Brooks, Cohen, and Krugman

In “Religion’s Wicked Neighbor” Bobo gurgles that terrorism isn’t central to Islam, and terrorists aren’t practicing religion.  In the comments “Don Shipp” from Homestead, FL had this to say:  “David Brooks is misrepresenting Obama’s position. He is not “asserting that Islamist terrorism has nothing to do with Islam”. He is simply saying that by avoiding its usage he is preventing his words from being conflated by extremists to apply to all of Islam. Most devoutly religious people and Republicans don’t do verbal nuance, they do dogma, distortion, and demonization.”  Mr. Cohen says “Brexit Would Be a Colossal Blunder” and that a British vote to leave would be a colossal risk to no good end.  In “Fear, Loathing and Brexit” Prof. Krugman says Britons have a choice between bad and worse.  Here’s Bobo:

Barack Obama is clearly wrong when he refuses to use the word “Islam” in reference to Islamist terrorism. The people who commit these acts are inflamed by a version of an Islamist ideology. They claim an Islamist identity. They swear fealty to organizations like ISIS that govern themselves according to certain interpretations of the Quran.

As Peter Bergen writes in his book “The United States of Jihad,” “Assertions that Islamist terrorism has nothing to do with Islam are as nonsensical as claims that the Crusades had nothing to do with Christian beliefs about the sanctity of Jerusalem.”

On the other hand, Donald Trump is abhorrently wrong in implying that these attacks are central to Islam. His attempt to ban Muslim immigration is an act of bigotry (applying the sins of the few to the whole group), which is sure to incite more terrorism. His implication that we are in a clash of civilizations is an insult to those Muslims who have risked and lost their lives in the fight against ISIS and the Taliban.

The problem is that these two wrongs are feeding off each other. Obama is using language to engineer a reaction rather than to tell the truth, which is the definition of propaganda. Most world leaders talk about Islamist terror, but Obama apparently thinks that if he uses the phrase “Islamic radicalism” the rest of us will be too dim to be able to distinguish between the terrorists and the millions of good-hearted Muslims who want only to live in fellowship and peace.

Worst of all, his decision to dance around an unpleasant reality is part of the enveloping cloud of political correctness that drives people to Donald Trump. Millions of Americans feel they can’t say what they think, or even entertain views outside the boundaries laid down by elites, and so are drawn to the guy who rails against taboos and says what he believes.

The fact is that 15 years after 9/11 we still haven’t arrived at a true understanding of our enemy. How much is religion involved in jihadism, or psychology, or politics?

And the core of our confusion is that we are unclear about what a religion is, and how it might relate to violence sometimes carried out in its name.

For clarity on that question, it helps to start with William James’s classic work, “The Varieties of Religious Experience.” In that book, James distinguishes between various religious experiences and “religion’s wicked practical partner, the spirit of corporate dominion, and religion’s wicked intellectual partner, the spirit of dogmatic dominion, the passion for laying down the law.”

In other words, there is the spirit of religion and, frequently accompanying it, its wicked neighbors, the spirit of political and intellectual dominion.

It seems blindingly obvious to say, but the spirit of religion begins with a sense that God exists. God is the primary reality, and out of that flows a set of values and experiences: prayer, praise, charity, contrition, grace and the desire to grow closer toward holiness. Sincere faith begins with humility in relation to the Almighty and a sense of being strengthened by his infinite love.

In some sense the phrase “Islamic radicalism” is wrong because terrorism is not a radical extension of this kind of faith. People don’t start out with this kind of faith and then turn into terrorists because they became more faithful.

The spirit of dominion, on the other hand, does not start with an awareness of God. It starts with a sense of injury and a desire to heal injury through revenge and domination.

For the terrorist, a sense of humiliation is the primary reality. Terrorism emerges from a psychic state, not a spiritual one. This turns into a grievance, the belief that some external enemy is the cause of this injury, rather than some internal weakness.

This then leads to what the forensic psychologist Reid Meloy calls “vicarious identification” — the moral outrage that comes from the belief that my victimization is connected to the larger victimization of my group.

It’s only at this point in the pathway that religion enters the picture, or rather an absolutist, all-explaining political ideology that is the weed that grows up next to religion. Bin Ladinism explains all of history, and gives the injured a course of action that will make them feel grandiose and heroic. It is the human impulse for dominance and revenge that borrows righteous garb.

For the religious person it’s about God. For the terrorist, it’s about himself. When Omar Mateen was in the midst of his rampage, he was posting on Facebook and calling a TV station. His audience was us, not the Divine.

Omar Mateen wanted us to think he was martyring himself in the name of holiness. He was actually a sad loser obliterating himself for the sake of revenge.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen, writing from Bari, Italy:

The prospect that Britain might next week commit an act of national folly by voting to leave the European Union has politicians throughout Europe alarmed. Integration has been the Continent’s leitmotif for more than six decades. Fracture would suddenly be underway. And what would be left?

“If a British withdrawal were seen by Germany as opening the way to govern Europe as a Germanic federation, the European Union will fall apart,” Michele Emiliano, the president of the southern Puglia region, told me in an interview. “Europe can only function as a union of equal states. Under German dominion, it would contain the genes of its dissolution.”

Germany has already become what the postwar strategic architecture of Europe was designed to prevent: the Continent’s most powerful nation. But Britain, through the size of its economy, has played an offsetting role. Absent Britain, Germany would loom larger still, a source of alarm to the economically weaker Mediterranean states.

Postwar Italy was fragile, torn between the West and Communism, between “scaling the Alps” and succumbing to the Mafia-suffused inertia of the south, or mezzogiorno. European Union membership was the country’s anchor and magnet, securing it in the free and democratic Western family, luring it toward prosperity. Now that role is played most conspicuously for newer members of the union. But its importance persists.

Emiliano, a former mafia-combating public prosecutor, heads a region that is its own tribute to the union’s quiet miracles. Puglia, long a languishing part of the chronically underdeveloped south, is now an area of fast-growing industry and tourism, the poster child of the generally depressed mezzogiorno. Like other outlying regions of the E.U., it has been slowly tugged through stability toward the living standards of the European core.

In a Facebook post, Martin Fletcher, a former foreign editor of The Times of London, put these European Union achievements well. “Contrary to the cartoon caricature of the E.U. we read about in the national press,” he wrote, the union “has cemented peace in Europe. It allows younger generations to live and work anywhere in Europe in a way my generation could only dream about. It has vastly simplified travel across the Continent. It has brought Eastern Europe into the family of free, democratic nations after decades of Soviet control. It has broken up powerful monopolies and cartels in a way national governments acting alone could not. It has forced member states to clean up the environment.”

He continued: “We would be willfully removing ourselves from a single market of 500 million people without the faintest idea whether, or on what terms, we would be allowed to continue trading with 27 E.U. states who would want to punish us. Why on earth would we take such a monumental risk?”

The answer is that this huge gamble would be taken for the chimera of restored “sovereignty.” It would reflect petulant nationalism, base bigotry and laughable little England pretensions. Fletcher expressed the reality behind all this with laconic bluntness: “As a single country we would have minimal influence on world affairs. Does anyone seriously think the prospect of British sanctions would alarm Vladimir Putin, or have persuaded Iran to curtail its nuclear program?”

The European Union has significant failings, many of them precipitated by the sudden end of the Cold War, the reach to embrace states formerly enslaved in Moscow’s imperium, and the flawed attempt to contain a united Germany by integrating it into a common currency called the euro. It is, as an overarching European structure, short on democracy and long on bureaucracy. But, as Italy’s postwar development demonstrates, its achievements far outweigh its problems, which Britain could play a leading role in addressing.

“Politics is about seizing the moment, interpreting what history has given you the responsibility to do,” Emiliano told me. “Thanks to the Americans who landed on Sicilian beaches, I have the freedom to speak and you the freedom to write. I never forget this. If politics is not about respecting the past to secure the future, it is merely a mirror you gaze in, a form of narcissism.”

Such narcissism is rampant in Britain and America these days. For Britain to succumb to its delusions and leave the union would be a colossal blunder of historic proportions.

When in Italy, I often think of my late uncle, Bert Cohen, who, as an officer of the 6th South African Armored Division, 19th Field Ambulance, fought the entire Italian campaign, moving up the peninsula from south to north. After the Allied victory, he visited Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps, on September 2, 1945, and went up to Hitler’s mountain retreat, the Eagle’s Nest. He etched his name on the Führer’s table.

What sweet retribution to have “Cohen” inscribed there!

Later, he made his life in Britain — the home of a freedom that, to him, was not insular but European and universal. To vote out would also betray that inscription and all it stands for.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

There are still four and a half months to go before the presidential election. But there’s a vote next week that could matter as much for the world’s future as what happens here: Britain’s referendum on whether to stay in the European Union.

Unfortunately, this vote is a choice between bad and worse — and the question is which is which.

Not to be coy: I would vote Remain. I’d do it in full awareness that the E.U. is deeply dysfunctional and shows few signs of reforming. But British exit — Brexit — would probably make things worse, not just for Britain, but for Europe as a whole.

The straight economics is clear: Brexit would make Britain poorer. It wouldn’t necessarily lead to a trade war, but it would definitely hurt British trade with the rest of Europe, reducing productivity and incomes. My rough calculations, which are in line with other estimates, suggest that Britain would end up about two percent poorer than it would otherwise be, essentially forever. That’s a big hit.

There’s also a harder to quantify risk that Brexit would undermine the City of London — Britain’s counterpart of Wall Street — which is a big source of exports and income. So the costs could be substantially bigger.

What about warnings that a Leave vote would provoke a financial crisis? That’s a fear too far. Britain isn’t Greece: It has its own currency and borrows in that currency, so it’s not at risk of a run that creates monetary chaos. In recent weeks the odds of a Leave vote have clearly risen, but British interest rates have gone down, not up, tracking the global decline in yields.

Still, as an economic matter Brexit looks like a bad idea.

True, some Brexit advocates claim that leaving the E.U. would free Britain to do wonderful things — to deregulate and unleash the magic of markets, leading to explosive growth. Sorry, but that’s just voodoo wrapped in a Union Jack; it’s the same free-market fantasy that has always and everywhere proved delusional.

No, the economic case is as solid as such cases ever get. Why, then, my downbeat tone about Remain?

Part of the answer is that the impacts of Brexit would be uneven: London and southeast England would be hit hard, but Brexit would probably mean a weaker pound, which might actually help some of the old manufacturing regions of the north.

More important, however, is the sad reality of the E.U. that Britain might leave.

The so-called European project began more than 60 years ago, and for many years it was a tremendous force for good. It didn’t only promote trade and help economic growth; it was also a bulwark of peace and democracy in a continent with a terrible history.

But today’s E.U. is the land of the euro, a major mistake compounded by Germany’s insistence on turning the crisis the single currency wrought into a morality play of sins (by other people, of course) that must be paid for with crippling budget cuts. Britain had the good sense to keep its pound, but it’s not insulated from other problems of European overreach, notably the establishment of free migration without a shared government.

You can argue that the problems caused by, say, Romanians using the National Health Service are exaggerated, and that the benefits of immigration greatly outweigh these costs. But that’s a hard argument to make to a public frustrated by cuts in public services — especially when the credibility of pro-E.U. experts is so low.

For that is the most frustrating thing about the E.U.: Nobody ever seems to acknowledge or learn from mistakes. If there’s any soul-searching in Brussels or Berlin about Europe’s terrible economic performance since 2008, it’s very hard to find. And I feel some sympathy with Britons who just don’t want to be tied to a system that offers so little accountability, even if leaving is economically costly.

The question, however, is whether a British vote to leave would make anything better. It could serve as a salutary shock that finally jolts European elites out of their complacency and leads to reform. But I fear that it would actually make things worse. The E.U.’s failures have produced a frightening rise in reactionary, racist nationalism — but Brexit would, all too probably, empower those forces even more, both in Britain and all across the Continent.

Obviously I could be wrong about these political consequences. But it’s also possible that my despair over European reform is exaggerated. And here’s the thing: As Oxford’s Simon Wren-Lewis points out, Britain will still have the option to leave the E.U. someday if it votes Remain now, but Leave will be effectively irreversible. You have to be really, really sure that Europe is unfixable to support Brexit.

So I’d vote Remain. There would be no joy in that vote. But a choice must be made, and that’s where I’d come down.

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