Tag Archives: fareed zakaria

What Difference Would It Make if We Said We’re in a Holy War with Islam?

The political Right, Left, and numerous News Media Outlets are all pre-occupied with how we talk about ISIS, and the dire threats emanating from the middle east. That’s because no one has a cure (right now) that isn’t worse than the disease.  So they talk about…….“how to talk about it.”  The linguists, however, are convinced that talking about ISIS one way, rather than another, is critical to a solution. Everyone from Left leaners Thomas Friedman and Andrea Mitchell, to Lindsey Graham  and Bill O’Reilly, on the Right, say the President’s reluctance to use the word “Islam” to identify the enemy, means he doesn’t understand the problem, and thus can’t mobilize the country and world effectively.  How preposterous!

Perhaps the most thoughtful piece written on this subject is by Fareed Zakaria.  It has not received much attention. You can find it here.  The key question, which is ignored by most of the commentators (Zakaria being an exception), is this:

“What difference would it make if the President and his team said everything they could to ‘remind us’ we are in an epic, Holy war with Islam?”  

What would U.S., France, Canada, or Germany do differently if we spoke that way?  Would it motivate the West to wage war against all of the two billion Muslims in the world?  Incite people to vandalize Mosques and harm peaceful Muslim citizens in Western societies? Carpet bomb countries that are more than 35% Muslim?  Create internment camps for Muslim citizens in Western countries (and maybe in Japan too)?

None of that is very funny and surely isn’t meant to be. But don’t the Friedmans and O’Reillys know such unthinkable solutions follow from the kind of ridicule heaped on the Administration for defending the concept that “we are not at war with Islam, but rather with those who are perverting it?”  (Maybe they do know, and want to push us toward some of those “solutions”?).

Nor does Graeme Wood’s elegant, and erudite, yet illogical, meandering, and deeply ambivalent piece in The Atlantic — the latest “must read” — add anything useful to the discussion.  Wood says ISIS is “very Islam” because it is motivated by an apocalyptic, end of times vision.  (Like Jim Jones/Jonestown and David Koresh/Waco).   Wood traces ISIS motivation to ancient Islamic doctrine. Hardly any Muslims today believe  that. So, what is Wood’s point?

These “insights” from a Harvard educated, liberal intellectual journalist really lit up the blogesphere and impressed commentators of all stripes. In the end, when pressed, Wood agreed with Zakaria, on his recent Sunday morning talk show, that the President is speaking appropriately about ISIS.

I guess Graeme Wood wants to be sure the President, and the rest of us with our heads in the sand, really understand that the ISIS vanguard wants to bring about an apocalypse and receive all the credit.  But don’t you think we all basically know that already – on some level — even if we’re not scholarly enough to find it’s philosophical roots in ancient Islam?  (And how many other theologies or religious movements have something similar in their distant pasts?)




“It’s the Propaganda, Stupid”

Biologists say ostriches are really stupid

Biologists say ostriches are really stupid

It’s easy and tempting to brand the American voter as “stupid,” and getting dumber all the time.  But, the accusers miss the real point and ignore the real perpetrators. All of us are only as smart as the information we receive; and when voters in America are (more than ever) receiving “news” and political” information in the form of propaganda and unabashed lies, what do you expect? It’s not stupid voters, “It’s the Propaganda, Stupid!”

The money behind the propaganda is also a big factor,  and getting worse; but we’ve been operating with gross mis-information well before Citzens United.

Whether you are a Democrat who thinks there were too many stupid voters in 2014, or a Republican who has the same view of the 2012 electorate, you are focusing on symptoms rather than root causes, and blaming the victims. Solving the propaganda (and money) issues is so daunting, we are more comfortable with scolding average people for not being better informed.

Charges of “stupidity” have been in the news a lot lately, and from some people who ought to know better, especially the usually level headed Fareed Zakaria.  Zakaria featured a new international survey on his last Sunday morning program. It says the American electorate is the second most ignorant among the fourteen nations studied.  The USA trailed only Italy. (Manifestly non democratic systems, like North Korea, were of course not surveyed).

Zakaria’s commentary surprisingly lacked perspective. I think he knows the information lifeblood of our democracy has been terribly degraded. Maybe he meant the whole segment to be whimsical? It was admittedly amusing, on top of shocking, to learn that French voters think 31 percent of their population is Muslim. (Its really 8 percent).

Zakaria wasn’t the only one talking about “stupidity.”  While economist Paul Krugman didn’t use the “S” word to express dismay about the November 4th outcomes, you could feel him chomping at the bit, as he called the election results “so wrong about so much.”

Republicans of course aren’t calling the 2014 decisions of the electorate “stupid.”  But they are still saying that about voters in 2012; loudly and explicitly.  I found that out driving eight hours north from San Diego to Monterrey recently, through areas of California where all I could get on the radio was Limbaugh and Limbaugh clones. Four hundred miles of unabashed propaganda drowning out anything resembling real news; literally clogging the “public” airways.

For some time now, the political and economic information used by most Americans hasn’t been much better than what Pravda fed to the poor Soviet masses.  Is that extreme or alarmist?  I would understand if you thought so. But all of the recent (non partisan) studies of voter information sources, such as a series by Pew Research, show that Americans are receiving more and more of their political information from polarized, “non traditional” sources – ones not even trying to be objective or fact based.

I concede that voters share some of the blame for liberally using bad sources of information. But I’ll bet propaganda helped move them there in the first place. I can’t blame average people, overwhelmed by daily life, looking to tweets, bumper stickers, and conversations on the Wal Mart check-out line, for political intelligence.

In Escondido (near San Diego), where I live, good political and economic information is scarce. One daily newspaper with significant circulation survives, but its coverage of Escondido is rare and superficial. The paper’s stated mission (from its still relatively new owner), is to promote a particular ideology in the region, not just through its editorials, but also in its “hard news.”  He doesn’t understand (or care) how shocking that sort of statement would have been from a metropolitan area newspaper owner even just a few years ago. A few good on-line news sources and “free” print news papers have emerged in San Diego County, but their reach is still very limited.

Most of the “information” about the local candidates in Escondido came in the form of mailers. The candidate I supported (and who lost by a big margin) couldn’t afford to send out nearly as many as her opponent. The information she did provide, which was (relatively) nice, honest, and substantive by today’s standards, was overwhelmed by an avalanche of propaganda, made-up economic data, sheer lies, sprinkled with some dog-whistle hate lines, arriving in the mail on an almost daily basis.

Yes, “turnout” was low, which hurt the loser a lot more than the winner. By my rough estimate, the winner received the votes of about 10 percent of the voting age population in Escondido. That’s deplorable, regardless of which candidate won. But stupidity certainly was not the reason for either low turnout or the outcomes of the election in Escondido. “It’s the Propaganda, Stupid.”