something said by British statesman Edward Grey during WWI, and quoted by Churchill in 1941. Grey said that the United States is “like a gigantic boiler. Once the fire is lighted under it there is no limit to the power it can generate.”
Fear of the American people leads some to want to punch holes in the boiler before it can get up a dangerous (in their view) level of steam pressure.
7) Some of this is influenced by oikophobia…the aversion to the familiar, or “the repudiation of inheritance and home.” People who feel a dislike for the surroundings in which they grew up, and who have generalized that dislike toward American society in general, are likely to feel an attraction toward those who are defined as outsiders, especially exotic outsiders.
8) Regarding military threats in the Middle East and elsewhere, some argue that there is no way for the US to defend a country whose own citizens are unwilling to defend it…that “boots on the ground” is not enough, because the boots always leave, and what’s really needed is “butts on the ground,” people who have to stay there and are willing to fight…and, absent these, the only outcome of military action will be to get a lot of people killed. This view is generally coupled with some level of isolationist thinking: if horrible things are happening in X region, it’s tragic, but need not affect the US in a major way.
9) There is the belief that many of the things we could do to fight terrorism and ISIS-style military aggression will end up making things worse..that drone and bombing attacks “create more terrorists” among those whose friends and relatives have been killed, and attempts to forcefully exercise and demonstrate the right to free speech (as with Charlie Hebdo and Pam Geller’s cartoon contest) merely drive increased numbers of potentially-moderate Muslims into the radical camp.
10) Finally, there are some people who believe that America..and western civilization in general…are so degenerate and outright evil as to not be worth defending. I don’t think there are many people who would agree with this proposition at a conscious level, but a considerable number have probably been influenced by it subconsciously.
In the Koestler novel I mentioned above, the Communist Fedya is confronted by the protagonist Hydie, his former lover, who in addition to feeling sexually betrayed by him has now become aware of his activities with the Soviet Secret Police. She has brought a gun and intends to shoot him. Fedya says:
I am not handsome, but you have felt attracted to me because you know that we will win and are only at the beginning–and that you will lose because you are at the end…That is why I was not afraid of your little revolver, because you can’t have the courage to shoot. me. To kill, one must believe in something.