Friday, May 31, 2013

Brain or Mind?

What is the difference between the brain and the mind?

For most people the two are virtually identical. In common parlance people confuse them frequently.

What does the latest research in brain functioning have to do with the mind? Can cognitive neuroscience solve all of mankind’s problems or will it simply talk us out of our freedom?

Everyone is interested in the new research that is coming out of neuroscience laboratories. As often happens, those who seek funding for these studies tend to oversell them. They are now promising to find explanations for all of human behavior.

At that point, you can kiss your freedom goodbye. Or better, you can if you still believe that you have any.

Strangely enough, brain research has very little to do with mental functioning. Ultimately, that is not such a bad thing.

It is worth the trouble to take some time to try to understand how mind and brain differ from each other. I have posted about the topic before… here and here, for example. I will doubtless do so again.

Now Sally Satel has co-authored a book on the difference between mind and brain. It’s title: Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience. By way of an introduction to her book she has written a short essay on the topic for The Atlantic.

In some diseases, Satel writes, brain chemistry is the issue:

When scientists develop diagnostic tests or a medications for, say, Alzheimer's disease, they investigate the hallmarks of the condition: amyloid plaques that disrupt communication between neurons, and neurofibrillary tangles that degrade them.

We know well, Satel explains, that addiction has a decided effect on brain chemistry. Does that mean that the addict has no self-control and no responsibility for his behavior? Satel says that it does not.

In her words:

Thanks to heavy promotion by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health, addiction has been labeled a "brain disease."

The logic for this designation, as explained by former director Alan I. Leshner, is that "addiction is tied to changes in brain structure and function." True enough, repeated use of drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and alcohol alter the neural circuits that mediate the experience of pleasure as well as motivation, memory, inhibition, and planning -- modifications that we can often see on brain scans.

The critical question, though, is whether this neural disruption proves that the addict's behavior is involuntary and that he is incapable of self-control. It does not.

Continuing, she points out:

Yet to treat addicts and guide policy, it is important to understand how addicts think. It is the minds of addicts that contain the stories of how addiction happens, why they continue to use, and, if they decide to stop, how they manage. The answers can't be divined from an examination of his brain, no matter how sophisticated the probe.

Of course, addicts convince themselves that they have no self-control. They are persuaded that they cannot resist temptation. Thus, they absolve themselves of all responsibility, and persuade themselves to take drugs.

The scientistic idea that addicts have no free will works well to help addicts to stay addicted.

Naturally, defense attorneys have happily seized the neuroscientist excuse.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury: His brain made him do it.

In Satel’s words:

The problem with these claims is that, with rare exception, neuroscientists cannot yet translate aberrant brain functions into the legal requirements for criminal responsibility -- intent, rational capacity and self-control.

What we know about many criminals is that they did not control themselves. That is very different from being unable to do so. To date, brain science cannot allow us to distinguish between these alternatives. What's more, even abnormal-looking brains, have owners who are otherwise quite normal.

As I and others have suggested, the end point of this logical train is the elimination of personal freedom and personal responsibility.

Respected researchers are moving in this direction:

Although we generally think of ourselves as free agents who make choices, a number of prominent scholars claim that we are mistaken. "Our growing knowledge about the brain makes the notions of volition, culpability, and, ultimately, the very premise of the criminal justice system, deeply suspect," contends biologist Robert Sapolsky.

To be sure, everyone agrees that people can be held accountable only if they have freedom of choice. But, there is a longstanding debate about the kind of freedom that is necessary. Some contend that we can be held accountable as long as we are able to engage in conscious deliberation, follow rules, and generally control ourselves.

Others, like Sapolsky, disagree, insisting that our deliberations and decisions do not make us free because they are dictated by neuronal circumstances. They say that, as we come to understand the mechanical workings of our brains, we'll be compelled to adopt a strictly utilitarian model of justice in which criminals are "punished" solely as a way to change their behavior, not because they truly deserve blame.

If no one deserves blame, no one deserves praise. If no one deserves the shame of failure, no one can earn pride in achievement.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Fat Talk

When today’s strong, empowered, autonomous, independent, liberated young women bond with each other the talk invariably turns to “fat.” Or diets or weight gain or thighs.

Apparently, young women today are obsessed about their bodies. Most especially, they are obsessed about the food they put into their bodies and about the way their bodies are proportioned. This causes them to engage in what Jan Hoffman, writing in the New York Times calls “fat talk.”

Hoffman sets the scene:

Over winter break, Carolyn Bates, a college senior, and a friend each picked out five pairs of jeans at a Gap store in Indianapolis and eagerly tried them on. But the growing silence in their separate fitting rooms was telling. At last, one friend called out, “Dang it, these fit everywhere but my thighs! I wish my legs weren’t so huge.” The response: “My pair is way too long. I need to be taller or skinnier!”

The young women slumped out of the store, feeling lousy.

This exchange is what psychological researchers call “fat talk,” the body-denigrating conversation between girls and women. It’s a bonding ritual they describe as “contagious,” aggravating poor body image and even setting the stage for eating disorders. Some researchers have found that fat talk is so embedded among women that it often reflects not how the speaker actually feels about her body but how she is expected to feel about it.

Most women do not like to talk about fat, yet they do so compulsively. Hoffman reports on a study that suggests that 93% of college women do it.

Fat talk is demoralizing. It undermines confidence. It produces feelings of worthlessness.

Since it invariably involves finding fault and flaws, it seems to function as a form of moral self-flagellation. These women are punishing their bodies… for what… I will leave to your imagination.

Yet, young women feel compelled to do it, as though against their will.

To the best of my knowledge, the compulsion is limited to the female sex. Men do not do it. Men do not bond by talking about how fat their thighs are.

This means that women who bond over fat talk are affirming their womanhood as exclusive.

A woman might affirm her womanhood through her relationship with a man. Since this is seriously frowned upon these days, women have chosen to affirm their identities through their similarities with other women.

Fat talk excludes men. More clearly, it seems to exclude the dread male gaze. It may appear to be about how women are seen by men, but I think that it is more about how women feel bonded to other women.

Precious few modern women will allow their womanhood to be defined by a man.

Yet, young women are not affirming themselves by sharing their pride in how they look. The more than indulge in fat talk the more they will cease to be happy about how they look. Many of them are painfully self-conscious about their bodies. Feminine curves seem not to impress. Feeling womanly does not seem to matter.

At best, these women are more interested in transforming their bodies into works of art, objects of aesthetic contemplation than in having healthy, attractive female bodies.

If female bodies are supposed to be valued as works of art, then they are there to be looked at, but not to be touched.

After all, fat talk is not just talk. It involves women looking at women’s bodies, for flaws, imperfections, disproportions. It involves a close examination, but one that is decidedly, I presume, asexual.

The issue is not merely aesthetic. It is also moral. It is a tale of two appetites. Human appetite is not merely limited to the alimentary. It includes the sexual appetite too.

When it comes to sexual appetite, young people are taught that attempts to control or to temper it are bad. They have been taught that sexual repression makes you neurotic and thus that you ought to give your libido free reign.

One wonders whether these same women, fully in touch with their sexuality for having  explored and often exposed it are compensating by becoming excessively controlling, to the point of punishing their unruly bodies.

Or perhaps they are taking refuge in fat talk from the roles that the college hookup culture has accorded them.

If so, the solution must be: tempering all appetites. That means sex within a relationship and food consumption at the dinner table.

Defining yourself in terms of your mind’s struggle with your appetites is a losing game. Everyone does better to define him or herself as a social being whose appetites will find a happy medium when they are socialized.

Having recently recovered from a ten year bout of anorexia Emma Woolf asks what went wrong in the relationship between women and food:

Rule 1: be thin. Rule 2: don’t ever be fat.

You know the rules – but where do they come from, and why do we prize female thinness so highly? Why does slim equal success; why does flabby equal failure? It’s an inconvenient truth: gaining weight is losing; losing weight is winning.

And so in the 21st century most women police their diets in some way, moan about their weight and worry about what they eat. I’m not even talking about Atkins, Dukan or the 5:2 diet – I mean how we became suspicious of ordinary things such as bread and milk and meat.

The stricter our regimes, the more intensely we crave forbidden foods: the classic yo-yo cycle of deprivation and bingeing.

One day we’re raw-only and no-carbs after 6pm, next day we find ourselves inhaling all the Cs: chocolate, cake, crisps.

Woolf calls it an all-or-nothing attitude toward food:

This all-or-nothing attitude leaves us wide open to manipulation, even exploitation, by the food industry. Its messages are cunningly mixed: on the one hand, we should treat our bodies like macrobiotic temples; on the other, we should indulge our naughty appetites – because, remember, ‘we’re worth it’.

All-or-nothing thinking is depressive thinking. Unable to find the mean a depressed individual swings from one extreme to the other.

It makes sense that a woman who has learned to indulge her naughtiest sexual fantasies  would compensate by engaging  in a permanent struggle against her naughty appetite for chips.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Marital Bed Death

How's that sexual revolution working out for you? If you’re married, the answer is: probably not very well.

There's nothing new about married couples losing interest in sex. There’s a reason why adultery and the sex business have been around so long.

Couples that were lusting after each other in the early stages of their marriages find, after a few years of conjugal bliss, that their desire has died down or even faded away.

Most people are more open and honest about our sexuality, have learned to explore our sexuality, have fallen in love with “the one,” only to find out, when they get married, that their sex lives suffer marital bed death.

Daniel Bergner has written a book about the problem. Previewing it in the New York Times he began with the statistics:

Lack of lust, when it creates emotional distress, meets the psychiatric profession’s clinical criteria for H.S.D.D., or hypoactive sexual-desire disorder. Researchers have set its prevalence among women between the ages of about 20 and 60 at between 10 and 15 percent. When you count the women who don’t quite meet the elaborate clinical threshold, the rate rises to around 30 percent. For a minor fraction of all the sexually indifferent (or repelled), the condition has been lifelong, regardless of whom they’re with or how long they’ve been with them. For middle-aged or older women, menopause and its aftermath may play a role, though its importance is much debated. For a sizable segment of the undesiring, the most common antidepressants, the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, can be the culprit. Millions of American women are on S.S.R.I.'s, and many of them would have good use for a pill to revive the libido that has been chemically dulled as a side effect of the pill they take to buoy their mood.

Surely, it is fair to say that the problem has multiple causes. Prozac might be one culprit, but as Susan Walsh reminds us on Hooking Up Smart, depression can also diminish desire and appetite.

Today, more and more women are looking to solve the problem with chemistry. They are signing up for a clinical trial of a new drug called Lybrido. Anecdotal accounts of the trials suggest that it produces both good and bad results. It enhances desire but it keeps enhancing desire even when the woman does not want it to be enhanced.

Bergner outlines the problems that arise when the problem is treated chemically:

Chemically enhancing a woman’s desire might play out in all kinds of ways within a relationship. Some couples might feel closer, others might feel desolate because, despite more sex, their bond isn’t stronger. Wives might yearn for the old seductive efforts of their husbands, even if those gestures stopped working long ago. Women might feel yet more pressure to perform: Why not get that prescription? their partners might ask; why not take that pill? And men, if they are willing to confront the truth, might not be so happy about the reminder, as their partners reach for the pill bottle, that their women need chemical assistance to want them. All the agonies that have existed since the dawn of monogamy will still pertain, many of them coming down to the craving to feel special.

Among moderns, I venture that gender confusion also plays a role. With more and more women being breadwinners, it is worth recalling that men in female breadwinner marriages take more Viagra than do men in traditional marriages. Women in atypical marriages take more anti-anxiety and anti-insomnia medication.

How many women lose their sexual desire because they have discarded their femininity? How many of them insist that their men cease acting like men and get in touch with their feminine side? What happens to a woman’s sexual desire when she decides to discard her feminine mystique?

Others have suggested that desire diminishes in marriage because sex is prescribed not proscribed. Presumably, we want what is tabooed more than we want what is available.

Evolutionary psychologists blame it on the simple fact that, when it comes to sex, men and women are differently constituted. Women associate sex with reproduction and with risk far more than men do:

But for many women, the cause of their sexual malaise appears to be monogamy itself. It is women much more than men who have H.S.D.D., who don’t feel heat for their steady partners. Evolutionary psychologists argue that this comes down to innate biology, that men are just made with stronger sex drives — so men will settle for the woman who’s always near. 

Bergner and other counterculture types dismiss these views, but one suspects that they prefer ideology to science.

Still, it is fair to ask whether women who have lost interest in sex believe that their husbands want sex more than they want sex with them. If a man is seeking to have sex with the nearest warm female body, after a time his wife is going to turn off to sexual encounters because she feels unloved.

Others explain marital bed death by noting that familiarity breeds disinterest. Being strange and new is apparently more attractive than being the same and familiar. Apparently, this is true for women more than men:

But for women who’ve been with their partners between one and four years, a dive begins — and continues, leaving male desire far higher. (Within this plunge, there is a notable pattern: over time, women who don’t live with their partners retain their desire much more than women who do.)

And then there is the daily domestic grind:

Every woman raised a mix of possible reasons. There were the demands of graduate school, the demands of children, the demands of work, medical issues, men who weren’t always as kind or nearly as engaged as they could be. But at bottom there seemed to be one common cause: they had all grown tired of sex with their long-term partners.

To be more accurate: in his last sentence Bergner has confused an effect with a cause.

Of course, these are only a few suggestions. We might also want to ask ourselves how well these couples know how to conduct themselves in their marriages. Do they try to establish domestic harmony with cooperation and a clear division of domestic labor? Do they make all household decisions into drama and conflict? Do they like to fight because they like the make-up sex, only to find that their fight-fetish is no longer working as well as it did?

And then, it might be a good idea to compare marriages that have gone cold with marriages where sexual desire is sustained. Rather than make it seem inevitable that things go wrong, why not examine those couples where things have gone right?

As scary as the statistics are a majority of couples seem not to be suffering marital bed death.

We would like to know how these couples conduct themselves in their marriages. Are they more traditional or more modern?

The Shame of the Adebolajo Family

Consider this post a footnote to my earlier post: “None Dare Call It Islamic Terrorism.”

In that post I offered further reflections on the question of responsibility for terrorism. Just as there are two emotional sanction, shame and guilt, so too are there two types of responsibility, group and individual.

When member of your religion commit heinous acts in its name,  its reputation is tarnished. Then leaders of the religious community should apologize, not because they necessarily caused the crime, but because the only way to restore their religion’s good name is to accept responsibility.

On the family level, Ruslan Tsarni was right to apologize for the actions of his nephews, the Tsarnaev brothers at the Boston Marathon.

Uncle Ruslan had long since renounced his brother’s family, yet being a member of the family, he bore the shame of their action.

After Michael Adebolajo hacked Lee Rigby to death on a London street, Muslim leaders stepped forth to denounce the action. They insisted that it had nothing to do with their religion. At the least, the point is debatable. What is not debatable is that Adebolajo’s
action has damaged the reputation of Islam. An apology was called for. None was forthcoming.

Except, from the terrorist’s parents.

Adebolajo’s parents are Christians. They were alarmed by their son’s conversion to Islam. They tried to help him. As opposed to the Tsarnaev parents, the Adebolajo parents bear no fault for their son’s actions.

Yet, they do bear the shame that has attached to their family name.

Thus, they issued this statement yesterday, through their solicitors:

Nothing we can say can undo the events of last week.

However, as a family, we wish to share with others our horror at the senseless killing of Lee Rigby, and express our profound shame and distress that this has brought to our family.

We send our heartfelt condolence to Lee Rigby’s family and loved ones.

We wish to state openly that we believe that there is no place for violence in the name of religion or politics. We believe that all right-thinking members of society share this view wherever they were born and whatever their religion and political beliefs.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The War on Terror Is Just Beginning

Barack Obama says that the war on terror is over. David Goldman replies that it is just beginning.

Thus far, Goldman has a far better record analyzing the situation in the Muslim world, so we do well to take his view seriously.

Here, Goldman describes the situation that Obama believes is not fraught with danger:

The collapse of Middle Eastern states from Libya to Afghanistan vastly increases the terrorist recruitment pool, while severely restricting the ability of American intelligence services to monitor and interdict the terrorists. In addition, it intensifies the despair that motivates Muslims like the Tsarnaev brothers or Michael Adebolajo to perpetrate acts of terrorism. That makes President Obama’s declaration that America is winding down the “war on terror”–a misnomer to begin with–the worst decision by an American commander-in-chief since the Buchanan administration, perhaps ever.

He continues:

Syria’s crack-up is at the top of the agenda, but the breakdown of putative nation-states extends across nearly all of the Muslim world. As Amos Harel reported in the Tablet symposium, the prime minister of Libya “has to cross checkpoints manned by five different militias, on his way home from office.”  In place of regular armies controlled by dictators, Libya is crisscrossed by ethnic and sectarian militias (including the one that murdered our ambassador last September). Egypt is on the brink of economic collapse and state failure; Iraq is in the midst of a low-intensity sectarian war; Syria’s civil war already is being fought out in Lebanon; and Turkey’s border has become unstable.

A vast number of young men have been drawn into irregular combat. Syria has become the cockpit of a Sunni-Shi’ite war, with Turkey and the Gulf states funneling money and jihadists into Syria while Iran sends Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah irregulars to the aid of the Assad regime. The young men of Libya already are mobilized into militias; Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood cells and Salafists and football mobs are not yet armed, but are organized. Iraq’s sectarians are armed to the teeth, in part thanks to American funding of the “Sunni Awakening” during the 2007-2008 surge. Very large numbers of young men are ready to fight to the death, while the breakup of the fragile civilian society of these countries draws more and more of them into the maelstrom. Terrorism has become a way of life in Syria, where both sides instigate atrocities, in part to intimidate their opponents and in part to bind their own fighters to the cause by making them complicit in such crimes.

Finally, Goldman emphasizes a point that I have often made on this blog. A civilization that has shown itself incapable of building will assert its false pride by destroying what others have built:

Radicalized Muslims must now contemplate the ruin of their civilization from Tripoli to Kabul. Millions of Syrians are displaced and have no homes to go back to. Millions of Egyptians are hungry. Not only the suffering, but the humiliation of the national ruin of Egypt and Syria leave radical Muslims with little to hope for. The motivation to take as much of the world down with them has mushroomed in the context of state failure.

By his analysis, the end of the war on terror is nowhere in sight.

Facing Your Fears

I’m not sure why it’s being touted as the latest, greatest thing in therapy, but the Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Mayo Clinic has started to treat anxiety with exposure.

Therapists have finally overcome the idea that they can cure anxiety by teaching a few mental tricks. They now believe that immediate, though gradual exposure to the object or situation that is causing the anxiety is the most helpful.

More precisely, therapists are training their anxious patients to overcome their fears by facing them. Think of it, a great new idea: don’t run away from your fears; meet them head on.

If your child is suffering from anxiety, you do him no good, the report continues, by sheltering him from situations that would provoke anxiety.

Children gain confidence by learning to deal constructively and effectively with what they fear. They lose confidence when their parents make it impossible for them to do so.

When they lose confidence, they become depressed and are put on anti-depressants.

As I say, this is not news. In days of yore, people who refused to face their fears were called cowards. Thus, they were shamed into working to overcome them.

It was properly considered an ethical, not a clinical issue. It was fundamental to the ethics of courage. Protecting a child from dangerous situations does not enhance his courage. This much should be self-evident.

As it happens, this has all been part of the armorarium of behavioral and cognitive therapists for quite some time now. It is, or should be well enough known that behavioral therapists have had good success with some phobias by offering gradual exposure to the dread object or situation. Gradual exposure desensitizes the phobic individual to the potential danger and thus retrains him out of his phobia.

It does not take too much of a leap of faith to apply the same technique to various kinds of anxiety.

While a phobic individual can identify the object or situation that triggers a panic attack, an individual suffering from anxiety might tell you that his anxiety is more diffuse.

Psychoanalysts have jumped on this description as an excuse to try to cure it with insight. If you do not know why you are anxious, then the cause must be buried deep in your unconscious mind.

Freudians believe that all of your anxieties derive from the castration anxiety a child feels when he fears his father’s wrath. Obviously, castration anxiety threatens an offending and sinning organ.

Psychoanalysis has never had any great success treating anxiety or phobias. As everyone knows cognitive and behavioral treatments are far more effective and far less costly.

Yet, Freudian theory is based on anxiety. Freud saw anxiety as the most important human emotion.  Since he saw human motivation in terms of detective fiction, he placed a special emphasis on the anxiety you feel when you are anticipating punishment for a crime... of word, thought, or deed.

In particular, that type of anxiety is called guilt.

If Freudian treatment cannot cure a problem that falls within its bailiwick, what good is it?

Psychoanalysts erred in assuming that an anxious patient who was not phobic was not afraid of anything in particular. An anxious child might be afraid to take a test, might be anxious about social interactions or might be anxious about trying out for the football team.

Some children are anxious about local and world events, especially the kinds that are likely to threaten them.

In most cases, therapists should question their patients until they gain a clearer idea of the nature of the threat, real or imagined.

Second, they should recognize, as Aaron Beck noted many years ago, that when children and adults are anxious they are not anxious about nothing. Nearly everything that people are phobic about is potentially dangerous.

Third, therapists and parents need to develop a plan that allows a child to be exposed to anxiety-laden situation gradually. If a child demonstrates avoidant behaviors in situations that are less fraught, these should be addressed and overcome first.

Monday, May 27, 2013

None Dare Call It Islamic Terrorism

Barack Obama called the murder of Lee Rigby “senseless violence.” Nile Gardiner reminds us that Obama also called the invasion of our Benghazi consulate and the murder of our Ambassador: “senseless violence.”

In roughly the same way his administration has declared that Major Hasan’s Fort Hood massacre was “workplace violence.”

At times, Obama does call terrorism by its name, but since he just ended the War on Terror, he must prefer to think of terrorists as common criminals.

As you know, the terrorists do not see themselves to be common criminals. They see themselves as fighters in a Holy War against the West. They are proud Muslims and are perpetrating violence to defend their faith and their honor. To them, these acts are anything but “senseless.” They are filled with meaning.

When Obama calls it “senseless violence” he is denouncing what happened without saying that these jihadist acts have anything to do with Islam.

If they do, it behooves Muslim leaders to apologize. If they do not, they Muslim leaders should denounce them in no uncertain terms.

If these are merely criminal acts, we need but punish the perpetrators. Only those who commit crimes are punished for them.

If they are acts of terror, constables and prosecutors are not going to stop them. These acts will continue as long as those who commit them believe that they enhance pride, and as long as the leaders of their faith refuse to apologize.

A culture that accepts “honor killings” of its own children is not going to worry about killing someone else’s children. If so, then all the prosecutions in the world are not going to stop the tide of Islamic terror.

Muslim leaders have learned that they need to denounce the actions of the London killers, as well as the actions of the Tsarnaev brothers in Boston. Thereby, they can try to dissociate their religion and their community from these actions and relegate them to the work of a few petty criminals.

Others, like Ruslan Tsarni, uncle of the Tsarnaev brothers felt obliged to apologize for what his nephews had done. As I mentioned at the time, Uncle Ruslan was among the very few who had the right idea.

In part, it’s about numbers. Do the terrorists who kill, maim and mutilate in the name of Islam represent the religion or are they extremist fanatics who have taken leave of the central teachings of their religion.

Of course, the vast majority of the world’s Muslims do not engage in terrorism. And yet, when the majority of the citizens of Egypt give political power to the Muslim Brotherhood, one doubts whether very many Muslims are horrified that their religion has been hijacked by a band of fanatics. If so, they keep it to themselves.

Andrew McCarthy explains that the London jihadists have good Quranic justification for what they did:

After killing and mutilating a British soldier, one of the jihadists, blood still soaking his hands, proudly looked into a camera and proclaimed, “We are forced by the Koran, in Sura al-Tawba, through many ayah in the Koran, we must fight them as they fight us.”

Sura al-Tawba is the Koran’s ninth chapter, home to what are known as the verses of the sword. Time after time, Muslims are instructed to slaughter their enemies. “Kill the polytheists wherever you find them.” “Fight those who do not believe in Allah” until they submit to the law of Islam. “Fight . . . the disbelievers and let them find in you harshness.” On it goes.

He continues:

Islamic supremacism teaches that Muslims are under a divine injunction to fight non-Muslims, including by violent jihad, until all the world submits to sharia (the path), Allah’s blueprint for the perfect human society. It is true that of the world’s hundreds of millions of Islamic supremacists, only a small percentage (though still a high number in absolute terms) are “extreme” enough to engage in violence. Yet all of them share the violent jihadists’ goals, and they endorse the violence itself in many, if not most, instances.

Many Muslims believe that sharia law should be imposed on the world. They are happy to vote to have it imposed on their own cultures. They might not agree with terrorism as a means, but they have no problem with the goal.

It is fair to say that if we were to take every statement in the Bible literally, we would be led to commit some rather heinous actions. But is, no one takes all Biblical injunctions as actionable. No Jew or Christian has stoned an adulterer in millennia. The same cannot be said of Muslims.

On the other side of the debate we find Glenn Greenwald, writing in the London Guardian. His reasoning is astonishingly warped, so it deserves some attention.

Greenwald states clearly that murdering a soldier with a meat cleaver on a London street was appalling. He is strongly opposed to such acts of “senseless violence.”

Count Greenwald in the crime and punishment camp.

Then, his mind goes off the rails. He asserts that the action was an act or war, and thus no different from any other acts of war committed by America and England:

 First, given that the person killed was not a civilian but a soldier of a nation at war (using US standards), it is difficult to devise a definition of "terrorism" that encompasses this attack while excluding large numbers of recent acts by the US, the UK and many of their allies and partners.

By this reasoning, Major Nidal Hasan was also committing an act of war when he gunned down uniformed military personnel at Fort Hood.

In his righteous zeal to smear American and British troops, Greenwald neglects the fact that the jihadists who murdered Lee Rigby were citizens of Great Britain.

If their acquired identity as Muslims turned them against their own nation, they were committing treason. The same applies to Major Hasan.

Also, the soldier who was killed on a London street was not killed on the battlefield. If a terrorist murders a soldier who is sitting down to dinner with his family, would you say that murdering his family was an act of terror while murdering him was an act of war?

By Greenwald’s logic, blowing up the World Trade Center was an act of terror. Running a plane into the Pentagon was not.

But if the jihadists committed an act of war, why should it be denounced as heinous?

According to Greenwald, Muslim acts of war, which Muslims call jihad are a rational response to American and British incursions into Muslim lands. He does not mention the existence of Israel, but anyone else, following the chain of his argument would happily brand Israel an aggressor nation with Muslim blood on its hands.

Greenwald is at pains to note that even if he understands perfectly why Muslims are seething with a righteous anger that was clearly provoked by Western incursions into their land, he is not in any way rationalizing what happened on the London street.

Greenwald then indulges an orgy or moral equivalence. However bad Muslim terrorism is, America and its allies have done as much, if not worse. We have no right to judge others when they are merely responding to the horrors that we inflicted on them. Instead of denouncing terrorism we should flagellate ourselves for our own crimes.

Before wading into Greenwald’s fever swamp, let us recall Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement:

If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be no more violence. If the Jews put down their weapons today, there would be no more Israel.

Keep that in mind when you are tempted by the lure of moral equivalence.

Greenwald presents his idea:

Labeling the violent acts of those Muslim Others as "terrorism" - but never our own - is a key weapon used to propagate this worldview. The same is true of the tactic that depicts their violence against us as senseless, primitive, savage and without rational cause, while glorifying our own violence against them as noble, high-minded, benevolent and civilized (we slaughter them with shiny, high-tech drones, cluster bombs, jet fighters and cruise missiles, while they use meat cleavers and razor blades). These are the core propagandistic premises used to sustain the central narrative on which the War on Terror has depended from the start (and, by the way, have been the core premises of imperialism for centuries). That is why those most invested in defending and glorifying this War on Terror become so enraged when those premises are challenged, and it's why they feel a need to use any smears and distortions (he's justifying terrorism!) to discredit those who do. 

Their violence; our violence. It’s all the same.

Of course, it’s not all the same. It takes an amazing level of moral obtuseness to fail to recognize that the attacks on America were fundamentally unprovoked and had as their purpose the shoring up of the pride of a failing culture.

Instead of obsessing about drone attacks in Pakistan, Greenwald would have done better to recognize what America has accomplished… economically, politically and socially.

Liberal democracy, free speech and free expression, freedom of religion, human rights, women’s rights, gay rights, free enterprise… none of these are accepted under sharia law. Ask yourself this: are they or are they not worth defending?

If a Muslim converts to Christianity, sharia law says that he must be executed. If Greenwald’s delicate sensibility cringes at the idea of calling that or honor killings or systematic female genital mutilation or executing homosexuals savagery then how does he expect that those who practice them will ever find the willpower to stop doing them. If they are not savagery are they just another lifestyle choice?

Greenwald is offended to see that Americans believe that their civilization is superior to others. Of course, it is. That’s what it means to be the most powerful and most prosperous nation on earth.

Surely, Greenwald would prefer to live in America where food is plentiful than in the Muslim Brotherhood-led Egypt where people barely have food. Surely, he considers himself fortunate to live in a nation where he can express his opinions freely without having to worry about anything worse than the ire of Andrew Sullivan. Does he honestly believe that there is no difference between enjoying the freedoms provided by America and trying to express his opinions openly and honestly in Gaza?

Of course, if you ask Greenwald or anyone of his ilk to explain this, they will happily tell you that the serial failures of the Muslim world are the fault of Western imperialism and colonialism.

You know, like the former colony of Singapore.

In Memoriam

A text for Memorial Day, from Ronald Reagan, via Maggie’s Farm:

Once each May, amid the quiet hills and rolling lanes and breeze-brushed trees of Arlington National Cemetery, far above the majestic Potomac and the monuments and memorials of our Nation's Capital just beyond, the graves of America's military dead are decorated with the beautiful flag that in life these brave souls followed and loved. This scene is repeated across our land and around the world, wherever our defenders rest. Let us hold it our sacred duty and our inestimable privilege on this day to decorate these graves ourselves -- with a fervent prayer and a pledge of true allegiance to the cause of liberty, peace, and country for which America's own have ever served and sacrificed. ... Our pledge and our prayer this day are those of free men and free women who know that all we hold dear must constantly be built up, fostered, revered and guarded vigilantly from those in every age who seek its destruction. We know, as have our Nation's defenders down through the years, that there can never be peace without its essential elements of liberty, justice and independence. Those true and only building blocks of peace were the lone and lasting cause and hope and prayer that lighted the way of those whom we honor and remember this Memorial Day. To keep faith with our hallowed dead, let us be sure, and very sure, today and every day of our lives, that we keep their cause, their hope, their prayer, forever our country's own.

R. I. P.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

London and Stockholm: The Decline of the West

Why would an army that is outmanned and outnumbered continue to fight? One reason: it senses weakness in its opponents.

If an army believes that its enemy does not have the stomach to see the fight through, it will continue to fight, secure in the knowledge that it will eventually emerge victorious.

Having created a cult to hypermasculinity in the midst of an increasingly feminized and decadent West, Islamist terrorists  are convinced, not unreasonably that they will ultimately prevail.

Cultures of entitlement, as exist in Great Britain, Sweden, and increasingly, America hand out benefits willy nilly, without asking for very much in return. Like aristocrats of old, today’s recipients of entitlements do not need to do anything to collect their monthly stipends. They need not work.

Some see them as parasites. They see themselves as culturally superior, the wave of the future, destined to take power over their weak hosts.

Islamic terrorists have discovered that random acts of terrorism undermine morale. Even when Western nations feel obliged to fight back against terrorism, they soon tire of the effort and retreat back into their creature comforts.

Terrorism provokes guilt-ridden hand wringing. After 9/11 American intellectuals could do no better than to whine: Why do they hate us?

John Hinderaker saw the murder of Lee Rigby as symptomatic of a nation that has disarmed itself. Apparently, the British believe that they need but occupy the moral high ground:

The brutal murder of an off-duty soldier by two Muslim activists continues to dominate the news in Great Britain. The scene was utterly bizarre: in broad daylight, in a busy section of London, the two Muslims apparently ran the soldier down with a car, within a block or two of his barracks, and then attacked him with knives and a meat cleaver. They attempted to behead him, apparently not quite successfully, as hundreds of passers-by looked on. No one stopped them–private ownership of firearms being illegal in the U.K.–but three random women, who have been extravagantly praised for their bravery, tended to the soldier’s body and engaged the murderers in conversation, in hopes of diverting them from killing anyone else. This went on for quite a while.

It took twenty minutes for armed police officers to arrive. Yet, police officers were already on the scene. Since they were British and were, as the old saying goes, “too proud to fight,” they were unarmed.

Hinderaker set the scene:

The idea of policemen in one of the world’s major cities “wait[ing] helplessly for armed officers to arrive,” while murderers parade up and down the street soaked in blood and the body of a half-beheaded soldier lies in the street, is almost unbelievable. And yet that is the state of law enforcement in Great Britain.

British authorities are afraid. They are afraid to carry guns. They are deathly afraid of Muslims. They stand by while a British soldier is being hacked to death by a Muslim fanatic but crack down on anyone who says anything that might offend the delicate sensibilities of the Muslim population.

People in Britain who said something untoward about Islam on Facebook or Twitter are now facing prosecution.

The Daily Mail reported the story:

A 22-year-old man has been charged on suspicion of making malicious comments on Facebook following the murder of British soldier Lee Rigby.

Benjamin Flatters, from Lincoln, was arrested last night after complaints were made to Lincolnshire Police about comments made on Facebook, which were allegedly of a racist or anti-religious nature.

He was charged with an offence of malicious communications this afternoon in relation to the comments, a Lincolnshire Police spokesman said.

The remarks were so offensive that the Daily Mail could not even repeat them. They were apparently anti-religious or racist.

No one should be shocked or surprised. Liberal elites throughout the West are convinced that changing the way people speak will change reality. They have no problems suppressing free speech in favor of their larger ideological agenda.

Islamist terrorists watch the spectacle and conclude that Britain is afraid of them. If someone is afraid of you, that means that you are strong.

In another post Hinderaker described the scene in Stockholm. There the police have taken a laissez-faire attitude toward Muslim rioters. They are too afraid to do anything, so they stand by and let it happen.

One wonders whether Swedes are quite as tolerant of laissez-faire capitalism.

Be that as it may, Hinderaker quotes the account offered by the Swedish publication, Fria Tider:

Since last Sunday, May 19, rioters have taken to the streets of Stockholm’s suburbs every night, torching cars, schools, stores, office buildings and residential complexes. Yesterday, a police station in Rågsved, a suburb four kilometers south of Stockholm, was attacked and set on fire.

But while the Stockholm riots keep spreading and intensifying, Swedish police have adopted a tactic of non-interference. ”Our ambition is really to do as little as possible,” Stockholm Chief of Police Mats Löfving explained to the Swedish newspaper Expressen on Tuesday.

”We go to the crime scenes, but when we get there we stand and wait,” elaborated Lars Byström, the media relations officer of the Stockholm Police Department. ”If we see a burning car, we let it burn if there is no risk of the fire spreading to other cars or buildings nearby. By doing so we minimize the risk of having rocks thrown at us.”

Why would they not riot? If no one has the courage to stop them, then their actions must be righteous.

But, don’t think that the Swedish police are not doing anything. When a meter maid comes across an illegally parked incinerated vehicle, she gives it a parking ticket.

Fria Tider described the scene:

Swedish parking laws, however, continue to be rigidly enforced despite the increasingly chaotic situation. Early Wednesday, while documenting the destruction after a night of rioting in the Stockholm suburb of Alby, a reporter from Fria Tider observed a parking enforcement officer writing a ticket for a burnt-out Ford.

When questioned, the officer explained that the ticket was issued because the vehicle lacked a tag showing its time of arrival. The fact that the vehicle had been effectively destroyed – its windshield smashed and the interior heavily damaged by fire – was irrelevant according to the meter maid, who asked Fria Tider’s photographer to destroy the photos he had taken. Her employer, the parking company P-service, refused to comment when Fria Tider contacted them on Wednesday afternoon.

At least the meter maids are doing their jobs.

Hinderaker makes a salient point. Sweden has the world’s best looking meter maids:


Now, in the absence of a serious response by the police, other Swedes are taking to the streets to defend their nation. The same has been happening in England.

Instapundit remarks:

If the authorities fail to act responsibly, other forms of authority will assert themselves. They may not be as responsible, but they will act.

Seeing the threat posed by vigilantes the Swedish police are springing into action. Fria Tider has the story:

In the Stockholm suburb of Tumba the police decided to abandon their earlier non-intervention policy as a large group of police officers rounded up and dispersed a group of vigilantes trying to fend off rioters.

The decision to round up vigilantes while, according to Stockholm Chief of Police Mats Löfving, ”doing as little as possible” to stop rioters, met with a wave of protests in various social media and on the Internet. 

Swedish police fighting Swedish citizens for doing what the police refuse to do. Surely, the Muslim population is watching and laughing.