Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Takfir Terrorists- Not 'Islamic'

I finally got around to reading The Looming Tower this weekend, probably the best book about the ideology which fuels Al Qaeda and affiliated radical movements.  It's a fabulous tour that covers the fifty-year history since Sayyid Qutb began articulating a call for Sharia law in Egypt, through Ayman al-Zawahiri's generation of Egyptian fundamentalists, and the globalization of the call to jihad.

Of course, the final ideology which emerges through Bin Laden and is indoctrinated into recruits of Al Qaeda and affiliates is not sharia law per se, but the Salafist interpretation of Sharia, which disregards 700 years of adaptation and interpretation by Islamic scholars in a process similar to the Jewish Talmudic disputes.  The closest analogy in the American system is judges who argue that only "originalist" arguments are proper.  The Salafist tradition is no more violent than the American Conservative legal tradition.  However, this is the jumping-off point for Al Qaeda's justification of violence.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

In Cordoba Debate, Some Good Arguments

Forgive me- I'm beginning to think that the Cordoba House debate is really interesting. It is providing a more broad-based discussion of constitutional values than we've seen in the last twenty years, even with recent blockbuster SCOTUS decisions.

While I was reading a Daily Mail anti-Cordoba screed, I happened across an interesting, and in many ways compelling analaogy:
No, not every Muslim attacked us on 9/11. But it was Muslims who attacked us in the name of Islam. Excuse me, this was like opening a gun store near Columbine High School.
Don Surbur hits this dead-on. We have here two instances of mass murder carried out by sociopaths.  They targeted large groups of people and were designed to shock.  These violent acts had outsized impacts on the nation's psyche. Both were reprehensible. Both were horrific phenomena which authorities were ill-equipped to predict or prevent.

First, the motivation behind the violence is vaguely similar. The Columbine student shooters lashed out at bullies who they believed oppressed them; al Qaeda is lashing out at a country they perceive to be pushing around Islamic nations.

Second, Mr. Surbur is correct that "not every Muslim" was responsible for the violence. This is very similar to the Columbine killings where 'not every Columbine High School student' was a deranged murderer. To blame whole groups of people because a tiny number are sociopathic is so obviously wrong.  It is worth noting also that 'not every Christian was a Nazi' and 'not every American is in the KKK'.  To make a statement about an enormous group of people based on one twisted and unpopular ideology is obviously not helpful.  I'm glad that Don Surbur agrees.

This is where the analogy falls apart a little bit, because in this case, opponents of Cordoba House are attempting to deny to Muslims as a whole a community center, and across the country, new mosques. The Columbine corollary would be if we denied to students as a whole Columbine high school, and stopped the construction of new schools across the country.

The third and strongest aspect of the analogy is that both involve a fundamental right.  The Supreme Court recently exposited the fundamental nature of the right to bear arms, and the right to free exercise of religion was highlighted as a natural right of citizens throughout the founding era. It is no surprise that both these rights are being weighed against threats to our security.

This has always been one of the most contentious balances in American political history, and both sides seem to think that we get it wrong about as often as we get it right. After all, it spawned the apocryphal Franklin quote, "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

But to answer the question I immediately asked myself upon reading the analogy, there are
10 gun stores within 10 miles of Columbine High School in Littleton Colorado

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The closest gun store, Denver Guns and Ammo, is about 1.5 miles away in a much less dense neighborhood.  In Manhattan terms, that's just down the block.

That's why this is a good analogy.

Building an Islamic community center two blocks north of Vesey Street would fit very well into how Americans deal with constitutional issues: rationally and without prejudice.
Americans care about their core values.  Even in the immediate aftermath of a national tragedy, we tend to stick to our core values, which include the freedom to guns and god.  Any laws touching a right deemed fundamental must meet a standard of compelling state interest.  The objections of the anti-Cordoba crowed doesn't even come close to being compelling let alone a reasonable state interest. in the end, the partisans pushing this issue in order bring out more anger among GOP base voters are going to end up hurting themselves once everyone calms down and realizes what's going on. Our job is to give them enough rope.

That's what the good folks at the Reality-Based Community seem to be thinking: 

NB: These are the 10 gun stores I found within 10 miles driving distance of Columbine High School:

Denver Guns and Ammo
Shootin Shop
Green Mountain Guns
CO State Shooting Assn
Shootist Pistol Range
Predator International
M W Reynolds Inc
Sundance Bullets
Prairie Arms Manufacturing LLC
Frontier Gallery LLC

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Numbers of Islamophobia

Is there a political downside for the GOP for trading in Islamophobia?

The recent outbursts against a moderate Islamic center in New York City have crossed a qualitative line.  The somewhat coded Islamophobia of the Bush Administration has exploded into a full scale anti-Muslim campaign, with GOP heavyweights voicing opinions against building expressly moderate and modern Islamic centers and mosques.

Let's ground our instincts in some research.  GOP party identification was in a state of free fall between 2001 and 2007, as political scientists Matt Barreto and Dino Bozonelos report.  72% of American Muslims supported candidate Bush in the October of 2000, but that number had slipped to 7% in 2007.  Clearly the "War Against Islamic Extremism", the failures of the Bush administration to distinguish between loyal Americans and the enemy, and rampant discrimination damaged the Republican brand in muslim communities.

By 2008, 49% of American Muslims considered themselves Democrats; 8% reported a Republican affiliation, and 36% were independents.***

There is obviously very little room for Republican support to drop as a result of demonizing Muslims, but Democrats might be missing a big opportunity if they don't reach out to partner with local mosques to organize those voters.

Muslims who regularly attend religious services are not a highly concentrated constituency in any particular congressional district: Table at left is Dr. Shane Martin's (pdf) estimate of District-level concentration of practicing Muslims.  There are only twenty districts where there is predicted to be more than a marginal Muslim  presence in the electorate.

These communities are not decisive voting blocs in presidential-year elections, but if mobilized in an off-year, could provide a relatively large package of votes to Democrats who speak up for the values of openness and inclusion.

This estimate is also based on a survey which implies about 1.5 million practicing Muslims in America, so organizing these networks may have an outsized impact in mobilizing pockets of the other estimated 4.25 million American Muslims.

According to the estimates upon which the above table is based, NY-13 and VA-11 are the only competitive districts which have a muslim population > 2%. Both are lean Democratic with freshman representatives. The campaign managers in these districts might find that hiring an organizer to work exclusively with the Muslim community could pay off big in the hunt to get to 50%+1.

Even though other districts are not in play, candidates in NJ-08, CA-08, PA-02, PA-01, and NY-14 could use this opportunity to make fundraising asks and establish donor networks to funnel money to other Dems in trouble. American Muslims are better educated and wealthier than the general population. Masjid attending Muslims present a donor base which may be mobilized by sticking to the founders' principles.

The more outward displays of Islamophobia may have the effect of diminishing Muslim voting in a vacuum, but in cases where Democratic campaigns have the resources to reach out to these communities, a small investment could have a big impact.  In organizing mosque-goers, Democrats can offer American Muslims a voice in the political process and earn long-term allies as well as swing-district votes in 2010.

*** That is according to the CAIR poll which used a sample compiled of names that sounded Islamic- a more methodologically sophisticated Pew poll put the Party ID numbers at D 63% (including leaners), R 11%, I 26% NB: The twenty congressional districts with the highest estimated proportion of muslim voters follows in order of % Muslim (highest to lowest): NY-13 NJ-08 CA-08 PA-02 PA-01 VA-11 NY-14 NY-15 NY-08 NY-12 NY-10 NY-11 NY-09 NY-06 VA-08 GA-05 MI-13 MI-14 NJ-13 MD-08

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Purpose of a Blog

Last week I decided to start a blog.

This statement is not exactly true, but let's say it's true enough. You see, last week I got fed up with a politician who said something stupid and the two competitors who sat idly by and endorsed his view.

So I wrote a little article about it, went over to the 'blog' button from my google homepage, prettied it up a little in html, and voila, a blog post.

The experience was neither empowering nor cathartic nor particularly effective at changing the state of American political discourse. Still, I was able to state and publish a vision of the Constitutional order and the regrettable political "silly season" in which we find ourselves.
I hope that few readers of my last article hopefully walked away with an insight into the founding values of the United States. I hope that future readers will find in this space a reasoning which sparks their own. I hope that whatever intellect peeks through this blog is reflected back a thousand times more magnificent by its commenters. I offer original analysis and welcome spirited critique.

No one great voice can uplift this nation, and no one pair of hands can change it. It will take a cacophony of millions of voices shouting at cross purposes to discover a greater truth. It will take millions of hands building and demolishing till we build the future of which we can all be proud. This is the promise of democracy, but it is also a great requirement of every generation. Ours has fallen too silent and complacent.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Flood Prevention? Not the Government's job

That seems to be the theory

.... that Republican U.S. Senate Candidate Clint Didier is espousing in his bid to take second in Washington's Aug. 17 primary.

In a meeting of all three Republican candidates with the Seattle Times ed board, the farmer and former Washington Redskin contrasted his views with incumbent Patty Murray(D):

via the Seattle Times:
While all the candidates attacked federal spending, Didier went the farthest, suggesting that Patty Murray's efforts to bring federal money to Washington State amounted to "buying votes."

He cited Wednesday's announcement of $26 billion in Medicaid funding for states, as well as Murray's recent announcement of $44 million to help fix Howard Hanson Dam.

Here she is bringing the pork back again. Spending our childrens and our grandchildren's money. She's already spent ours." he said.

"For crying out loud. How much is enough, Patty? You gotta go out there and buy your votes? Why is it coming in now?"

The 7:10pm Seattle Times release does not include any discussion or dissent from Condo Salesman and GOP frontman Dino Rossi or the third candidate local cobbler[*] Paul Akers.

It is confounding that two candidates for the U.S. Senate sat in a room while another insisted that money for flood prevention is somehow wasteful and didn't challenge him.  It would be astounding enough if a single candidate had even been a room with someone who said it.  But as astonishing as it may sound, three Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate got into a room and agreed to the idea that money for dam repair is somehow pork stolen from our children's mouuths. They went on the record in front of newspaper reporters and editors and said that it's not government's place to protect its citizens and natural resources from flooding.

The purpose of a government is spelled out in the preamble of our Constitution.  It's a section that Rossi, Didier, and Akers should read.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure  domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The promotion of the general welfare, security of liberty, and the citizens' interests are the inseparable coequal values of America. It is what the Constitution was established to protect. It's time that Rossi and friends realized that.

It remarkable that three men anywhere think that flood prevention is wasteful spending. What is astounding is that these men want to be in the very government that they think is so wasteful. I wonder, if they think that shoring up a dam is wasteful, what would they, as Senators, spend our money on? Probably more tax give-aways to the rich and powerful. Spending to protect citizens? Waste. Giving it away and increasing the deficit? Fiscal conservatism.

Money should not be wasted in government, business, or a family, and this is not how you reduce wasteful spending.  Calling every project wasteful, obscures true instances of waste.  These guys are flooding the zone, camouflaging the real waste in our system. Instead of concentrating on fixing problems, Rossi, Didier, and Akers are running on the idea that government should do nothing.  It should not ensure human rights, it should not collect and spend money to benefit the nation as a whole, and it should never under any circumstances, defend its citizens' interests.  Apparently to these politicians, the "general welfare" just isn't worth the cost.

That's not Conservative- that's a rebuke to the entire American project.

Information about the dam is here: Howard Hanson Dam Information

As far as I can tell...

At least his ad might make sense if that were his profession.

By the way, here's Rossi:

Where Rossi's money comes from: