Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Anonymity and Credibility

Unqualified Offerings takes up for anonymous blogging, which is apparently being discussed among some of the blog kids. Go there for the details.

I'm personally not too bothered if some people find my blogging less credible because I'm anonymous. I'm not trying to build a reputation like Demosthenes.
I blog because I want an outlet to bitch about the events of the day, if people read it and find what I say interesting, great. I don't have the time to take this seriously.

But generally I don't see that anonymity really has a great effect on the credibility of a blogger. Opinions and logical arguments rely more on the facts and logic than the identity of their writer. Even for specialized topics, Sgt. Stryker or Flit derive more credibility on military matters from their expression of that knowledge than from their claims to be serving in the US and Canadian armed forces. If they were talking out of their assess, someone else would have busted them by now.

Anyway, I don't want to overplay the "dangers" which lead me to remain anonymous. Even if I used my real name and this blog came to the attention of the Wrong People, I doubt there'd be much in the way of repercussions. But Turkey doesn't have a culture that favors criticism of authority, and I'd hate make trouble for friends, family, bosses etc. We're not talking dangers to life or liberty, but even losing job prospects or bureaucratic hassles are unnecessary for what is just an outlet for me.

Monday, August 12, 2002

Expat blogs

Stumbled across a couple of blogs of expats. Russell Beattie is a Java/Unix guy who took a 3 month job in Spain, fell in love, and is still there. He suggests a webring of expat blogs. He also mentions So many islands, so little time, a blog by a Christian living in Indonesia. Some interesting stories about living in an economically volatile country, something a bit familiar to me.

Make no more enemies than necessary

I really really should be working, and the post I'm responding to is kind of crusty, almost a week old, but there's a point that really seems to be getting lost in the warblog world.

Deep in this monster post, Eric Olsen says:

Saddam must be defeated because of the direct and immediate danger that he is, BUT, as Nick says, he must also be defeated utterly, abjectly, to discredit once and for all - like fascism and Japan's "divine" nationalism were discredited - the way of thinking that ultimately led to 9/11: Islam is the only true religion, all nonbelievers are inferior and to be subjugated by any means necessary, theocracy is the only legitimate form of government, Allah will do whatever it takes to assert the truth of #s 1, 2 and 3.

In a nutshell, the flaw here is assuming that defeating Saddam would teach this lesson. It wouldn't.

Point: Unlike Japan or Germany in WWII, Islam isn't a new ideology adopted by the rulers of particular nations. It is a religion which is spread throughout the world, embedded deeply within the people.

Point: Islamic fundamentalism could be viewed as being like fascism, in that it's an ideology distinguishable from mainstream Islam, and it has been adopted by many seeking power and influence. But it is deeply intertwined itself with the proposition that the West is deeply committed to the destruction of Islam.

Therefore: Any war by the west on an Islamic nation, which fails to be self-evidently justified by some event such as 9/11 and supported by other Islamic nations, will be viewed as confirming the Evil West's committment to the destruction of Islam. A war which is justified by its proponents as necessary to teach Muslims that their belief system is inferior will reinforce this.

The Japanese and German people could easily abandon fascism with defeat because it wasn't a deeply held personal belief, it was the ideology of their rulers. And it was a new-fangled, non-traditional ideology rather than the cornerstone of society.

Military defeat of rulers who pay lip-service to Islamism isn't going to teach the Muslim people that Islam doesn't work as a basis for society or government. It's going to teach them that fundamentalist imams and mullahs were right, that the West is out to destroy them, that the rulers who were insufficiently pious (the House of Saud, and most definitely Saddam) came to their just end because of their lack of piety.

One thing that's easy to miss amid the news and propaganda from all sides is that the vast majority of Muslims are not fundamentalists. Anti-western talk does have some resonanance with the mainstream, but only in a general way, the way that reading about corporate scandals might piss you off about greedy CEO's. Yes there are nuts who will join a cult and learn how to carry out terrorist attacks, but they're the nuts, not the guy next door.

But if America steps into the role the fundamentalists paint for us, it will prove them right. If we defeat the "Armies of Allah" and overthrow Muslim rulers, it will fuel the resistance to American imperialism.

Terrorism will not decrease. No matter how satisfying it will be to teach the Arabs a lesson about how fucked up they are, it won't make our lives more secure, it will make them much worse.

If we're going to fight Islamic terrorism and oppose fundamentalism, let's make sure that's what we're doing. Our actions should be carefully conducted to ensure that both we and the Islamic world are very clear that we're fighting extremist elements within their world, rather than the basis of their culture.

Saddam Hussein, evil though he may be, is not an Islamic fundamentalist. Whatever the pragmatic reasons for overthrowing his regime are, striking a blow against bin Laden's jihad is not one. We can talk ourselves into believing fighting Saddam is fighting Islamism, as many warbloggers seem to be doing, but convincing yourself to believe propagada is dangerous. It leads to making strategic decisions based on your distorted view of the facts, which leads to loss.

Ignorance is Strength

Via Doc Searls, members of the North Carolina legislature says "teaching about Islam undermines national unity in a time when the United States is at war". One pol says "allowing students to read about our attackers" is "insensitive".

If North Carlinian politicians feel that it's unhealthy to expose kids to a close-minded, backwards culture which discourages learning about the world and brands other cultural groups as evil, maybe they should send their kids to college in another state.

Thursday, August 08, 2002

Details on Turkish reforms

In case you missed it, the Turkish parliament has passed a series of reforms as required by the EU to qualify for the list of second round candidate countries early next year. Of course these are just the words on paper, and the establishment has a long way to go to change their habit of using oppression against what the see as threats to national stability, in particular Kurdish separatism and Islamism.

The Turkish Daily News gives details of the reforms, which include:

  • Abolition of the death penalty

  • Banning human smuggling (i.e. Afghanis and others smuggled from central Asia, heading for EU countries such as Italy)

  • Loosened up restrictions on international NGO's, both those based in Turkey and foreign ones operating here

  • Broadcasting in and teaching other languages (e.g. minority languages such as Kurdish, Laz and Cherkez) is allowed

  • Underage people can't work in gambling joints or places that server alcohol, and aren't allowed in nightclubs. (I had no idea that was a sticking point for the EU.)

  • One I'm happy with is:

    From now on, Turks will be allowed to criticize the Republic, Parliament, the government, the ministers, the military, the police and the judiciary through the media.

    Apparently some imprisoned journalists are also going to be sprung, their terms converted to hefty fines.

    Of course there's plenty of ways for the government to be oppressive within these rules. For one, teaching in Kurdish requires registering with the government, which gives them plenty of ways to discourage a renaissance of Kurdish. In the past right-wing paramilitary groups have violently fought against Kurds and others, illicitly supported by the government and police.

    The Turkish government has put some of the right things down on paper. Here's hoping they'll follow through with actions.

    Albawaba's got Middle Eastern News

    Thanks Ken Layne for turning me onto Al-Bawaba, a Middle Eastern news site which has a decent section on Turkish news. Found out about a project to extend the modern subway system under the Bosphorous. Cool!

    Monday, August 05, 2002

    Proud of our Genocidal history

    Dave Winer mentions a joke which he finds funny, even though "it's not politically correct, in about 18 ways". Of course, pointing out that something isn't PC is the traditional way of suggesting that anybody that finds a joke offensive must be the type of humorless liberal who gets miffed when someone calls a "Postal Carrier" the "mailman".

    OK, so the joke takes pride in one of the darker aspects of our country's history, which ought to let me shrug it off as stupid racist crap (next joke, "What did Abe Lincoln say the morning he woke up with a nasty hangover?"). But it bothers me that anti-Islamism seems to be creeping up as an acceptable norm, at least in the blogosphere.

    Yes, after 9/11 there was an enormous national effort to reassure ourselves and everyone else that Islam is all about peace, Muslims by and large are fine folks, etc. But that seems to be wearing off.

    InstaPundit says that Nick Denton is right that we ought to go to war with Iraq to teach the Muslims that "Medieval Islam cannot compete with liberal capitalism". Reynolds follows up by suggesting that anyone who would object thinks attacks on America is a good thing. (What ever happened to Matt Welch's crusade against strawman arguments?) Oh yeah, he also brings the "PC" hammer into play, opining that the Bush administration isn't using this "let's teach Islam that it's time is done" argument to gain support for attacking Iraq because they're afraid of being Politically Incorrect.

    Obviously it bugs me to think that people back home are falling into the age-old pattern of gearing up for war by lumping the enemy together as a people who are inherently deficient in some way that justifies, nay requires that we teach them a lesson. Are we going to war because Saddam Hussein is evil and dangerous, or because the culture from which he comes is evil and dangerous?

    The cultural war thing frustrates me because the rhetoric meshes so well with that of Osama bin Ladin and the others who have worked so hard to bring that war of cultures about. Al-qaeda's primary objective is not the destruction of America, but the unification of the Muslim world under their particular brand of Islam; war with the West is the tool they want to use to achieve that unity.

    The Bush administration brilliantly avoided fighting the Afghanistan War on those terms, carefully cultivating Muslim support and making it a war of allies against an oppressive regime.

    I hate to see the American public adopt bin-Laden's view that the West is at war with Islam, particularly if they cast his dark flavor of Islam as being that of all Muslims, because I would hate to see his dream made real.

    It isn't necessary. If we're going to take it onto ourselves to remove an evil dictator, that's one thing, but he's not Islam, he's not the Arab world, he's not al-Qaeda, hell, he's not even a proponent of Islam, fundamentalist or otherwise. 9/11 roiled up a lot of emotion, and that emotion is channelling itself into jingoism to support the upcoming war. Since the target of our war doesn't seem to have been connected with the cause of 9/11, that channeling process is broadening the emotion, blurring our picture of exactly what this war is about.