MANY PEOPLE WOULD RATHER DIE THAN THINK; IN FACT, MOST DO. — BERTRAND RUSSELL

The anti-regressives

Credit: American Dreaming at DeviantArt.comCredit: American Dreaming at DeviantArt.com

[Note: I have fine tuned a couple points at the end and simplified what was previously a confusing title. – JES]

Before dismissing a person as a member of the regressive left, especially someone with as much intellectual integrity as theoretical physicist and cosmologist Lawrence Krauss, one probably should have a firm understanding of what the term actually means.

The Muslim reformer who coined the term, Maajid Nawaz, co-author of “Islam and the Future of Tolerance” with Sam Harris, provided an expansive view on what he meant by “regressive left” here, but basically it is:

a section within the left … that have come to the view for the sake of political correctness, for the sake of tolerating what they believe is other cultures and respecting different lifestyles. They have an inherent hesitation to challenge some of the bigotry that can occur within minority communities. I mean at the end of the day if we truly subscribe to liberal human rights values in their universality and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, they apply not just in favor of minority communities, but in some instances upon minority communities too. …

The term has been clarified further in interviews with Nawaz, Harris, Dave Rubin and others, but it simply describes, in its narrowest form, a subset of liberals who refuse to acknowledge the problem of Islamic extremism and the real religious motivations behind jihad, or worse, those who work as apologists to deflect blame away from political Islam, or Islamism, to any number of negative social, cultural or economic conditions.

Unfortunately for YouTube user Atheism-is-Unstoppable, who just comes off as shrill, half-cocked and angry in his pair of attack videos on Krauss’ recent New Yorker article, “Thinking Rationally About Terror,” AIU never gets around to telling us what exactly he means when he calls Krauss a “raging regressive,” other than smearing him as a “weakling” and “coward” who is not willing to “face and confront and fight against evil motherfuckers.” Instead, in AIU’s estimation, Krauss “wants to tolerate and even celebrate them (he means the evil motherfuckers, I guess) or at least tolerate and celebrate the level of violence that they bring. Your words, Larry, not mine.”

Unfortunately again, AIU only gets about six paragraphs into his excoriation of Krauss’ 13-paragraph essay before throwing his hands up in a fit of obscenities and name-calling. I happen to think AIU did read through the whole piece but only chose to talk about less than half of it for reasons that escape me, but in any case, had he examined the entire piece on video, he would have could have come away with a more balanced view.

Here are the two videos in question:

Krauss’ essential point in the essay was that we all should step back from the “panic” that terrorism sometimes induces and consider that we, meaning those who live in modern societies, are more likely to die in a car crash or by routine gun violence on the street than to an act of terror and that surrendering to irrational fear is offering up a win to the terrorists:

Driving a car carries with it a set of inevitable risks. Going to a concert or eating at a restaurant should not. Still, the risks of falling prey to terrorism are nevertheless very small for most Americans. Terrorists have forced us to accept that any activity associated with living in a free society now carries with it a finite, and microscopically small, chance of tragic horror. Still, it’s up to us to choose how to react to this minuscule possibility.

Needless to say, it is terrifying to know that there are individuals living among us with the express intent of killing randomly, for effect. But we must recognize that that’s the point of terrorism: it aims to scare us, thereby disrupting normal life. More than that, terrorism is designed drive a wedge between segments of a community which otherwise might have coexisted peacefully, both politically and socially.

… Succumbing to the intended effects of terrorism means giving in to it. By contrast, responding in a way that is commensurate with the actual threat—recognizing that the average person living in France, for example, is living with a threat of murder of less than one in ten thousand, a threat equivalent to living in New York City—is more appropriate and healthy. We can be more vigilant without becoming irrational.

If we were more rational in the degree to which we’re alarmed about terrorism, we might become more rational in our responses to it. …

And unlike AIU’s intellectually dishonest and literally half-hearted characterization of the essay, Krauss did say at the end, had AIU carried his “analysis” that far, that we are in a fight against terrorism, and we should proceed with more reasonable and practical approaches that put terrorism into its proper perspective alongside all the other things in the world that threaten civil society:

… We need to distinguish policies that can realistically improve the safety of the public from those that only appear to do so. In this regard, the greatest loss arising from the nation’s fixation on terror may be the opportunity cost in time and energy that could instead be spent on developing policies that address other urgent national concerns and needs. Perhaps the biggest defense against terrorism isn’t just to demonstrate that we can go on with business as usual; it’s to use terrorism as an occasion for addressing actual safety concerns that we can control. Terrorism is designed to distract us and muddy our thinking. To fight it, we need to keep it in perspective.

AIU seems to take particular issue with the Krauss’s failure to specifically name “Islamic terrorism,” deferring to a safer term, “religious extremism.” As I pointed out in a comment on YouTube, it apparently never occurred to AIU that a politically correct, actual regressive editor at The New Yorker could have been responsible for “softening” the language in the essay. Columnists, even famed scientists like Krauss, are not afforded absolute editorial control, especially not in a national publication such as that.

In any case, Krauss has been critical of all three major religions, including Islam, and was particularly forceful in his debate with Muslim Hamza Tzortzis. Indeed, in this recent interview, Krauss uses the words “Islamic terrorism” to describe the problem and says “any kind of fundamentalism,” including Islamic and Christian fundamentalism, is dangerous and a threat.

Perhaps the most perplexing part of AIU’s diatribe was this bit of wild generalization:

Name any city on earth and you will have acts of Muslim terrorism in it, provided there are Muslims there of course.

In the YouTube comment, I took up the challenge and named every major city in Canada, with the possible exception of Toronto, which was not the victim of a direct act of terrorism, but a failed attempt, which may or may not count in AIU’s shoddy calculus. With some research and time, I no doubt could come up with hundreds more communities across the world that contain plenty of Muslims who somehow, in spite of themselves, manage to avoid going on killing sprees or hurling themselves into buildings.

In short, then, AIU is guilty of same kind of thing Krauss actually warned against, implicitly at least, in his piece, and judging from some of the disturbing comments posted in response to his video on YouTube, AIU is clearly not alone in his thinking. The video just serves as a distraction from the kind of reasoned approach that will be needed to help us confront our society’s many problems, which come at us on multiple fronts. It also oversimplifies and overdramatizes the scope of the religious problem in suggesting, ludicrously, that radical strains of Islam are a ubiquitous threat infesting nearly every community in America and the world.

Once upon a time, crazy talk like that was confined only to the far right; now, it has apparently manifested itself in a kind of anti-regression birthed out of a “radicalization” of thought that, perhaps, finds its impetus in outspoken critics of Islam like Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher, who, harsh on the religion though they are, have, from my view, always been careful not to denigrate forward-thinking, modern and peaceful loving Muslims as people or the communities in which they live. Nuance, of course, seems all but lost on anti-regressives and the thousands of people who watched the two videos and hundreds who “liked” them on YouTube. Or, perhaps what I am calling “anti-regression” just amounts to unfiltered intolerance, in which case, it deserves as little serious consideration from reasonable thinkers as regressive leftism.

In any case, whereas regressive leftists kowtow to Islamists and attempt to deflect responsibility away from faith and religion, anti-regressives seem to sail off the cliff on the other side of the spectrum. If, as Rubin once argued, regressives are to liberals as Tea Party supporters are to conservatives, anti-regressives are the “patriot movement” militiamen in political reverse.

[Cover image credit: American Dreaming]

About the Author

Jeremy Styron
Jeremy Styron
I am a newspaper editor, op-ed columnist and reporter working in the greater Knoxville area. This is a personal blog. Views expressed here are mine and mine alone.

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