Salafistes

Salafistes is, from start to finish, a gruesome film. Originally shot in Timbuktu after the town fell under jihadist control in 2012, the documentary takes place over the course of four years—first, with live footage of life under Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in Mali; later, using propaganda videos from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in 2014. Interspersed with the scenes of violence are rare interviews with some of salafism’s most prominent, and radical, theologians, including political leaders of Al-Qaeda in Mauritania and Mali, as they are asked a series of political and philosophical questions: How do you regard democracy? (“Against Islam.”) Women? (“Irrational, and half the worth of a man.”) Homosexuality? (“Against human nature.”) America? (“9/11 was deserved.”)

—Maddy Crowell, “Salafistes.” The Point. April 9, 2019.

Liberalism is the Incubator of Authoritarianisms

“‘Are you against the ‘liberal order’ which guaranteed peace and stability, and other wonderful things for so long?’ The obvious answer is that your much-cherished liberal order was the incubator for Trumpism and other authoritarianisms. It made human beings subordinate to the market, replacing social bonds with market relations and sanctifying greed. It propagated an ethos of individual autonomy and personal responsibility, while the exigencies of the market made it impossible for people to save and plan for the future. It burdened people with chronic debt and turned them into gamblers in the stock market. Liberal capitalism was supposed to foster a universal middle class and encourage bourgeois values of sobriety and prudence and democratic virtues of accountability. It achieved the opposite: the creation of a precariat with no clear long-term prospects, dangerously vulnerable to demagogues promising them the moon. Uncontrolled liberalism, in other words, prepares the grounds for its own demise.”

—Pankaj Mishra in an interview with Francis Wade, “‘The Liberal Order Is the Incubator for Authoritarianism’: A Conversation with Pankaj Mishra.” The Los Angeles Review of Books. November 15, 2018.

The fact that authoritarians are propped up by other authoritarianisms is commonly understood. Pointing to terrorists, pirates, criminals, and The Other in all their manifestations has always been a way to legitimize the rule and draconian practices of the elite.

But, liberal ideas like “human rights,” “rule of law,” and so forth are given a free pass on a more critical review of when they are applied and who benefits. What do these terms mean in a society where 1/3 of black men spend some time in prison? What do they mean when the bombs dropped by Saudi Arabia in Yemen are made and dropped from planes sold by the United States?

When you understand that concepts like human rights and rule of law don’t apply equally to everyone, as is suggested by the name on the tin and how it is used, then it is easy to see the relationship of liberalism with other forms of fundamentalism. Free market fundamentalism is one obvious manifestation. But, rule of law and legal positivism is no less of a fundamentalism, one that doesn’t track well with reality when one can get past the surface and take a more critical look.

It’s an interesting point that liberalism is the fertile soil in which authoritarianism grows.

My Affair With the Intellectual Dark Web – Great Escape – Medium

“If the idea is that I piss people off by being disloyal to my likely tribes, well, I don’t think that makes me unusual. I think it just makes me a good intellectual.”

—Alice Dreger quoted in Meghan Daum. “My Affair With the Intellectual Dark Web.” Medium. August 24, 2018.

Easy test to see if you (or others) are thinking for yourself is whether your ideas easily conform to a political orthodoxy.

The Daum article is interesting throughout.

Politics as Cult

“…members of “totalistic” cults—those that consider their ideology the one true path—share four key characteristics. They 1) espouse an all-encompassing belief system; 2) exhibit excessive devotion to the leader; 3) avoid criticism of the group and its leader; and 4) feel disdain for non-members.”

—Tom Jacobs. “A Cult Expert Finds Familiar Patterns of Behavior in Trump’s GOP.” Pacific Standard. June 21, 2018.

I know people with liberal politics love diagnosing what is wrong with Trump and the Republican party in the United States. But, this criteria is every bit as relevant to Democratic politics as the GOP in the United States. Believe that your country has no business spending a half a trillion dollars a year on the military and maintaining almost 1,000 military bases abroad? Both major U.S. political parties subscribe to that notion and cannot even entertain the possibility that it might not be a good idea to spend this way on war.