Monday, November 23, 2015

How The Online Debates About Terrorism Go in The US. Where Echidne Grumbles.

US online debates about terrorism, the proper treatment of refugees and other related issues leave me exasperated.  Also sad and angry, of course, given the topics, but the exasperation part should be fixable.

I'm exasperated, because too many people have trotted out  their hind-brains for that thinking purpose.  On the US political right this shows up in widespread fear and hatred of all Muslims (register them!  refuse all Muslim refugees!), on the US political left it becomes a knee-jerk reaction against whatever the right does*, as opposed to actually looking at the issues and the evidence.

This creates some very odd bedfellows among political values and ideals:

Suddenly religious freedom is not the conservative cause it has been in the Hobby Lobby case, for example, but a liberal, lefty cause.  Suddenly the unequal treatment of women (but only in Islam) is a right-wing worry,  not something that would greatly worry liberals or progressives or feminists.  Suddenly the Syrian refugees contain large numbers of hidden ISIS members (the right-wing view) or they are all orphans and widows fleeing the very same ISIS the US conservatives fear so much (the left-wing view).

Reality is nuanced, ambiguous.  It's not good that so many of these debates can't seem to handle ambiguity.

To clarify what I mean, take that last sentence of the preceding paragraph.  The one study that has been done among Syrian refugees in Europe suggests that more of them are fleeing the bombings and violence of president Assad than the violence of ISIS.  This does NOT mean that the refugees who answered the survey in the study would support ISIS or any other militant group in Syria, not at all. But the majority in the survey** see Assad as the culprit in the Syrian civil war, not rising jihadism.

The vast majority of the Syrian refugees are people fleeing unspeakable circumstances, and they need help.  That ISIS would try to infiltrate that group goes without saying.  It's the job of the western governments, including the government of the United States, to weed out as many potential terrorists as possible***.  I think that the job of the rest of us is to learn to deal with the residual ambiguity or to surrender our claim to compassion.

The longer-run job of everyone in power should be to end the wars in the Middle East.  That's what the refugees want, too. 

*  I don't mean that the left should actually consider those vile proposals, but the automatic response shouldn't be to match "their" demons with "our" angels.  Neither view is realistic of human beings in general.

** I looked at the survey.  It's hard to judge how representative it might be.  If Syrian refugees in Berlin are a random sample of all Syrian refugees in Europe then the study is representative.  On the other hand, if Syrian refugees in Berlin are, say, more likely to come from areas where Assad is in power or fighting over power, then the results might not be representative.

***  The United States has a much better chance of doing this than most European governments, what with the enormous refugee numbers in Europe.  Against that background, the bill passed by the US House and the reluctance of more than half of US state governors to accept Syrian refugees seem exaggerated.