29 January 2007

Jasser 2007

M. Zuhdi Jasser has a rant typical of the National Review’s rigorous standards of misreading and knee-jerk reactions. His beef is with the Council on American Islamic Relations’ (CAIR) press release about the new season of 24. Supposedly CAIR has made the traditional announcement: condemnation without an acceptance of the reality that Islamic terrorism is carried out by Muslims.

Jasser tries to clarify that there are Muslims that do pose a threat to the US. As if CAIR did not know that. Going to their website after reading Jasser’s article I found no mention about the evils of media representation but rather I found 2 types of stories, stories about peaceful and courageous Muslim Americans and stories about the cowardice and misunderstandings of terrorists.

What makes me upset about Jasser’s article is not what he wants. I agree that there should be a more visible Muslim community preaching against Islamic extremism. But Jasser’s article is so typical of conservative articles these days - there is a ‘liberal’ statement which the conservative reduces to a caricature of the ‘typical liberal sentiment’. It is not only easy to refute these caricatures but it also continues a mischaracterization of traditionally liberal sentiments.

CAIR’s argument is not that 24 should not have Islamic extremism as its antagonist. Rather CAIR wants to caution that some viewers may not see a distinction among Muslims and Islamic extremists. Jasser, however, reduces CAIR’s argument to the more outlandish claim of villainization of 24.

Jasser calls for more Muslims to take an active role in publicly fighting Islamic extremism, which seems to be exactly what CAIR is doing. Because Jasser goes to such pleasure denouncing CAIR he cannot then offer CAIR as an example of his mission.

There is another problem with Jasser’s argument, however. His argument that there is no visible Muslim community arguing against extremism proves CAIR’s warning. CAIR is worried that such common portrayals of Muslims as extremists means people stop seeing peaceful Muslim actions as peaceful but rather as part of a conspiracy against modernity and the West. Hence any public condemnation of extremism would be dismissed and hence not carried into the mainstream press. If Jasser is correct about the irrelevancy of CAIR then that only proves CAIR’s argument.

Jasser is right, there need to be more Muslim figures decrying the evils of Islamic extremism. We also need stories about Islamic extremism, if for no other reason than because it is the source of common national anxiety. What we do not need however is this traditional conservative lashing out at traditionally liberal places. Sometimes the conservative authors are so wrapped up in their projects that they misread and misappropriate messages as a liberal conspiracy. The first paragraph of Jasser’s article demonstrates this extremism.

24 January 2007


Jodi over at I Cite makes a concession to K-Punk about Gibson’s Apocalytpo. She allows Gibson to be removed from the discussion by saying the movie is not apocalyptic in the relevant sense. This is nonsense.

Clearly the movie is relevant to the state of the world to-day, but this is not the discussion at hand amongst these bloggers. But the movie is relevant precisely because of its name. This is a guess, but I doubt few would disagree with me that Gibson shares some of the millennial impulses being discussed. While the apocalypse in the movie seems to be no large issue to us, as the new world was the formation of our current world, it was a large break for the people in the movie.

Gibson’s use of the word as the title seems to be an immunization to the very concept. People see the movie as the embodiment of an apocalypse and are inoculated to an apocalypse because that one did not seem so bad. Good, even. So, now these same people are witness to a discussion about apocalypse and are desensitized to the magnitude of the upheaval and suffering that can accompany the change.

I share Jodi’s sense of dread not so much at the cited apocalypse but at the citing. Too many people are now talking about it, on both sides. I fear the discussion is becoming saturated and people are becoming desensitized to it.

Brilmayer 1994

Here is a paragraph from Lea Brilmayer, a professor of international relations at Yale University, which does an admirable job representing one of the arguments made by the neoconservatives:

Even if all states would like an agreement not to build nuclear weapons, there are formidable practical problems with constructing a compliance regime because enforcement is costly and few states are willing to contribute to the cost. The hegemon has more to lose from violations than smaller states (both because it is large and because it is more subject to nuclear threat). Its existence makes a nonproliferation regime possible, because smaller states would not get enough benefit to make it worthwhile to enforce the regimes themselves. Enforcement of nonproliferation treaties by the United States is a public good; for when states keep their promises to the United States, they are simultaneously keeping their promises to one another. The smaller states can all free-ride on the willingness of the United States to undertake the cost of enforcement, and in this way they benefit from American hegemony. (American hegemony: Political morality in a one-superpower world, 1994, page 118)

This is a typical realist explanation of proliferation motivations. The obvious answer, I will call it the ‘empirically denied argument’, others will make to this argument is that it is an old theory and recent events (if post-94 events, 1995, can be considered recent) disprove the theory. That argument goes something like this: since 1995 the US has been the sole hegemon with few drains on its willingness to fight and ability to do so. But there have been proliferation efforts regardless of the US presence, forcing the above theory to be inaccurate.

However, instead of disproving the argument, it actually helps bolster Brilmayer’s argument. The realist conception says a nation will not pursue nuclear weapons because it is not in their interest (the weapons are not needed and therefore those resources would be wasted.) But, what if the hegemon were seen to be a menace to one of these free-riding states? It seems the realist account would then explain why some nations do proliferate. The empirically denied argument then uses the Brilmayer thesis to explain why Iran and North Korea did begin proliferation efforts.

This is not to say the Brilmayer view is complete. There are surely other factors that influence a state’s decisions than just the security dilemma. Iran is a great case study here, because the Persian people have a culture that actively remembers itself as great. Darius, after all, once challenged Alexander the Great not just for regional supremacy but also for global domination. Nuclear weapons have a status and can be seen as granting a status to those that possess them.

What does this mean for current US policy towards Iran? I contend it means the US should take a more conciliatory approach to Iran. The stability of the unipolar world was not seen to include Iran because of US condemnation since 1980. Maybe a more friendly approach would have staved off the current crisis. It also seems the harder the line we draw with Iran the more we emphasize a fundamental difference between Iran and the US, the gap in military proficiency. By emphasizing Iran’s deficiency we only make it more attractive for Iran to close that gap. The quickest and easiest way to do that is by acquiring nuclear weapons. I will concede the possibility that the genie is out of the bottle and a concillatory approach now would be too little too late. That is a subject for later exploration

17 January 2007

Stem Cell Update: Stauble Sr.

Here’s a fantastical ditty published to-day about the evils of embryonic stem cell research. Ron J. Stauble Sr. thinks the research must of course kill future humans and it also detracts funds from more worthy lines of stem cell research. I think the first argument about killing people in their embryonic stage has been addressed ad nausea, so I will deal exclusively with the other argument.

It is important to note that there is no research in his article. There is not a quotation from anyone that says the aid is fungible and trades off with each other. Maybe the embryonic stem cell research money would go into weapons research. Stauble Sr. has a conjecture that it would instead go into non-embryonic stem cell research. Here’s the catch of his argument: if the two research fields are so similar that the money is necessarily split between them, then the research is also so similar that a benefit in one area will benefit the other. Stauble Sr. has constructed a false choice, a binary that does not hold true.

Now, let us assume that he is correct about the research drain argument. His proof about the ills of embryonic research is suspect. He claims only tumors have been developed. While he is correct that embryonic research has not yielded the beneficial results non-embryonic research has, it would be a mistake to conclude that it will always be nonproductive. Notice the examples he cites: liver repair and bone repair. The afflictions embryonic research looks at are far more difficult and debilitating. Parkinson’s Disease cannot be treated by the non-embryonic stem cell research. In a sense Stauble Sr. is correct that we do need to make choices between the results of embryonic and non-embryonic research, but we need to be clear what it is we are really choosing: mending bones and livers or mending the brain and spinal injuries. Do not forget that the trade-off is not a clear either/or decision. It is possible to have both forms of research, but Stauble Sr. would have us forgo helping anyone with certain afflictions.