It’s challenging for me to write about things like Donald Trump’s immigration executive order, which has by now gone through so many clarifications and legal challenges that it’s hard to say exactly what it is beyond red meat to his terrified white nationalist base. My instinct is to talk about policy on the merits–in terms of its likely effects, chances of success, that sort of thing–in addition to or sometimes (I have to work on this) instead of talking about its moral ramifications. And the problem with policies like this immigration ban is that to talk about them on the merits is in some sense to legitimize them as rational and even defensibly moral policy choices. George Bush’s torture–er, enhanced interrogation, sorry–program presented a similar choice. Should opponents talk about the fact that torture doesn’t work, or does even allowing that such a discussion could take place cede too much moral ground?

So let’s be clear: there is no moral justification for this policy. Continue reading

Our long (?) national nightmare (?) appears to be over

In case you missed it, the New York-New Jersey area had a bit of a scare over the weekend when a series of bombs either were discovered or exploded, fortunately to relatively minimal effect. On Saturday morning, a pipe bomb exploded in a trash can near the site of a 5K race in Seaside Park, NJ, canceling the race but harming no one. Saturday evening, a pressure cooker device exploded in a dumpster on West 23rd Street in Manhattan, injuring 29 people who have all since been released from the hospital. Shortly after that explosion, a second pressure cooker device was found a short distance away from the first one–in this case, the device had been left in a suitcase and was disabled when, in a uniquely American story, a pair of thieves opened it, chucked the bomb in the trash, and then walked off with the suitcase. Then yesterday, more pipe bombs were found in a backpack in the Elizabeth, NJ train station, after–and this is seriously hard to believe–a couple of other thieves picked up the unattended bag thinking there might have been something valuable inside. One of those pipe bombs apparently exploded while police were disarming it, but nobody was injured.


 NY Governor Andrew Cuomo and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio inspect the destroyed dumpster on West 23rd Street (Wikipedia)

By this morning, authorities were using cell phone alerts to tell people in the NY-NJ area to be on the lookout for an Elizabeth resident (and naturalized US citizen born in Afghanistan) named “Ahmad Khan Rahami,” and I have to wonder if sending out an alert for people to be on the lookout for [man with vaguely Middle Eastern-sounding name] without sending a photograph along with it is an invitation to vigilantism. In this case, though, the alert seemed to work as intended, because Rahami is indeed now in custody, after a shootout with police in Linden, NJ, in which two officers were reportedly injured, though neither seriously (one was shot twice while wearing a bulletproof vest, I’m not sure about the other). Rahami’s fingerprint was lifted from an unexploded device, and he can also apparently be connected to the cell phones used as bomb triggers.

So far there’s been nothing concrete to connect Rahami to international terrorism (NY Governor Andrew Cuomo has helpfully claimed that there both is not and may be a foreign connection to Rahami’s case) and no claim of responsibility from either Al-Qaeda or ISIS. It’s possible that there’s been no claim because Rahami basically failed in each of his attacks, but considering ISIS claimed responsibility for a knife attack in a Minnesota mall on Saturday whose only fatality was the attacker himself, I don’t think they’re setting the bar particularly high. ISIS does sometimes take a few days to claim responsibility for an attack, but generally they move pretty quickly to claim attacks inside Western nations, and at any rate ISIS claiming responsibility for an attack after the fact isn’t really strong evidence that they were actually responsible for the attack. Nobody at this point seems to have found any indication that Rahami was working with anybody else, either. All of this is subject to new evidence, obviously. Rahami is alive, so he may shed some light on these issues himself.

It’s becoming a bit cliched to say that it’s almost impossible to stop these sorts of loner attacks, assuming that’s what this was, but I’ll say it anyway: it’s almost impossible to stop loner attacks like this. Continue reading

What we say affects what we do

On Saturday, a man in the Ozone Park neighborhood of Queens ambushed an imam from a nearby mosque, who was walking with a companion, and executed both of them with gunshots to the back of the head. Police have arrested a suspect, but his motive remains unknown as yet.

But we can hazard a guess.

On Friday, a Lebanese-American man in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was shot and killed by his neighbor, a man known to frequently use anti-Arab and anti-Muslim slurs, a man of whom the victim’s family said they “lived in fear.” The motive here also remains unknown.

But, I mean, come on.

Meanwhile, in stories that are undoubtedly related, New York’s JFK airport was gripped by panic Sunday night over a “terrorist attack” that turned out to be…people loudly celebrating Usain Bolt’s victory in the 100 meter dash in Rio. That same night, in the French town of Juan-les-Pins, 41 people were injured when a crowd panicked and rushed to escape what turned out to be…firecrackers.

In fear of being killed in a terrorist attack, an outcome the odds of which are infinitesimal, people are beginning to come unglued. Nobody, of course, has come more unglued than the Republican nominee for President of the United States, Donald Trump, whose adoption of pure Islamophobia as one of the core principles of his candidacy is both feeding off of and feeding in to the fears of the people who support him. if you think his anti-Muslim rhetoric isn’t helping to fuel attacks against Muslims in the United States, you’re fooling yourself: Continue reading

2016 in the United States of No Muslims Allowed

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It’s taken Barack Obama more than seven years to actually set foot inside an American mosque, but he finally did it yesterday. He delivered a speech to the Islamic Society of Baltimore to deliver a pretty simple message about inclusiveness:

The speech served as a bookend to a 2009 address Mr. Obama delivered at Cairo University, where he called for “a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world.” In Baltimore, the president did not talk about intractable international conflicts like the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and focused instead on the more prosaic reality of vandalized mosques and bullied American Muslim children.

“These children are just like mine,” Mr. Obama said. “And the notion that they would be filled with doubt and questioning their places in this great country of ours at a time when they’ve got enough to worry about — it’s hard being a teenager already — that’s not who we are.”

Mr. Obama ended his speech by reminding Muslim Americans, “You are not alone, your fellow Americans stand with you.” And he reminded others that the country’s diversity “is not a weakness, that is one of our greatest strengths.”

“We are one American family,” he said. “We will rise and fall together.”

That’s all it was, just a speech about how American is American no matter what or how or whether you worship. He didn’t surrender and pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi or anything like that. Nice, right?

Well, no. Haven’t you all figured out by now that we can’t have nice things? Enter the barking nitwits trying to win the Republican nomination: Continue reading

Please stop ignoring the real bigotry of Ben Carson’s comments

With the full-court right wing press on to rehabilitate Ben Carson’s statement that a Muslim shouldn’t be elected president, it’s worth noting that a lot of people (particularly in the media) seem to be so wrapped up in the “president” part of Carson’s comments that they’re missing what’s really offensive about what he said.

It’s very easy for Carson to walk back his comments about whether or not a Muslim should be president, because he can just say, as he already has (with an assist from Fox News), that “hey, I’m just saying I personally wouldn’t vote for a Muslim, I’m not saying they shouldn’t be allowed to run.” Perfectly reasonable, right? He’s even been able to walk that back a little, saying yesterday that he could support a Muslim candidate who would “embrace our Constitution and [be] willing to place that above their religious beliefs.” By that, he appears to be insisting that any Muslim candidate for president would have to effectively repudiate Islam, which probably isn’t something he’d ask a Christian candidate to do, but I digress.

The really awful part of what Carson said is back in the original exchange he had with Meet the Press host Chuck Todd on Sunday (which went unchallenged, by the way, and thanks for that, Chuck!):

Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson said he would not support a Muslim as President of the United States.

Responding to a question on “Meet the Press,” the retired neurosurgeon said, “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”

He also said that Islam, as a religion, is incompatible with the Constitution.

Carson, who is near the top of several early presidential polls, said a president’s faith should matter depending on what that faith is. “If it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter,” he clarified.

The implication of that exchange isn’t just that Muslims are unfit to run for office, it’s that they’re really unfit to be Americans, period. Islam is “inconsistent with the values and principles of America,” and “incompatible with the Constitution,” according to Ben Carson, who apparently holds PhDs in political theory and religious studies in addition to the MD that he supposedly has (consider me a skeptic on that one). These are not statements about whether a Muslim should be allowed to run for office, they’re far deeper (and far more bigoted) than that. This is the kind of talk that, if it gets mainstreamed and enacted into policy, ends up with people being herded into camps, or worse.

"At least I'm not saying that Muslims aren't human. I mean, I'm not saying that yet, anyway."

“At least I’m not saying that Muslims aren’t human. I mean, I’m not saying that yet, anyway.”

I understand that Carson’s rejection of the very idea that a practicing Muslim can also be a good American is helping him rake in the campaign contributions, and small wonder when he’s running for the nomination of a party in which a big chunk of core voters think Islam should be against the law. But what the guy said on MTP is just grotesque, and yet most of the public conversation about it is missing the real point.

Hey, thanks for reading! If you come here often, and you like what I do, would you please consider contributing something (sorry, that page is a work in progress) to keeping this place running and me out of debtor’s prison? Also, while you’re out there on the internet tubes, please consider liking this blog’s Facebook page and following me on Twitter! Thank you!

The Trump Primary

Today, the classiest candidate in the Republican field declared that if when if he’s elected president, he won’t even take a salary. What a guy!

Will work for free. Probably still won't get the job.

Will work for free. Probably still won’t get the job.

If the latest CNN poll is to be believed, the Republican primary is a four person race at the moment (Trump, Fiorina, Carson, and Rubio, with JEB just hanging around), though with the Iowa primary still an estimated 6394 months away it’s awfully premature to be talking like this. It’s still awfully hard to see how Trump can sustain his lead even among the certifiably bonkers wing of the Republican electorate, but you won’t catch me making any firm predictions on that front. What is clear is that, no matter who wins or where Trump finishes, this is his primary. He’s owned it since the minute he entered the race, and he’s got every other candidate dancing to his beat.

Take Rick Santorum, who’s spent millions of dollars and worked tirelessly to accumulate the support of exactly 1% more Republican voters than I have (as far as I know, I mean, nobody’s ever bothered to poll my standing in the GOP primary). Rick is so desperate to poke his head above the fog of Trump craziness and break some new ground in batshit insanity that he’s now proposing to eliminate the State Department. Yeah, that’s right. Sure, your average RINO might want to get rid of the Department of Education, or the Department of Commerce, or the…uh, there were three, but I can’t remember the last one…

“Don’t fight it, just let it come out”

Thanks Governor. Continue reading

More details on Ahmed Mohamed’s story

In my haste to get out the door for an appointment, I left out some of the juicier details of the story of that 14 year old kid in Texas who got hauled in by the cops for building a clock, mostly because his name is “Ahmed Mohamed” and not “Joe White American.” For one thing, that NYT story I linked didn’t capture the full absurdity of Mohamed’s (who’s not being charged with a crime, obviously, since he didn’t commit one) conversation with the police:

They led Ahmed into a room where four other police officers waited. He said an officer he’d never seen before leaned back in his chair and remarked: “Yup. That’s who I thought it was.”

Ahmed felt suddenly conscious of his brown skin and his name — one of the most common in the Muslim religion. But the police kept him busy with questions.

The bell rang at least twice, he said, while the officers searched his belongings and questioned his intentions. The principal threatened to expel him if he didn’t make a written statement, he said.

“They were like, ‘So you tried to make a bomb?’” Ahmed said.

“I told them no, I was trying to make a clock.”

“He said, ‘It looks like a movie bomb to me.’”

So the cops then started badgering Mohamed (who, let’s remember, is 14 years old) for “the whole story,” despite the fact that he’d already given them the whole story: it was a goddamn homemade clock. But obviously the kid was lying, because according to a couple of cops, his clock looked like “a movie bomb.” There’s some technical terminology right there. If you’ve ever had somebody repeatedly insist that you were lying when you knew you weren’t, you know how aggravating and/or frustrating that can be, and that’s when your accuser isn’t in law enforcement.

The part I bolded above is interesting, because it turns out that Ahmed’s father, Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed, became a minor celebrity in Irving a few years ago when he participated in a “trial” of the Qurʾan put on by Qurʾan-burning Florida pastor Terry Jones, and he’s also known for periodically going back home to Sudan to run for president. Now, you take that, combined with Irving TX’s already demonstrated (via TimF at Balloon Juice)…oh, let’s call it a lack of hospitality toward Muslim residents, and it doesn’t take much of a leap to suggest that Irving police already had their eyes on the Mohamed family before this happened.

This is an absurd story, and I find absurdity funny so I’ve approached it that way, but it’s also a pathetic example of America 2015, where brown kids with homemade electronics are deemed a bigger threat than imbalanced white men with firearms. Amanda Taub at Vox offers another important reason why this whole affair sucks, plain and simple:

Mohamed, rather than finding a community of people who would share “what ifs” and napkin scribbles with him, was punished by his own school for trying to make something new and share it with others. That school suspended him for three days because their bigotry made them afraid of a child’s home science project. And the police arrested him, fingerprinted him, and threatened to charge him with a crime because, to them, his Muslim faith meant that there must be some nefarious “broader explanation” for his cheerful tinkering.

That is appalling. Not just for the obvious reason that this country needs all the innovators and makers and creators it can get — that those people are the ones will bring us the next cool scrolly iPhone display, and new cures for disease, and, I hope, hoverboards. It’s appalling because cutting someone off from the joy of being creative is just a terrible thing to do to a child. It will make that child’s world worse forever.

Hey, thanks for reading! If you come here often, and you like what I do, would you please consider contributing something (sorry, that page is a work in progress) to keeping this place running and me out of debtor’s prison? Thank you!