Wednesday, March 4, 2015

"The True Believers"


Just a quick piece to note a great discussion between Sam Harris and Graeme Wood, author of "What ISIS Really Wants," which appears online and in the current issue of The Atlantic.

Harris brings up a great comparison regarding the tendency of many to search for explanations other than the obvious one, even when the subject(s) of inquiry state very plainly and clearly what their motivations and beliefs are.
I just want to point out that this effort to get at root causes only ever runs in one direction. No one doubts the political and economic justifications that people give for their behavior. When someone says, “Listen, I murdered my rich neighbor because I knew he kept a pile of money in a safe. I wanted that money, and I didn’t want to leave a witness,” nobody looks for an ulterior explanation for that behavior. But when someone says, “I think infidels and apostates deserve to burn in hell, and I know for a fact that I’ll go to paradise if I die while waging jihad against them,” many academics refuse to accept this rationale at face value and begin looking for the political or economic reasons that they imagine lie beneath it.
Sometimes you just have to accept that people believe what they tell us they believe.  And as Wood notes, you don't even have to go far to find it.  Mike has been writing plenty on this himself, without having to tag along on a Jihadi jalopy bouncing through the desert to join forces with the group in, say, Raqqa or Tikrit.

Wood notes -
I’ve had people come to me after the piece appeared and ask me how I got this information, as if the information were difficult to find. It was kind of them to assume that I had to work very hard to get it. But as anyone who watches the Islamic State closely knows, it manufactures propaganda at an industrial pace, and its members are eager to explain themselves. They publish fatwas in Arabic and many other languages represented among the foreign fighters. And they take great pains to describe why they do what they do.
If this tendency was limited to bloggers and talking heads, it would be one thing.  But it extends to some pretty disturbing places.  Play it, Sam (emphases added) -
From the moment the Islamic State emerged, it felt almost as if I had invented it as some kind of thought experiment to prove that everything I wrote in The End of Faith was true. These people are a crystalline example of the problem I described in that book—as is the response of liberal apologists who have been saying that their behavior has nothing to do with Islam. Rather, we’re told that burning people alive in cages, crucifying children, and butchering journalists and aid workers is an ordinary human response to political and economic instability. Even representatives of our own State Department assert thisI can’t imagine how comically out of touch with reality we appear from the side of the jihadis. [...]
You begin your essay by summarizing the confusion that many people experience on this topic, and you cite comments by Major General Michael Nagata, the Special Operations Commander for the US in the Middle East. He is on record as admitting, I believe in a closed-door session, that he didn’t understand the appeal of the Islamic State. Specifically, he said “We have not defeated the idea. We do not even understand the idea.”  
I remember reading that in the New York Times and getting furious. I take your point in the article that jihadism is not monolithic, and there are both religious and political differences among many of these groups. But if there is anything in this world that is not a secret—if there is any intellectual or moral problem that just solves itself—it is this question of what is appealing about joining a group like the Islamic State for a person who actually believes in the Islamic doctrines of martyrdom and jihad. It’s about as psychologically mysterious as my daughter’s wanting to go to the ice cream store. I can’t say that I’ve defeated the idea, but I absolutely understand it.
It’s one thing for the president to deny the link between religious belief and jihadism in public -- that’s a propaganda campaign that seems doomed to fail -- but it’s another to learn that our military leaders are expressing confusion about this behind closed doors. I find that terrifying.
 Definitely give the whole discussion a read if you have the chance.


  1. Good discussion. Too bad so many people have little clue, especially those who maintain it's about jobs.

    Reading their words of outrage these days, they would probably support boots on the ground against Israel before the IS.

    The jihadis certainly try to emulate Muhammad, but they also act like Nazis who used more modern methods of mayhem against innocents as they swept across the landscape.

    1. Makes you wonder why only one religion seems to get that pass, even from some who are vehemently anti-religion in other cases.

      When a Christian maniac bombs an abortion clinic or murders a doctor, nobody immediately begins to shake their head and sadly say "aw shucks, if only we would have focused on getting him a better job." Virtually everybody is fine with accepting that he committed his act of terror as a result of his religious convictions.

      When Israel does pretty much anything certain types of people disapprove of, they often have no problem blaming its Jewish nature for the perceived 'offense' (like building apartments), even when Judaism has absolutely nothing to do with it.

      "[C]omically out of touch with reality" is a great way to put it.

    2. Insert before my last line - "But we're supposed to believe that violent, genocidal jihad is more like Occupy Wall Street, than it is an acting based upon religious beliefs."

      "[C]omically out of touch with reality" is a great way to put it.

    3. Again though, trying to understand fanatical bushido didn't help on Okinawa. Sometimes you just have to kill them all. Every single last one.

  2. Thanks for this, Jay.

    Ideology is a powerful thing.

    It makes ISIS want to kill in the name of Islam and it makes people like President Obama deny that the killing has anything whatsoever to do with Islam.

    It also has side repercussions so that, for example, if I note that a particular imam is screaching to the heavens for Jewish blood and I put up a youtube video showing the imam screaching to the heavens for Jewish blood, this somehow makes me the bad guy, or the "racist."

    Or, as noted above, it causes people to deny the obvious when the obvious does not conform to a preconceived ideological foundation.

    They call Netanyahu a "warmonger" not because he is one, but because he is the conservative PM of Israel which their ideology insists is a racist imperial abomination.

    This is not to say that ideology is, in and of itself, a bad thing. It need not be when used as a reference guide, so to speak, but when it takes over, the capacity to think freely hobbled.

    1. Somewhere in America right now, Ben Affleck is gritting his teeth and staring angrily with wild eyes, seeking out random people / animals / things to call Islamophobes.

      The distance between the real PM Netanyahu, and the one of the fevered imaginations of these people, is just incredibly vast, isn't it?

      How many terror rockets were fired before Israel fought back? How many cease fires were there? How quick did he seek to end this last war before destroying Hamas? Which neighbor of Gaza is actually 'blockading' the place, to the extent that they've wiped an entire, thousands-year old city of their own, completely off the map?

      Netanyahu explicitly states that he doesn't want war, which of course means he not only wants war, but that he's also somehow going to get us to fight it for him. Iran tweets that Israel must be annihilated, which of course means that they're loving bunny rabbits just minding their own business, who would never harm a soul and just want to be left alone to not develop Jihad bombs in peace...

    2. ^^^ The stupid burns

      How accurate. If those idiots truly believed the crap they spew, they would try and defend it here, instead of shouting "islamophobe" at anyone who disagrees!

    3. The mullahs are just cute, wide-eyed and thoughtful little tykes merely seeking to play in peace with their new Erector Sets. The world community should be supporting them in their curiosity, and encouraging their obvious interest in science and the specific properties and uses of certain chemical elements.

      Leave Iran aloooooone, you Islamophobic bullies!

  3. Woods treads an equally risky approach. Containment and a Vietnamization of the war is very risky. For one, it rarely succeeds albeit containment can work to 'contain' the war, more or less. Put a wall around it and wait for them them kill each other. But this assumes that Iran's role would cooperate. Iran would not want to be boxed in to an unwinnable war so it will take the battle outside the region to fight others indirectly. Terrorist acts world wide in the hope that either other parties jump into the fight against ISIS or cause enough chaos so that they (Iran) can prosecute their own war everywhere else. A nuclear Iran has no bearing on ISIS but it has a great deal to do with how the west responds to ISIS.

    Containment implies doing something to contain them. Arming groups, air strikes, and so forth. Maybe a better approach is to let it play out on its own. Don't arm anyone, don't bomb anyone, just let it all burn. Ignore it. We certainly in the west have a near limitless capacity to ignore genocides we're uninterested in. We ignore them all the time and no one's screaming for the Congo or Rwanda or South Sudan or anywhere in that part of the world.

    What do they want? What is it 'about'? Who cares what it's 'about'? Attempting to understand that is only germane to a discussion formed around the discredited notion of nation-building. We can't do that. No one can. 'Understanding' them is relevant to how we feel about us, about our response to it. But it has very little import on them or what happens to them. If we've learned only one thing in a hundred years of dealing with these people it's that they ALWAYS ALWAYS eventually bite the hand that feeds them. Every single time. As soon as you save some group from a mass grave they rise up against you because you don't 'respect' them. Fair enough.

    1. We didn't seem to do much in the Central African Republic, either, so there's truth to what you point out, even though a member of the current administration has literally written the book in opposition to ignoring genocide.

      Who knows what the right approach here is regarding responding to IS? That's way above my pay grade, as I'll freely admit.

  4. I just finished the interview in its entirety and I have to say, very informative.

    These guys are very interesting and I was particularly interested in Wood's argument toward the end about why the West should not simply go in there and route these barbarians. He argues that doing so would fulfill their narrative and thus give credece to that narrative among certain Muslims throughout the world. He thereby sees it as counterproductive.

    I am, along with Harris, I think, beginning to lean more to the idea that month by month we have less and less choice but to take them out militarily.

    This is an organization with at least 30,000 fighters, but possibly well above 50,000.

    They control sizeable portions of both Iraq and Syria and are absolutely genocidal toward anything and everything non-Koranic.

    The organization is growing very rapidly with, reportedly, thousands of Muslims pouring in from places all around the globe.

    I do not know about you guys, but I don't think that I had even heard of ISIS 18 months ago, so they seem to have come out of almost nowhere to fill the vacuum that we left in Iraq.

    They need to be stopped, but the question is how?

    I am slowly coming to the conclusion that the best manner of doing so is probably the most straightforward.

    Someone please tell me why I am wrong.

    1. The problem with that strategy is what Doodad notes, in my opinion. It's not that wars still can't be won the old-fashioned way, but rather it's that we don't allow such a thing anymore, by general consensus in the civilized world, which I would say is a very good thing.

      Exceptions can of course be made to that consensus, but it doesn't look like those who would be able to carry it out are at all interested in taking such action at the moment, nor are any signals being given that any such changes may take place any time soon.

    2. Jay, given their behavior and given their genocdal tendencies and given their destabilization of that critical part of the world, would it be unjust for the West to take them out militarily?

    3. No, not at all. I'd welcome it. I just don't see any sign that anyone in the West is willing to go the WWII route against them.

  5. The problem is the "we." It has to be the "them," ie, their fellow citizens/coreligionists. Until it is no longer cool to be a jihadi among your own folk, the ideology will continue. All "we," can do is kill a certain number of them since modern political correctness/UN protocols etc would never allow the kind of clean 'em out routing that worked in WW2. Those days are over and the terrorists are grateful.

    1. That does seem to be the case. What can 'we' really do anymore? Perhaps containment is the only realistic option. Just try to minimize the area of Thunderdome, keep it from spreading, and, ideally, make sure those who enter of their own free will to fight, understand that tickets inside are only good and only available for one-way travel.

    2. Isis will get creamed only when they finally attack Israel. Notice they have avoided that so far. That's cause they know Israel won't screw around. There's a lesson there somewhere.

    3. This is true. And unlike us, Israel isn't fortunate enough to be separated from the mess by continents and oceans. The apocalyptic death cult is just over on the other side of town from them.

  6. Well I would simply defer to the leftists and liberals who beseech us 'they're not ALL bloodthirsty murderous psychopaths, only a few of them are'. Right you are. Exhibit A - Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Gaza, parts of Lebanon, Libya and various and sundry other blighted places. Only a few. So...what's the plan? Surely you must have had one?

    This week the Syrian 'rebel' group most in line with Obama's program to fight Assad threw in their lot with the al Nusra Front. They handed over all their US weapons and swore whatever oath they swear.

    The fact is that you can't 'stop' them. Any more than you can stop any other glint eye'd fanatics. You can't even stop college educated Muslims in the US, Canada and England from going over there to be even crazier than we tolerate.

    There are a few half measures you can take. Everyone who goes over there, tear up their passport and revoke their citizenship. Anyone who's already return, toss them in a supermax, suspend all their civil rights. No trial no hearings, nothing. Just disappear them. Next if you're going to bomb them, bomb them good. Level everything, every building every oil well every bridge road dam all of it. And when there's no more things to bomb, load up on cluster munitions and drop them like the rain on all the fighters on the ground and everyone near them.

    Sorry but there's no nice way to kill these Nazis. Kill them all. Give whomever something moan about around the dung fire for the next thousand years. And if you see a dung fire? Bomb that too.

    1. No more half-measures, as Mike Ehrmantraut would have said.

      No country capable of carrying out 'full measures' against the Islamic State appears to be willing to treat them as we used to treat genocidal threats, so containment just may be the best option.

      Limit Thunderdome, seal it, keep it from spreading, and make sure everybody who goes in of their own free will to fight understands that the entrance gates are only one-way. Like a full-height subway exit turnstile. "You are now leaving the rest of the world."

      Allowing such people back into our countries is incredibly stupid, to say the very least. Yet people in the Swedish government, I believe it was, are already talking about setting up job programs for returning head choppers. Why stop there? Why not some form of GI Bill, too? Home and school loans for veterans of the jihad.

      I'm no expert on such legal matters, but I would like to think that declaring allegiance to the caliphate and taking up arms in a declaration of war on the entire non-Islamic State world would possibly qualify as a renunciation of one's citizenship in most countries, no?

    2. Jay, really?

      "Yet people in the Swedish government, I believe it was, are already talking about setting up job programs for returning head choppers."

      Get the heck out of town.


    3. Here's one from Sweden, from a site I'm unfamiliar with. The similar stories from Denmark look legit, though, appearing in Newsweek and the Washington Post.

      "“These are young people who have turned to religion at a very difficult time in their lives, and they are dealing with existential questions about going to fight for what they believe in,” said Aarhus Mayor Jacob Bundsgaard. “We cannot pass legislation that changes the way they think and feel. What we can do is show them we are sincere about integration, about dialogue.”


      “You cannot believe everything you hear about the Islamic State,” Talha said. “There may be bad things, but also good things.”

      He returned to Denmark for a few months in 2013, telling his mother — but not his father — what he had done. Since his own religious awakening, he had persuaded her to start wearing a head scarf, and she became more religious herself. But “she cried when I told her where I had been,” he said. When he returned to Syria a few months later, she did not try to stop him.

      Talha came back to Denmark last October, when bouts of infighting broke out among rival factions. Since then, he has had one meeting, he said, with a police official who questioned him about his plans and intentions. Under Aarhus’s program, he was offered -- and accepted -- taxpayers’ help for the math classes he needs to enter engineering school.

    4. From the Newsweek article:

      "“The jihadists often have a life story of exclusion,” observes Bertelsen. “On the surface they’re well integrated, so Danes keep asking themselves, ‘Why do they hate Denmark so much when we’ve given them so many opportunities?’ But even a well-functioning society has its shadow sides with de facto lack of equal opportunities and exclusion, and the political rhetoric has sometimes been anti-immigrants or racist, so immigrants feel unwanted.” Helping the jihadists feel useful is, then, a logical course of action.

      In addition to Aarhus, Copenhagen and several other cities have now introduced the model, and other Scandinavian countries along with the Netherlands are engaged in similar efforts. In Britain, Ranstorp notes that “everybody suspected of being a jihadist is interviewed by the police when returning from abroad”. A Copenhagen city spokesman says that around 30 jihadists, including several who have returned from Syria, have enrolled in the programme.


      “I completely understand why politicians and the US have to use harsh rhetoric against Isis, and it’s an extremely dangerous organisation”, says Bertelsen. “But if these young people don’t see a way out, if they see fighting in Syria as their only option, then we’ve achieved the opposite of what we’re trying to do, which is to defeat Isis. Defeating Isis is a two-pronged approach.” Denmark is contributing seven fighter jets to the Isis bombing campaign.

      Apparently, the second 'prong' involves being less 'Islamophobic,' and setting up publicly-funded school programs for jihadis. But why stop at only Danish returning jihadis? Perhaps they can 'defeat ISIS' by importing ALL of the fighters in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere throughout their caliphate, bring them into Denmark, and train them to be their next generation of leaders!

      The only thing I see wrong with that plan is everything, but hey maybe they're just better 'liberals' than me...

    5. Is it just me, or is it also incredibly bigoted to allow these people, who've been butchering and slaughtering and creating hells-on-earth all throughout the Middle East, to slip back into comfortable European nations and lifestyles, without facing any consequences whatsoever for what they've done to the people and society in less well-off places in the Middle East?

      This is humanitarian racism just kicked up to a whole other level.

  7. O/T, but it looks like, by next week, we'll finally moving out of the Mini Ice Age that was the winter of 2014-2015 here in Philadelphia.

    I would just like to note, however, that if next week's forecast (58 on Wednesday!!!!!) is a Purim prank, I am going to sue everybody, and possibly march on Center City with a "Behead Those Who Misrepresent the Weather!" sign.

    Okay, I probably won't do the last thing, but I'll be very upset.

  8. Watching the Jews get attacked on Daily Kos is like watching goldfish getting attacked by piranha.

  9. It reminds me of how often people claimed Hamas won the palestinian election as a protest against Fatah corruption. No one ever wanted to consider that Hamas won because the palestinian people supported their ideas.

    Sometimes a cigar really is just a cigar.

    1. That's a really good point. I remember that, too.

    2. It's called "humanitarian racism" and it represents a blind spot the size of a truck in the progressive-left political imagination, mrzee.

      And welcome to Israel Thrives.

      Please drive carefully.


  10. The new issue of Fathom, which always contains a bunch of good stuff, is out.