Thursday, December 17, 2015

17-Dec-15: Trying to understand why there's so much understanding of incomprehensible barbarism

The caption to this Independent UK news photo from January 2015
says it shows Kerry giving “Paris a big hug” by "clasping Francois
Hollande in a warm embrace... after America failed to send
a senior figure to last Sunday’s huge march in Paris."
Nick Cohen's place in the world to come was assured once he published "What's Left?: How the Left Lost Its Way" (2007), which he describes as the story of how the liberal left of the 20th century came to support the far-right of the 21st.

We have just read a powerful opinion piece of his in the on-line edition of Standpoint Magazine (January/February 2016), "Shame On The Liberals Who Rationalise Terror". We hope it gets plenty of attention and comment. Here is how it starts:
After the massacres in Paris on November 13, the US Secretary of State John Kerry made a statement so disgraceful you had to read it, rub your eyes, and read it again to comprehend the extent of his folly: “There’s something different about what happened from Charlie Hebdo, and I think everybody would feel that,” Kerry began in the laboured English of an over-promoted middle manager. 
“There was a sort of particularised focus and perhaps even a legitimacy in terms of — not a legitimacy, but a rationale that you could attach yourself to somehow and say, OK, they’re really angry because of this and that. This Friday was absolutely indiscriminate. It wasn’t to aggrieve one particular sense of wrong. It was to terrorise people.” 
Did you get that? Then allow me to translate. Kerry believes the satirists Islamist gunmen killed at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris’s 11th arrondissement on January 5 had it coming. It is not that they deserved to die. John Kerry is a New England liberal, after all, and does not endorse the death penalty for journalists. But liberalism is a two-faced creed. It can mean that you believe in individual freedom and abhor every variety of prejudice, including the prejudice that allows men to shoot journalists dead for producing a magazine they disapprove of.  Or it can mean that you go to such lengths to take account of your enemy’s opinions you become indistinguishable from him
Cohen's 2007 book
John Kerry’s liberalism, and the liberalism of millions like him, ignores Chesterton’s warning not to be so open-minded that your brains fall out. Kerry wanted to understand radical Islam and to seek the root causes of its apparently psychopathic violence. Not for him the knee-jerk condemnations of a red-state redneck. When Kerry applied his nuanced and expensively educated mind to the corpses in the magazine office, he discovered that the dead had provoked their own murders. The assassins had, well, if not quite legitimate reasons, then certainly a “rationale” which explained why they were “really angry because of this and that”. 
Charlie Hebdo mocked the prophet Muhammad, Islamic State and Boko Haram. Its editor Stéphane Charbonnier (aka Charb), the cartoonists and columnists who wrote for him, and the police officers who died protecting their freedom (and ours) knew the risks and paid the price. They went looking for trouble and we should not be shocked that they found it. 
All the rest of us had to do was to moderate our behaviour. If we were careful not to make terrorists “really angry” about “this and that”, we would be safe... ["Shame On The Liberals Who Rationalise Terror", Nick Cohen, Standpoint Magazine]
(The full text of Secretary of State John Kerry's November 17, 2015 speech is here.)

We see far too much of the approach Cohen describes in the work-product not only of political figures but also of journalists, reporters and analysts. It's not called "avoid offending the terrorists and that way we'll be OK". That's a pity because if it were, the underlying psychological process of intimidation/compliance would be more obvious. And people might be able to make better assessments of what their political leaders are doing. It really matters.

It's not merely compliance. Consider what Kerry said towards the end of the remarks - speaking to staff and families at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, quoted above:
So our challenge is to stop the immediate threat, obviously, and destroy it, while we eliminate the people going into the pool by providing those other options – by reaching them before they’re radicalized; by getting people to see there is better governance, there are better opportunities. And globally, we have a lot of work to do that. That’s what’s brought all of you into this place, into this business of diplomacy, of caring and trying to take America’s values and help to spread them around the world. But we don’t force them on people. We give people a choice. Everybody has their choice. We offer them because we believe it’s the best way to provide security, the best way to provide opportunity, and the best way to respect individual rights and the ability of any individual to be able to choose for themselves who they want to be and what they want to be, without disturbing other people, and certainly without killing.
Disturbing. How many moons are there on the planet where the Secretary of State lives?

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