Better to be a dog in a peaceful time, than to be a man in a chaotic era.
Your humble blogger quotes the above Chinese proverb, because apparently there is no such Chinese saying as "May you live in interesting times" ... So the Oriental aphorism above is the closest we can get ... It's amazing what one can learn in a few minutes from Wikipedia these days ... Things that might have taken hours of research in the local Library in days gone by ... It seems your humble blogger and you dear reader, both live in interesting times, whether Chinese or otherwise.
And at the end of last month it seemed to be interesting times as usual ... On November 29th, a gunman opened fire on staff and clients at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs. The incident ended in 3 dead and 9 injured. There was the usual mealy-mouthed hokum from the pro-gun lobbyists. And some despair and horror from those who advocate gun control ... But it seems most US citizens were sanguine about the incident, which was destined to sink into obscurity ... Another mass-shooting ... Just another of the many deadly attacks by extreme right wing (esp anti-abortion) activists ... All quite routine these days.
And then, only a few days later, another massacre instigated by two ISIS converts in San Bernardino does not seem to have been accepted with the same aplomb ... Rather it seems to have tipped the nation into a paroxysm of fear and craziness.
Such was the level of anxiety, that Donald Trump, demagogue and extreme right-wing clown, pronounced that he would "ban Muslims from entering the USA". At first this sounded like just another outrageous statement from Trump, whose regular off-the-cuff rants still don't seem to do any long-term damage to him or his campaign.
This time it seems that Mr. Trump's Teflon coat might be getting a little rough around the edges. His latest rant really does seem to be "a bridge too far".
As far as your humble blogger is concerned the remarkable thing about these comments is that they should be aired at all. After 9-11, many of us looked aghast across the Pacific, as the land of the free, the home of the brave became the land of the fearful and the home of the paranoid ... But with this latest bout of insanity it seems that some Americans are contemplating ditching many of their "core values". The only recent example of such hysteria would be the McCarthy era ...
A proposal such as Trump's would be difficult to make into law ... And if it were, it would probably be overturned by the courts. Some of Trump's former supporters realise that the so-called "right to bear arms" is enshrined in the constitution, albeit with qualifications ... And that a similar "right to religious freedom" is also included in the Constitution (without qualification). Many of the religious right already have misgivings about Trump, whose neo-fascist rants seem more secular than religious. The religious right-wingers like to cite religious freedom to justify their non-participation in civil ceremonies that they disapprove of and/or to argue for the equal treatment of their one-dimensional views on creation vs evolution ... And in the unlikely event that Trump's proposal could be turned into law and the Supreme Court allowed it to remain a law ... Then they can well appreciate the slipperiness and slopey-ness of such a law.
From now on it seems that Trump might have to think a little longer and harder about his pronouncements before he utters them.
Will the USA pull back from the brink of this insanity?
In Australia we don't have soap-box orators like Donald Trump ... We have Tony Abbott, who offers the following prescription:
There needs to be, as President Al-Sisi of Egypt has said, a religious revolution inside Islam ... All of those things that Islam has never had ... A Reformation, an Enlightenment, a well-developed concept of the separation of church and state ... That needs to happen, but we can't do it ... Muslims have got to do this for themselves, but we should work with those who are pushing in that direction.
While the gist of what Mr. Abbot says might have a vague semblance of sage advice for the Islamic world, he is probably one of the least qualified to offer such counsel.
In fact, if you will a allow a small tangential digression, it seems to your humble blogger that right now, Islam is indeed experiencing a reformation of sorts ... And those experiencing it are enjoying it about as much as Christians enjoyed their reformation 400 years ago (i.e. not at all).
And while it appears there are some world leaders like Obama and Turnbull calling for calm, there are agitators in the media and others such as Messrs. Abbott and Trump who wish to ramp up the rhetoric even further.
If Muslims were to get their house in order, they would probably manage it easier without being lectured on how to do so by the likes of Mr. Abbott.
This year, the tragic death of Curtis Cheng was the only one in Australia that could be directly attributed to "terrorism". Of course one death is one too many ... But the statistics for the year 2015 show that extreme weather caused the loss of more lives in Australia.
And the excessive powers of surveillance, the prosecution of juveniles for adult offences, not to mention the hysteria of the disproportionate response still does not seem to be enough for some right wing sections of our society, who are calling for more surveillance and for even younger juveniles to be prosecuted ... Can we afford to put every Muslim in our society under constant surveillance? How young should a juvenile be before actually being considered a juvenile? Fourteen? ... Eleven? ... Any advance on Eleven? ... Nine?
Just what is it exactly ... That we are trying to defend?
If the matter weren't so serious it might be a tad ironical.
And with the upcoming 1st anniversary of the Lindt Cafe Siege in Sydney, we can expect slow motion replays of the event on our TV screens with deep menacing sound tracks and sonorous serious sounding commentary about the "Terrorist Threat". At the time of that siege, no terrorist organisation attempted to claim the gunman as one of their own. None of them actually wanted him because he seemed deranged and his utterances were so devoid of any coherent commitment to any cause. He had no clear idea of what ideology he supported, and when he entered the Cafe, didn't actually have in his possession, the flag that will no doubt be shown pressed against the window in many video replays.
Our media, and some politicians, have striven to re-write history on this score. And to an extent have succeeded. The Lindt gunman has been transformed from a sad isolated madman into a boogeyman of "international terrorism" in the minds of many politicians and consumers. So dear reader, let us go along with this fiction in order to make a point. Let us pretend that the Lindt gunman was plotting with terrorists and this was "an act of (Islamic) terrorism". He wasn't and it wasn't but even if it were true, there would have been more Australians killed as the result of insect stings in 2014 then from this one supposed incident of terrorism.
Your blogger has blogged about this previously. There are for more deadly agents of destruction (such as the sugar, tobacco and alcohol industries) that are treated with equanimity ... And should we mention threats (like climate change) that really could be considered existential threats? If we can consider such serious threats as these without wide-spread hysteria, we should be able to make a realistic assessment of the threat posed by a rag-tag bunch of extremists in Syria (with an assorted collection of second-hand weapons captured as a result of the American invasion of Iraq) who in aggregate aren't even as existentially threatening as malaria and/or tuberculosis.
Although ISIS has no (significant) ability to project military power, there is an unintended consequence of the excessive media hype that surrounds incidents such as the San Bernardino shooting ... The notoriety gained from this media frenzy emboldens and excites other would-be suicides, inspired by the lunatic ISIS on-line division ... Such would-be suicides see the international media attention as something that gives "meaning" and "purpose" to their futile, senseless acts of self-destruction and reinforces the delusion that their "martyrdom" serves a "higher cause".
As the fear and hysteria mounts ever higher, the publicity makes it much more likely that there will be copy-cats. This gives ISIS the ability to project a type of virtual power ... Of course it would not exist at all without the echo chamber of social and electronic media which magnifies the puny and almost insignificant threat out of all proportion. And actually helps them achieve their goal of instilling "terror".
We are told that in order to protect our democratic traditions, we must must abandon our democratic traditions (WTF?). It won't actually (protect them) ... However the hostility and paranoia generated probably will add to the grievances real or imagined within some alienated groups. And make it more likely that there will be another copy-cat ... And so it goes ... The classic vicious circle.
It seems to your humble blogger that we should call a halt to this madness ... And deal with the threat in a manner that is proportionate to the nature of the threat.
And so dear reader, in 2016, can we please stop giving nutters so much attention and airtime? Because it is the oxygen they crave and it only encourages them. Let us reserve mass hysteria and total panic for a massive meteor strike and/or the global sublimation of clathrates stored at the base of continental shelf cliffs ... In the face of such a cataclysm, you have your blogger's permission to go totally bat-shit crazy and run out in the streets screaming, in your underwear ... Because the world (as we know it) really would be about to end.