Guns, Terrorism, and Honesty

Which of the following statements would you say you agree with?

Pick as many as you like. My answer is at the bottom.

1. Better gun control is essential to curb gun violence.

2. Islamic jihadism is a dangerous ideology that must be fought.

3. Guns should not be banned or confiscated.

4. Muslims should not be harassed or discriminated against just because they’re Muslim.

5. We should aggressively criticize and even satirize the problematic aspects of Islam (the religion), as we would with any other religion or political ideology.

6. Day-to-day gun violence is more deadly than Islamic terrorism right now because it has killed many more people.

7. Islamic terrorism is more deadly than day-to-day gun violence, because if it actually succeeds in its stated goals (such as obtaining weapons of mass destruction as ISIS wants to do), it will kill millions more.

8. Anyone who kills innocents to advance a religious/political agenda is a terrorist — this could include Muslims, far-right Christian abortion clinic bombers, radical leftists from the 1960s, Jews, Hindus, and atheists.

9. Islamic terrorism is the most deadly form of terrorism in the world today.

10. Anyone who is mentally disturbed or disgruntled and shoots up his school or workplace is a criminal, but is not a terrorist — even if he’s Muslim.

11. All Islamic terrorists are Muslim.

12. The vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists, and should not have to apologize for the few that are.

13. The few Muslims that do commit terrorist acts do so in complete accordance with a plausible, legitimate interpretation of the Islamic religion.

14. Islamic jihadists are motivated by many legitimate grievances like US foreign policy and the nagging remnants of Western imperialism.

15. Islamic jihadists are motivated by Islamic doctrine, the words of the Quran and hadith, and the promise of an afterlife, eternally, in Paradise.

16. Islamic imperialism (whether the 7th century Arab kind or the Ottoman kind) has done just as much harm (if not more) to the world than Western imperialism.

My answer:

All of them.

None of these points contradict each other. Go ahead and read through them again.

Gun violence, Islamic terrorism, and anti-Muslim bigotry are all real, serious problems that need to be faced head-on. It’s disingenuous to be in denial about one or the other just because you have a certain political affiliation. These don’t have to be conservative or liberal issues. Don’t make them be.

#Solidarity with the victims and their families in San Bernardino.

BIRCH RUN, MI - AUGUST 11: Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump speaks with the media on his way to his car after delivering the keynote address at the Genesee and Saginaw Republican Party Lincoln Day Event August 11, 2015 in Birch Run, Michigan. This is Trump's first campaign event since his Republican debate last week. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

How Donald Trump May Just Rescue the Republican Party

Let’s get two things out of the way. First, I disagree with Donald Trump on most issues. Second, I don’t think he’ll be elected president, even if he does win the Republican nomination.

But I’m having trouble buying the idea that Trump is the “crazy one” in this year’s gaggle of GOP candidates. It’s amusing to watch men like Scott Walker and Marco Rubio, both of whom oppose abortion in cases of rape and incest, or Jeb Bush, who has proposed shaming women who have children out of wedlock, slam Trump for what they think was a sexist jibe at Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly. It’s no less entertaining to witness Republicans descending on Trump for hitting McCain’s stature as a war hero, when they did the same thing to John Kerry in 2004. The list goes on.

If anything, Trump is possibly the most liberal conservative the GOP has seen in decades. Josh Barro has referred to him as a “moderate Republican,” and others have highlighted his progressive past. This is a man who was pro-choice until recently. He supportedsingle-payer healthcare, even acknowledging in the first GOP debate how well it works in Scotland and Canada. As recently as 2012 — 2012! — he praised Hillary Clinton effusively as a “terrific woman” doing “a good job” and is a good friend of her husband, whose foundation he has donated to generously. On foreign policy, he has strongly opposed the Iraq war since a year after it began.

Now, he is anti-choice, anti-single-payer, and says Hillary Clinton is a criminal. Why is he flip-flopping on so many of his positions in such an obvious way? I, for one, think it’s deliberate.

Donald Trump is an immensely successful businessman and reality television star who knows how to read his audience, play to the camera, and get huge ratings. He seems to have recognized the audience he has to win over, and has fully embraced a painful truth that most other Republican leaders are still in denial about: the Republican party has been taken over by racists, bigots, and angry, semi-educated people who are blindly anti-establishment without even knowing what the establishment is all about. (Remember “Keep the government out of my Medicare”?)

Knowing this, he plays to their sentiment to secure his chances of clinching the nomination. As for his TV audiences, he senses what they want, and delivers in droves. That’s not to say that his birther-ism or his hard-right views on immigration aren’t sincere. But the truth is, you have to say the kinds of things Trump is saying to win the Republican primary. The proof? Everything he’s doing is working. Look at the polls — he still leads by a wide margin in nearly every one of them. The debate, the “blood” comment, the John McCain slur — none of these things have been able to derail that. If anything, it’s quite the opposite: conservative voters love it.

Let’s say he wins the Republican nomination. What happens in the general election? Will he keep up the blowhard persona or tone it down?

Consider what his Apprentice protégé Omarosa said about Trump’s ability to adapt to his environment:

“One of the most interesting things about Donald Trump is how incredibly smart he is and how he kind of learns as he goes. You can see he’s making modifications to his style as he goes through this thing.”

We’ve certainly seen that with all the flip-flopping. And as she points out, he is adept at adapting right there in the moment. Note how he deflected a perfectly legitimate (and potentially damaging) question from Kelly on his derogatory comments about women by making it all about Rosie O’Donnell, with whom he’s had a well-publicized feud. He knows better than anyone that celebrity feuds sell, evidenced by the deafening applause he received for his comment. Later, this became a feud with Kelly herself, and then with Fox News in general. The media coverage? Off the charts. The original question? Irrevocably lost in the din.

Keeping all this in mind, there’s no reason to believe he won’t “adapt” again in the general election. If he gets the nomination, likely going up against Hillary Clinton, I’m going to predict he dials down the bluster a bit, and even though he may not completely flip-flop back to his original socially liberal positions (which he’s shamelessly done several times in full public view), he’ll become more equivocal about them, or altogether underplay them. Instead of staying mired in the tiresome debate about the social issues that so many Republicans are obsessed with (abortion, same-sex marriage, and so on), he’ll make it about the economy, infrastructure, trade, and his neocon-ish view of foreign policy. Of course, as the Republican nominee, his party will have no choice but to support him.

In this way, Trump could redefine the Republican Party to again become what it once used to be — that is, something beyond the idiocy of the trans-vaginal ultrasounds and Bible-thumping homophobia we see today. In the end, whether he wins or loses, the result could be a return to how things were pre-Karl Rove, when the differences between the parties were ideological, not intellectual; when Ronald Reagan won 49 states out of 50 back in 1984; when you could avidly disagree with people like Reagan, George Bush, Sr., Henry Kissinger, and Paul Wolfowitz, but you knew you couldn’t question their intelligence — a far cry from the intellectually compromised Palins, Santorums, Perrys, and Cruzes that have risen to become the face of the party today.

Now, you could argue that Trump also belongs in the latter group. I would disagree. Trump is not a stupid man. He has a stellar academic record, is an astute and wildly successful businessman, knows how to create hit TV shows, and most importantly, really knows how to play to the public, get everyone interested, and win support even as he blatantly flip-flops or says outrageous things that would definitively end the campaign of any other political candidate.

So it’s not surprising that some think he has been “planted” to help Dems win. This is highly unlikely. But it’s not inconceivable that he is an old-school conservative who wants to take the party back to what it once used to be. To use a little Trumpspeak, the Republican Party has recently become infested with a lot of really dumb people, and again, the proof of that is in Trump’s success. He has recognized this, and is unabashedly playing to it. That’s the adaptability factor. And if he actually wins the nomination, it would be surprising if he didn’t change course somewhat in the general election as well.

Deep down, the Fox News folks know this. They were brutal to him in the debate, and they are not happy with the success of his candidacy. Megyn Kelly was on to something when she asked him, “When did you actually become a Republican?”

Fox News has helped create the extremist elements of the Republican Party we’ve seen over the last decade or more — and now that a former Democrat (or so he claims) has tapped into it and is actually using it to his advantage, it has come back to haunt them. How do you earn the admiration of the angry, xenophobic, paranoid monster that Fox News created over the years? Do exactly what Donald Trump is doing today.

Of course, you may think this entire article is insane. How could this man — who still hasn’t backed off his birther beliefs and who recently unveiled a repugnant position paper on immigration — possibly be moving the party forward? The answer: it’s all relative. Taken on their own, these positions may seem extreme, but compared to what mainstream Congressional Republicans have been up to already, they’re really not that much different.

In the current climate, even a small step forward from the status quo is progress for the GOP. That, and an all-but-guaranteed Democratic win in the general election, are great reasons for progressives to support Donald Trump for the Republican nomination.

Originally published on The Huffington Post.

Why Atheists Like Me Grieve for the Chapel Hill Shooting Victims

The execution-style shooting of three Muslim college students in Chapel Hill is tragic, disgusting, and should be denounced by every human being of conscience.

The killer, who was reportedly motivated by a parking dispute, also happened to be a vocal atheist.

Being an anti-theist who grew up in three Muslim-majority countries — as part of a Muslim family I love, respect, yet frequently disagree with — I want to tell you why I’m grieving today for Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, and their families.

I rejected religion precisely because I wouldn’t accept “holy” books like the Quran or Bible that prescribe killing, fighting, and eternally torturing those who think or believe differently.

Atheists who adopt the same approach to others are no different from the violent religious groups they claim to be opposed to. And if there were a “holy” book of atheism that prescribed killing others (which there isn’t), I would unequivocally condemn and reject it too.

This is why I repeatedly stress how crucial it is to distinguish between anti-Muslim bigotry (which targets real human beings) and legitimate criticism of Islam (which targets ideas in a book).

Again: human beings have rights, and are entitled to respect. Ideas, books, and beliefs aren’t.

Many of my friends and family are religious, wear the hijab, or fast during Ramadan. We disagree on ideas, often vehemently, but we don’t hate each other. We engage in dialogue, we argue, we learn from one another — and then we go out to dinner. Most human beings are much more than what they believe. We all have much more in common as human beings than not. That basic principle, by definition, is what lies at the heart of humanism.

The right to believe freely is universal. I don’t want to engage with people who think the right of anyone to live, think, or say as they want — whether believer or atheist — is negotiable. I want to call out bad ideas, not blanketly demonize an entire people. That’s why I rejected religion in the first place.

Does this incident mean we should stop criticizing irrational beliefs? No. The idea that we shouldn’t criticize religion because it may encourage hate crimes against the religious is as absurd as saying we should never criticize U.S. foreign policy because it could lead to attacks on innocent Americans overseas. We should call out bad ideas everywhere — whether they come from holy books that instruct us to kill, or from the mind of an atheist murderer who, in this case, thought it was okay to kill those who believe in them.

Atheism is not a belief system or a doctrine. It is simply a rejection of irrational beliefs. Those who treat it as anything more, as Craig Stephen Hicks may have, should be condemned by all — no excuses.

My thoughts are with the three young victims of this horrific crime.

Originally published on The Huffington Post.

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