Typically the Republican Party, the GOP, the Conservatives of this country propound the preservation and importance of religion. This last election was unique in that both parties–the religious right and liberal (sometime secular) left perceived the candidates on the poles of good and evil. Thus, the failure of the Democratic party and many Clinton supporters was not just an election, but the victory of evil over good. The question of civil society and civil rights is the domain of the liberal left, but why is the fight against Trump being framed as a right/wrong, good/bad concern?
What are the dangers of viewing politics on a good/evil axis? I think it’s useful to look at two dissenting voices from the left of center and right of center to see how nimble the debate around Trump policies can be, whether seeing them as ethical or judicious makes sense strategically.
A recent email exchange between Noam Chomsky and Sam Harris can serve as an example of how framing something in the context of good and bad (via good and evil, see Nietzsche “Beyond Good & Evil) can predetermine the sorts of answers that appear to force a concession of one moral value for another. (I didn’t follow the entire stunt of email bating/debating with Chomsky, but the entire discussion seemed to inappropriately concede to Harris’ desired framework, which is a binary between Western values and “non-Western values.” I should stipulate that I actually haven’t read any of the books, in their entirety, that these two authors have produced pertaining to politics. On one hand the dispute between them is an exchange of both referring the other to a book the former wrote, on the other hand the exchange comes off as a PR stunt on behalf of Harris to garner more attention to his platform from Chomsky fans and/but on a third, prosthetic hand that forces the hands of both of the other hands, and on which I’m qualifying my admitted lack of reading either of their books, both have an excess of non-literate media sharing their political perspectives, media that has communicated in the very least that it isn’t necessary to read their books because, if this media is purposeful, effective, and functional, it (the media–interviews, podcasts, speeches, et al.) can disseminate their political perspectives at least as sufficiently as their books. )
A Generalization of Chomsky & Harris Perspectives on American Foreign Policy as It Pertains to the Point of Trump Dropping Dead by Natural Causes
Noam Chomsky’s critique of American foreign policy is that it’s imperialistic. We uproot dissent in foreign countries through covert CIA and/or overt military operations for the goals of imperialist domination and subsequently economic benefit. The banner under which the U.S. government declares its violence against other people–Terrorism, Freedom, Democracy–as part of the manufacturing of the domestic population’s consent, may change but the motivation is constant. The inaccurate rhetoric of American foreign policy is found not only in the inconsistency of how these banner themes are applied across the globe–i.e. some Muslim countries being our enemies while other being our allies–but also in how our own country does not adhere to its own rallying dogma. While U.S. politicians wage war in the name of Democracy, the same politicians may be countering democratic processes at home. Chomsky’s repeated references abroad are to the CIA interventions in Nicaragua, military support of the genocide of East Timor by Indonesia, the invasion of Iraq under the guise of Weapons of Mass Destruction, and World War II.
Sam Harris’ stance on U.S. foreign policy is that it’s the U.S.’s duty to police the world, to protect civil society and this can and may and at times must be done through militarization and tough love (i.e. secret missions, assassinations, et al.). To secure civil society, we must fight against those who oppose it, e.g. Putin. Because there are regimes that do not recognize human rights, its the duty of HR proponents to fight against the tyranny of the opposition in order to affirm women’s rights, create secular governance and end dictatorships. In the debate with Chomsky he emphasizes the “good intention” of the American foreign policy. His references abroad are much narrower than Noam’s, focusing on the Middle East and Russia since the Cold War until the present.
Harris’ argument is pretty close to Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations,” which was the popular framework around the 9/11, Iraq War. It’s a world picture that appealed to George W. Bush. We, the West (Western Europe & North America), are culturally incompatible with the non-West, but really they mean Islam. Asia’s fine. They make our stuff. This clarification is the first of many. It’s not just Islam, but Middle East, and just Middle Eat but Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Egypt at times…who else…Yemen? Ok, it’s ad hoc. They could have said, “They’re in our way to drive to Kazakstan and must be destroyed,” and it would have been more accurate. You’ll notice, this is the basic road map for Trump’s “Muslim travel ban,” and it’s echoed by many European nationalists. But before I get to how this doesn’t float as a logical argument, I want to return to the fantasy of some good grace shining upon North America, just below the 48th parallel.
Trump & the Grim Reaper
Ok, so with the context of these two interpretations–Chomsky & Harris–‘twer Trump to drop dead, flat out on the floor of the oval office, not resting but stone dead, deceased of natural causes the entire opposition, the rational center, the apprehensive Michiganders that cast no Presidential vote, the Left and Ultraleft would have no other alternative but to revive the idea and belief of Divine Intervention. There would be no room for secular belief. It would simply not be tenable to have the electoral college hand to leave this flaming paper bag on our doorstep and then, suddenly, not have to deal with it. It would be none other than “miraculous.” Thus, both the right and left in the U.S. would collide in religious fervor. The discord of U.S. politics since the mid 20th Century would simply evaporate, having reached a boiling point with in an orange burst of 5th Avenue egocentricity of smoke and mirrors. You think I’m kidding, but there would be no protection for civil society through/on the grounds of secular or non-belief; there would be only “believers.” Civil society would equate to Christian society in the U.S. The conservative right would simply continue their born-againing, and the left, well, they would born again also. The illogic would be…illogical. Here’s how.
The claim that defending Muslims or Islam in America or the rest of the world by the liberal left while aspiring to secularism, human rights and equality, or at least separation of church and state, is contradictory, according to Harris. (More than Chomsky Harris engages in debate with the religious and spiritual communities as part of the New Atheist movement.) But first and foremost, this is a stereotype about any religious society, not just Islam. What about Buddhists? Are Confucians ‘ok’? Second, to view a society solely by their religious makeup is anti-intellectual, as it discards any other valuable assets of that society. I watched the first Sean Hannity interview with Trump, you know, the one where Sean basically tricks the old fart into agreeing to pardon some people he knows, and what’s more interesting than any of that hour rehearsed interview is that a youtube commercial by the Islamic society directly followed the video. It correctly explained the many contributions to the world that Islam has made. For example, the idea of zero. Where would be without zeros? But the point is that any society, regardless of their origin stories, afterlife beliefs or distinctions between “science” and “religion” (this is a Western distinction, BTW. See ‘China’) have great contributions to the world, knowledge, food, history, language. Third, can you secure secularism while securing a freedom of religion? *(And I should clarify that I’m an atheist, more over secular). The answer is ‘yes,’ and it’s possible only through example, at probably through law, which is what most of these countries that are worried about Muslims already have. They have a higher standard of living which sets the example for people in poorer countries to say, hey, maybe it would be a good idea to go there, or, ‘wait, no one is getting killed there, that’s an example of my kind of neighborhood.’ As for laws, you vote on them. It’s democracy. For those of us who cling to secular society just because we believe it’s superior than sharia law, well that’s is just as dogmatic as those who cling to another belief system.
Having given the Harris-teria a few nods, it’s important to return to Islamophia directly, because it’s pertinent in not just the U.S. What is actually going on here? That is, what’s really at stake right now: is there an overtaking by Islam, or an ebb of civil rights? I’d say, ‘no.’ There is no coordinated effort for Islam to finish the job of the Crusades. In real numbers, no European country crosses 11% of Muslims. What’s the bigger danger, some head garb or fascism turning against the civilian population. Fascism is alive and well in the U.S. and Europe. Why is this a bigger concern? Well, discriminating against 100% of society because you have 10% you don’t like is sad math.
As pointed out during the Weapons of Mass Destruction campaign and Bush: Deux, Islam isn’t the enemy, as we have allies in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Morocco…actually, most of them, at some time. If you’re worried about Islam, go make a friend who’s Muslim and you’ll be happier. If you’re worried about extremist–whether black, brown, or white–the answer is to improve their standard of living. In fact, for you Europeans who are thinking of protecting your country against the influence of refugees, just know that that’s exactly what George W. Bush would have said. You hated that guy. So did I. Don’t fall for him. You’re better than that. Use your creativity and innovation to deal with this in an un-Bush-ly manner.
And when compared to our current and recent allies, the Clash of Civilizations model simply doesn’t hold water. I didn’t buy the rhetoric during Bush Deux and I don’t buy it via S. Harris. Reagan didn’t buy it either, as he sent weapons to Afghanistan to fight the clash with the other spectre: Communism. Not even Trump really buys it. Actually, most of the countries we are fighting in, have been fighting in, funding military conflict, or have special operations aren’t Muslim, they’re Christian. As of 2014, the U.S. had around 134 countries that SOCOM, SOF, training of foreign militaries that was going on. Central & South America. Southeast Asia. Pacific Islands.
Apart from their selective cartographic interpretation, they (Bush, Harris, Huntington, but not CIA) also completely omit the civil rights issue pertaining to discriminating against Muslim Americans, which can be traced back to Civil Rights movement, Louis Farrakhan, Malcom X, et al. Discrimination against Muslims is not only illegal under Constitutional right to the Freedom of Religion, but it savagely and disproportionately effects people of color. If Harris preferred a logical, historical continuity, the lines of discrimination are much more ardent than the clash between civilizations in this country and others. And so, calling it the BS that it is catalyzes the liberal left’s defense of Islam: that it’s a false pretense.
The contradiction of Harris, and much of what’s come to be the Nationalist movement across many European countries, that declare the inhumane treatment of outsiders (refugees, immigrants, even citizens of other cultures), is quickly shown outlined in the uncivil actions necessary to maintain the alleged civil society. (But then, is it still civil? Was it ever?) Logically, it’s congruent to the camp that believes the death penalty is necessary to ensure that killers don’t kill in a society where killing isn’t allow or you have to bomb to get peace. What’s curious about Harris and Nationalists who advocate violence to ensure peaceful society is that they never advocate for greater support of non-military organizations whose missions more acutely align with these proposed ideals: Amnesty International, for example, works for human rights not only abroad but also within these “civil societies.” They are just one of the many organizations, non-military organizations, that work to do exactly what this contradictory camp suggests, though without contradiction.