Open mic: Risk and fear of retribution

Today's liberal democracies can still respond to challenge

By Mike Shields

Without wanting to dampen the sentiment, I hesitate to pile on the “Je suis, Charlie” chorus.

In part, because in our long comfortable part of the world, contesting religious doctrine of any sort has become superfluous to ‘live and let live’ pragmatism.

Especially when, for those with family (or capital) at risk, the fear of retribution more than offsets whatever social benefits can presently be aspired to result from tweaking far away (or decidedly minority local) Islamic sentiments.

That said, as recently as December I alone played contrarian to a public forum whose local participants uniformly argued Islam was:  a) forged in and predicated on violence; b) recklessly mixed religion and nationalism; c) intolerant and repressive.

And regardless the relative accuracy of either argument, the probably more important takeaway is the extent to which this debate might be escaping the moderates on both sides.

Which is regrettable because today’s ‘Liberal democracies’ are a great many things – some definitely less than perfect, but they are unmistakably responsive to external challenge.

For example, circa 1941, Japanese militants convinced themselves that isolationist America lacked the fortitude to wage war in the Pacific, much less match disciples of their Bushido code.

In response, weapons of unimaginable destructiveness were both developed and deployed.

Equally during the post-war period, Communist propaganda predicted their economic and technological progress would soon eclipse their capitalist adversaries.

Instead, America put a man on the moon and still spent the Soviet economy into collapse.

Thus, Al Queda’s strategy of compelling Western military forces to withdraw from Arabic Holy Lands through imposing casualties should not have expected results other than expansion of the U.S. military (to now over 900 bases in 130-plus countries).

And though Osama bin Laden, post 9/11, rationalized such over-reach was advantageous insofar as eventually bankrupting the U.S. empire, the past decade proves he underestimated the degree American leaders are willing to sacrifice “butter” for “guns.”

Importantly then the evidence, both historically and sociologically, is quite clear that terrorist attacks against the west will prove counter-productive.

Not because of any specific principle – freedom of the press being relative insofar as France itself has long banned publication of pro-Nazi material whilst literally every government prohibits an arbitrary level of both sedition and pornography.

But rather because the momentum of human development insists the wrong way to advance an idea or cause is via threatening others.

In context, the dispatch of easily misled 20-year-olds to die for “God and Country” reached an apex of idiocy in the trenches of the “War to End All Wars.”

Using analogous terminology affords unwarranted credibility to little more than deluded zealots – in this instance, motivated by a restriction against depicting their prophet that is neither written in the Koran nor the contention of the wide majority of Muslim leaders.

To put even more of a point on it, the perpetrators of 9/11, 3/11, 7/7, Parliament Hill, Sydney Café et al. are outliers to the causes they claim to support.

At very best, their violence gains attention, which distracts from rather than emphasizes cited comparisons with, say, western subsidized Israeli military strikes against Palestinian targets.

Even ISIS is more the consequence of conflict between Islamist schisms, Syrian totalitarianism and pan-Arab poverty than it is solely about religion.

And, thus, reflexively echoing an overly simplistic slogan concerns me – as much for the implications to adversaries as for the impositions on friends.

Mike Shields grew up locally and hosts SFU’s Philosopher’s Café Sessions at the Maple Ridge Act Theater, 7 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of every month.

 

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