In reply to my short response to the murders in Orlando, regular commenter “The Phantom” wrote at some length. People can read the full comment there but I thought it exemplified a lot of the issues that I’ve been talking about recently and which also came up tangentially in the Douglas Ernst posts (not that I’m saying he agrees with The Phantom just that I’m touching on ideas that I touched on briefly tangentially in that post).
In context, my post had commented on the range of issues that came out of the shootings in Orlando. Specifically, I had said: ‘With its multiple points of significance (an apparent “lone wolf” attack by an Islamist terrorist using easily available weapons on LGBTI target in an electorally key state) there seems to be too much to make sense of amid the actual human cost.’
Phantom took issue with that saying:
Really? Too much to make sense of? And you wonder why people like myself mock you at every turn.
It was an act of war. Like when the Germans sank the Lusitania. Or when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Or when the Yemeni terrorists blew up the USS Cole. Very easy to understand.
And really I couldn’t imagine a better or clearer or more obvious shining example of the problem haunting rightwing thinking and debate right now. The Phantom asserts that things are simple and easy to understand and more: that the notion that the events were in anyway complex or multi-faceted is a notion worthy of mockery.
What strikes me about that is that this isn’t an ideological distinction – after all somebody might be quite rightwing and find an event complex or leftwing and regard it as simple (e.g. reducing it to just gun control) – but at the same time it is a reaction that has come to typify rightwing thinking on a range of issues in recent times. It is more attitudinal than ideological – a notion that things SHOULD be simple and that nuance or complexity or suggestions thereof must be rejected.
Let’s take Phantom’s claim seriously for a moment (and Phantom you are welcome to respond but do remember that you have painted yourself into a corner already – claiming some additional nuance to your view or additional complexity is essentially rejecting your premise that the events were simple.)
Phantom claims it is an act of war like Pearl Harbour, i.e. an act of aggression that in istelf is a decleration of war by one party against another. He doesn’t say who is who in that analogy but later says about Muslims in general: “It’s a religious war. They want us dead, because religion.” Hmm. Which is odd because Phantom seems to be saying this is the first act of war based on his examples. Does this mean he rejects the previous examples of terrorists acting in support of ostensibly radical Islamic causes as also acts of war? Maybe he does but I can’t see how he does that AND REMAINS IN ANYWAY RATIONALLY CONSISTENT with his new statement. It would seem already even his simplistic claim is anything but simple.
And if this was an act of war does that make Omar Mateen a soldier? That sounds absurd to me, to elevate somebody who was clearly a murderer to the level of a soldier – worse than absurd but overtly an insult to actual soldiers. Did Phantom mean to insult actual people actually fighting in actual wars? No, probably not but did he even bother to think about what the IMPLICATIONS of what he was saying was? No, and that illustrates the point that keeps coming up again and again when considering how the right is devolving into incoherence – it is a refusal to follow the logic of ones own ideas.
Let’s go further. Was the Phantom really saying that the people murdered in Orlando were just civilian casualties in a war? That also strikes me as an idea that he might not want to own. Yet what can he say? That things are more complex? That his views are more nuanced? Sorry, but to say those things is to reject the core idea of his point: that the event was somehow simple.
And if this is simply an act of war, a war of who against whom? ISIS? Islam? He seems to have settled on Islam in general but then how does a religion with multiple sects and no central authority wage a war? Is it a special kind of war? Gosh, is it actually something very UNLIKE Germany or Japan? How does he think an actual nation state should wage war against something as vaporous and indistinct as a set of religious ideas? No head of state, no capital city (no, not even Mecca), no government, no official army. The joy of being simplistic is not ever having to follow through one idea to the next or ever justify or ever attempt to explain how the simplistic can make sense.
So when The Phantom characterises this as a war, apparently between Islam and the West, does he envisage the West at war with ALL muslims? Does he envisage a war against all Muslim nations, despite the fact that many (indeed most) such countries are allies or trading partners? Is he not aware that troops from many Western nations are currently in a number of predominately Western countries and are rely on active cooperation with the authorities and citizens of those countries for their safety and well being? It is hard to imagine that he doesn’t know but perhaps he doesn’t care or just didn’t care when he asserted the simplistic.
And how does he imagine such a war could be fought? Is he actually committed to waging war against a religion and the kind of actions that would nessecistate? I doubt because he does not strike me as an evil person who would commit themselves to trying to wipe out an idea. Or has he suddenly coverted to cheerleading the only thing that does tend to erase religion – the slow pressure of secularism and social progress? Yeah, I doubt that too and I doubt that he meant “war” in some kind of vague metaphorical sense either. Leastways, if he did then he has once again thrown his main point out of the window. No, I doubt The Phantom actually wants extermination camps or for the US to unilaterally declare war on Malayasia for no good reason – nor do I think he has suddenly converted to the gospel of Richard Dawkins and is set to fight a humanist “war” or anti-religious persuasion. He *meant* literal war but he just didn’t *think* about what that entails.
Or perhaps he meant a more conventional war in Middle-Eastern nations (I’m guessing he might not even have considered South-East Asian nations)? Perhaps he has wiped his memory of how disasterous the Iraq war was and how protracted US intervention has been in Afghanistan and how neither case has managed to make the threat of domestic terrorism go away. Actually I doubt that The Phantom is a neo-conservative either and I know many on the alt-right (which The Phantom may not be part of) reject neo-conservatism. They want a magically interventionist/isolationist policy that…well nobody knows how it would work, least of all its proponents because the modern right does not have to engage with any practical considerations of how to impliment an aggresive military policy that resolutely never attacks anywhere. They avoid the contradictions in their thinking by the literal act of will of JUST NOT THINKING ABOUT THINGS.
Acts of war and the actors in a war have military objectives – actually even terrorism can have objectives. What does The Phantom think the objective was in this case? I doubt any of us will ever know what was in the murderer’s mind anymore than we will know what was going on in the minds of any of the other of the mass shooters in recent American history (presumably each of whom was declaring ‘war’ or perhaps The Phantom can psychically discern which mass murders are war and which aren’t – gosh could things be once again in some way a bit more complex than Phantom claims?). I think if we take Phantom seriously we can rule out many kinds of military objective. Unlike Pearl harbour this was not an attack on a military base, nor, unlike the sinking of the Lusitania was it attempt at strategic control (i.e. of sea lanes), indeed only an unthinker would see this as an LGBTI nightclub as somekind of military target (oh, what’s that Phantom? You didn’t *mean* that – sorry but things are supposed to be simple).
Of course that doesn’t mean ISIS et al don’t have objectives when they encourage murderous acts. They clearly DO have objectives. Nor is the objective even a secret: they want to forment a religious war between the West and Islam in general. They know they are a tiny minority and they want to provoke a backlash against moderate Muslims to help radicalise and destabilise. They want to forment instability in relatively stable Muslim nations and the heated rhetoric in the aftermath of terror attacks helps that objective. They fear the secularisation of muslims in the West and the kind of unthinking backlash we see from people like Donald Trump helps marginalise such communities. They hate people fleeing to the Western nations (just as oppresive regimes always do) and the useful idiots on the alt-right volunteer to build a Berlin wall for ISIS.
But then, if this *IS* a war and the objective of the “enemy” in the war is to forment a reactionary backlash against ordinary muslims and the alt-right and Donald Trump and The Phantom are HELPING them do that, what does that make them? What do you call people in a “war” (as Phantom says it is) who help an enemy achieve their objective? I’m sure there must be a name for them.
Sorry Phantom, feel free to ‘mock’ people who think that thinking about issues is important and who recognise that events can be complex and may require complex responses at multiple levels. To be mocked by those who spout such absurdities as yours is akin to being praised.