This Week's Show •

What To Do After Paris?

Once again, France is reeling — after the second major terror attack upon defenseless Paris this year. Eight fighters — all of them young EU citizens supposed to be working for ISIS, or Daesh — took 129 ...

Once again, France is reeling — after the second major terror attack upon defenseless Paris this year.

Eight fighters — all of them young EU citizens supposed to be working for ISIS, or Daesh — took 129 lives, with guns and suicide bombs, on Friday.

At the bloodiest site of the violence, the Bataclan concert hall, the shooters told their victims they were seeking revenge for French bombing of Syria. The next day, the embattled French President, François Hollande, responded to the attack with revenge of his own: a wave of new bombings in Syria, especially in Raqqa, Daesh’s capital city.

Hollande, who pushed for a Gallic “Patriot Act” this winter after the killings at Charlie Hebdo, has now proposed a series of changes to the French constitution designed to allow military action in a national state of emergency.

It’s a script we saw after Sept. 11: lock down at home, arm up abroad. With deep condolences for grieving France, we’re all wondering how this cycle of violence finally ends?

With Amb. Chas Freeman, a freethinking veteran of foreign service, and the French journalist Sylvain Cypel, we’re in the Open Source situation room, trying to see the tragic attacks in Paris and the force called Daesh in the right light, as a hellish problem with causes — and solutions.

First we asked tourists, students, and lunch-breakers on Boston Common for their theory on how to make it out of the terror age:

June 24, 2015

Let’s Talk About Charleston

This week we talked about the young white man, Dylann Storm Roof, who — self-deputized to protect white America — gutted one of the South’s most historic black churches. His act added nine more names ...

This week we talked about the young white man, Dylann Storm Roof, who — self-deputized to protect white America — gutted one of the South’s most historic black churches.

His act added nine more names to the roll of black Americans killed in the year of Ferguson and Staten Island and Baltimore, and it re-opened a race conversation that is already a part of the 2016 presidential contest. It also recalled the terror face of American racism, in the tradition of the Ku Klux Klan and the Birmingham bombings, and a very familiar expression of anger, grief, and helplessness.

We wanted to know what it would for America to undertake the kind of urgent searching that was forced on Germany and South Africa, Rwanda and Northern Ireland? Can we have truth-and-reconciliation, American style?

Claudia Rankine, America’s poet of racial trauma in the award-winning Citizen, suggested in a moving essay this week that we emulate the mothers of the dead. Black lives matter when we mourn black deaths like family. For Rankine, racism persists in violent, public ways because well-intentioned people fail each other in private:

People have beliefs that come up when they see a body that doesn’t look like them, and it has nothing to do with the person in front of them. But the person in front of them has to receive the assault of that language and has to negotiate it. And so the next time the person has to enter that room, they have to brace for more of that. Whether or not it comes. So it becomes a third thing in the room. And this is often — you know we’re not talking about Fox News. We’re not talking about Don Imus. We’re talking about friends. We’re talking about colleagues. We’re talking about quotidian moments, like going to the grocery store, when you don’t expect that your day is going to have to include negotiating anti-black racism.

Heather Ann Thompson, a historian who spoke to us about the shadow of the Attica prison raid and the social stain of mass incarceration, told white America to step up and claim responsibility for what is done in our name each day: by police, by economics, by the political systems that we trust.

That means reckoning with the Young Men With Guns who also claim to act in our name. The war-zone journalist Åsne Seierstad spoke with us about Norway’s national confrontation with Anders Behring Breivik. Her new book about the 32-year-old fascist who killed 77 people four summers ago is called “One Of Us.” This week Americans debated whether to call Dylann Roof “a terrorist,” but — listening to Seierstad — we decided it was more important to call him “son”:

What happened in the media here in Norway, there would be words used like “monster.” The discussion also went along the lines of “he’s sick,” implying we’re healthy.” Nothing wrong with us, he’s the sick one.” Whereas, in the end, the court ruled that he was not sick. He was clinically sane. He was guilty of his crime. We had to look at him, but we also had to look at us… There’s a difference between the Left and the Right. The Left would be more inclined to say… “He didn’t grow up in a vacuum. His ideas came from something. They came from racism in the society, they came from anti-Islamic thought in the society. So we have to look at us, and how discussions are being run in the society.”

After Ferguson, after Newtown, after this week, the question echoes: what’s it take to make a change? Our guest Kwame Anthony Appiah — philosopher of cosmopolitan tolerance, against racism, and a new podcaster! — says the pain and activism of the past year gave Americans a closer-than-ever look at our violent history and our sorry selves. But, Appiah says, it will take more than sense of history — a de facto truth commission — to be be a better people. We need a sense of shame:

Our friends all around the world think that the way we are in relation to things like the mass incarceration of black people is a stain on our national character. And they find it hard to be friends with us because they see that we have allowed this thing to happen and we don’t seem to be inclined to do anything about it. [We need] to have what our founders called a “decent respect for the opinion of mankind” and to realize that a lot of what we do in the world is undermined by our failure to deal with our longstanding problem of race

This Week's Show •

Violent Extremism, East and West

Next Wednesday the White House is convening a summit on ‘countering violent extremism.’ The details are sketchy — a press release announces that the meeting will “highlight domestic and international efforts to prevent violent extremists and their supporters from radicalizing, ...

Next Wednesday the White House is convening a summit on ‘countering violent extremism.’ The details are sketchy — a press release announces that the meeting will “highlight domestic and international efforts to prevent violent extremists and their supporters from radicalizing, recruiting, or inspiring individuals or groups in the United States and abroad to commit acts of violence”.

The details of the summit are sketchy — a press release declares that the meeting will “highlight domestic and international efforts to prevent violent extremists and their supporters from radicalizing, recruiting, or inspiring individuals or groups in the United States and abroad to commit acts of violence”.

Meanwhile this week President Obama has asked for a limited three-year extension of war powers in Iraq, with his staff still hoping “to degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State. We’re asking about the long-term plan to solve a long-term problem of grievance and retribution in the Muslim world: is there one? and what does it look like?

We’re in the last week of our Kickstarter campaign, and every dollar given now is matched 2 for 1. Please give, if you haven’t already!

In the 14th year of the ‘long war’ in the Middle East, we’re trying to contain a new threat: to catch would-be terrorists before they turn into the Tsarnaevs, or the Kouachi brothers who shocked Paris last month with their assault on Charlie Hebdo, or one of the hundreds of people worldwide who have flocked to Syrian battlefields.

There will be sessions on detecting warning signs on Twitter and Facebook and case studies from Singapore and the European Union. The National Counterterrorism Center has already drafted a checklist that will score families on their vulnerability to political and religious violence, on a sixty-point scale, based on factors like “perceived sense of being treated unjustly,” “witnessing violence,” and “experiences of trauma”. It’s pretty technocratic stuff!

On the other hand, Newt Gingrich, sometimes thought of us as the Republican Party’s thinking man, isn’t beating around the bush in the pages of the Wall Street Journal: we’re at war with radical Islam, we’re losing, and we don’t have a clue how to win. If, as Gingrich suggested last month, the ‘long war’ on Islamic extremism needs a grand strategist like George Kennan, what would the ‘grand strategy’ be?

So set aside the checklists and the so-called “clash of civilizations”. Let’s look at the biggest possible picture. What kind of common sense do we need to break this decades-long cycle of violence and revenge in the Middle East and here at home?

Moazzam Begg’s Story

Born in England, captured in Pakistan, and now twice freed on terror charges, Moazzam Begg is a controversial figure, but he’s one of the people we most wanted to hear in a conversation about the low moments of the terror war and the hope of a better future.

We knew his story and the horrible content of his testimony, but he surprised us by telling us just how well he’d come to know some of the guards at Guantanamo Bay. And he told us that he hoped that reconciliation could come in the form of truth and reconciliation, on the South African model.

This Week's Show •

Learning from Paris

The story of the massacre at Charlie Hebdo has gone everywhere in the past week: into meditations on free speech and blasphemy, into declarations of cultural and actual war, and high-wire geopolitics. It’s a fresh attack, meaning high emotion and demands for ‘moral ...

The story of the massacre at Charlie Hebdo has gone everywhere in the past week: into meditations on free speech and blasphemy, into declarations of cultural and actual war, and high-wire geopolitics.

It’s a fresh attack, meaning high emotion and demands for ‘moral clarity‘ — and not yet a serious reckoning. If the civilized idea is that no one should be killed for their cartoons, then of course we’re all on “Team Civilization,” as Jon Stewart likes to say. This video from 2006, showing three of the 10 staffers killed sitting around a table, drawing and chuckling, is a poignant reminder of the warmhearted, tweaking work done at Charlie Hebdo.

But as we react in pain and solidarity to the deaths of these cartoonists and the hostages and policemen killed, too, we’re still puzzling about what we should be learning.

It’s a story of the global spread of radical Islam, an ideology we’ve spent a decade and more trying to ‘contain’ with violence. It’s a story of 21st-century France: humanist, secular, but still tense when it comes to inclusion and identity. It’s a story of clashing fringes in Europe’s rightward drift: nativist National Fronts against deep-dyed Islamic extremists, cooperating in a violent ‘Muslim panic’ that runs counter to the facts. It’s a story, maybe, of comedy gone tragic, raising questions of the use and abuse of the satirical pen. And it’s a story of a world that still seems ready to think in terms of a nightmare clash of civilizations.

What does Charlie Hebdo tell you? Help us sort out the angles and ideas for this week’s show by leaving a comment or recording a message.

September 18, 2014

Inside the Islamic State

We're looking inside the Islamic State: as a phenomenon and as America's latest enemy in the endless war on terror. Do we know who they are, or how we plan to defeat them? President Obama says they aren't Islamic and aren't a state. It's clear they're a dangerous mad storm of Arab anger armed, in part, with hand-me-down American weapons. Could this be the coming Caliphate that Dick Cheney warned us against? What if it’s blowback that his Iraq War fired up?

We’re looking inside the Islamic State: as a phenomenon and as America’s latest enemy in the endless war on terror. Do we know who they are, or how we plan to defeat them? President Obama says they aren’t Islamic and aren’t a state. It’s clear they’re a dangerous mad storm of Arab anger armed, in part, with hand-me-down American weapons. Could this be the coming Caliphate that Dick Cheney warned us against? What if it’s blowback that his Iraq War fired up? For a little perspective, let’s look back at the beginning of the Islamic State, known in 2004 as Al-Qaeda in Iraq:

March 13, 2014

Will We Ever Get Over 9/11?

Are we getting over 9.11? What is it doing to our character, our culture, our Constitution? We’ve been through the flags-everywhere stage, the foreign invasion response, the big build-up of surveillance and eavesdropping, interrogation, with torture – all in the name of security, but do we have a word for the fear we sense inside the new Security State?
The Armor You Have
Pico Iyer: An Empire in Isolation

 

Guest List

Here’s an awkward question that may be urgent: Are we getting over 9.11?  Will we ever? Do we want to?  Is it a scar by now, or a wound still bleeding? Is it a post-traumatic-stress disorder?  What is it doing to our character, our culture, our Constitution?  After a monstrous attack on the American superpower, is there anything like those five stages of individual grief — some version of the famous Kubler-Ross steps: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance?  We’ve been through the flags-everywhere stage, the foreign invasion response, the big build-up of surveillance and eavesdropping, interrogation, with torture – all in the name of security, but do we have a word for the fear we sense inside the new Security State?  Do we have a word for the anxiety that a War on Terror can feed on itself forever? A decade and a half out, are we a different country?

We’re imagining this as an ongoing series, with conversations and podcasts to be added as we go. Have you any suggestions for people we should speak with? Writers? Historians? Critics? Your next-door neighbor?

Reading List

Osama expected to die by violence, as he did.  Sadly, he probably died a satisfied man.  In addition to alienating Muslims and the West from each other, as was his aim, he achieved so many other transformations of the order he sought to overthrow… He catalyzed two wars.  He bears responsibility for the death of thousands in the West and hundreds of thousands in this region.  The unfunded financial burden of the conflicts he ignited has come close to bankrupting the United States.  Indirectly, it is upending the international monetary system.  It has produced recession in the West.  Osama will have been pleased.

Podcast • March 13, 2014

Pico Iyer: An Empire in Isolation

On the matter of “getting over” 9.11, what would it take to “see oursels as ithers see us,” in Robert Burns’ prayer? Yesterday we spoke with the writer Pico Iyer. I think of him as our eyes and ears on the global culture. We put the question to him: How are we Americans looking to the rest of the world in this long post-traumatic time?

On the matter of “getting over” 9.11, what would it take to “see oursels as ithers see us,” in Robert Burns’ prayer? Yesterday we spoke with the writer Pico Iyer.  I think of him as our eyes and ears on the global culture. He had Indian parents, an English boyhood, American university education and now citizenship; he’s married to a Japanese woman, and his home base now is rural Japan, but his career is traveling to the far places – Somalia, Iran, Latin America on recent assignments.  We put the question to him: How are we Americans looking to the rest of the world in this long post-traumatic time?

Podcast • March 29, 2010

This "Year of India" (6): What’s Wrong with our Afghan War

Click to listen to Chris’s conversation with Siddharth Varadarajan. (30 minutes, 18 mb mp3) The dirty little secret of the US drone war in Afghanistan is that the civilian “kill rate” is worse in the ...

Click to listen to Chris’s conversation with Siddharth Varadarajan. (30 minutes, 18 mb mp3)

The dirty little secret of the US drone war in Afghanistan is that the civilian “kill rate” is worse in the Obama “surge” than it was in the bad old Bush war. The dirty little sequel is that our friends in India don’t think the Obama – McChrystal war in Afghanistan can succeed.

Siddharth Varadarajan, the strategic affairs editor of The Hindu, India’s “national newspaper,” speaks plainly (and fast!) about Pakistan’s double game in the Afghan war and about India’s dissent in the American war. Short form: the US is still going “soft on the Pakistani military,” and “hard on Afghan civilians.”

The American military strategy has three “fundamental weaknesses,” Mr. Vardarajan is saying. (1) The long-distance application of force, by air, cannot defeat the Taliban. Civilian casualties are still going up. The promise of a kinder-gentler counterinsurgency campaign has not been delivered. (2) Foreign troops (ours) cannot bear the brunt of a war on the Taliban in a country and culture that reject outsiders. The US and Britain have had almost a decade since 9.11 to train an Afghan army, and have almost nothing to show for it — a big point against our seriousness. (3) The US is outsourcing much of the Afghan problem to Pakistan, which isn’t much interested in a solution. The Palkistani military and intelligence, which run the country, are still nurturing links with the Islamist, anti-Indian Taliban. And all the more because President Obama has already scheduled his American exit, there’s a built-in incentive for the Pakistanis to stay in touch with their jihadis.

Historically the Pakistani miitary has used the jihadis the undermine democracy in Pakistan, to promote Islamism and muddy the waters in the region. The presence of the Taliban in Afghanistan is a symptom of the problem… You have to deal with the root cause of the problem, which is the nature of the Pakistani military, and there is a reluctance to do that. Just as the Pakistani military doesn’t want to give up 30 years of investment in the Taliban, I think the Pentagon and the State Department don’t want to give up 60 years of investment in the Pakistani military. So you have a tendency to cling on to your strategic assets in the hope that they will somehow do your bidding. But life doesn’t go that way.

Siddharth Varadarajan in conversation with Chris Lydon at Brown, March, 2010.

Podcast • September 18, 2008

Torture, Part 3: the Philip Gourevitch version

In our third go at this miserable business of sanctioned American torture, Philip Gourevitch turns it around, Pogo-style. We have met the victims, he says in effect, and they are us. Click to listen to ...

In our third go at this miserable business of sanctioned American torture, Philip Gourevitch turns it around, Pogo-style. We have met the victims, he says in effect, and they are us.

Click to listen to Chris’s conversation with Philip Gourevitch (58 minutes, 27 mb mp3)

Philip Gourevitch (photo: Andrew Brucker)

Even if you want to put it into culture war terms, or a war of our principles versus theirs, or our civilization versus theirs – we’ve violated the principles that we claim our civilization stands for, in order to fight off this threat to our civilization. That’s what’s so incoherent about it. That’s where, when I look at these photographs from Abu Graib, when I look at the story, a lot of what I wrote this book for is to ask not ‘why did we go?’ and ‘how did we de-humanize them? and do these things to them?’ It’s ‘how did we do this to ourselves? Why are we doing this to ourselves?’ Maybe the best way to get us to stop doing it is not to ask why are we doing this to them – why are we doing this to ourselves?

Philip Gourevitch of Standard Operating Procedure, in conversation with Chris Lydon in James Der Derian’s global security seminar at Brown’s Watson Institute, September 17, 2008

Philip Gourevitch’s book, Standard Operating Procedure, is of course the hard-cover partner of the Errol Morris movie.

Gourevitch‘s eye and story-telling pen are as powerful as any thousand pictures from Abu Ghraib. This is his reading, for example, of the interrogation (with the help of dogs) of a prize prisoner called “AQ” (for Al Qaeda) before he turned out finally to be a used-car dealer in Baghdad, a man of no political or security interest:

Once again Smith moved in with the animal. In one picture you see it lunging, ears back, a black blur of muscle and jaw… Smith is in the picture, crouching over the dog, restraining him and urging him on at the same time.

It does not seem possible to amplify the drama of this moment, but the look on AQ’s face does just that. He has the horrified, drawn-back, and quivering expression of a thoroughly blasted soul. It is all there in his eyes, moist and mad with fear, fixed on a mouthful of fangs. What secrets does he have that we want so badly, but are so precious to him that he endures this day after day? The answer in AQ’s case was none. Once again at Abu Ghraib they had the wrong guy, or they had the guy wrong, and when they realized this after several months of dogs and bondage and hooding and noise and sleeplessness and heat and cold and who knows just what other robust counter-resistance techniques, they told him to scram, and closed his case. The pictures of AQ on that night before New Year’s are the last known photographs of our prisoners on the MI block at Abu Ghraib, which seems fitting, because these pictures don’t leave much to the viewer’s imagination, except the obvious question: if you fight terror with terror, how can you tell which is which?

Philip Gourevitch, Standard Operating Procedure.

As Abu Ghraib was the sequel to Guantanamo, our classroom conversation with Philip Gourevitch flows out of our session two days earlier with Philippe Sands — and Sands’ point that the criminal torture story began with President Bush’s dismissal of the Geneva Conventions in February, 2002 and “migrated” from there. One of the Morris-Gourevitch interviews with the investigator Tim Dugan gets it all into a nutshell, in the vernacular:

Tim Dugan was summoned to join a meeting with Colonel Pappas to discuss the interrogation of this fresh crop of Saddam cronies. Pappas explained that he’d just got off a conference call with General Sanchez and the secretary of defense. “He said, ‘We’re starting a special projects team, and we’re going to break the back of the resistance. Anybody who doesn’t want to volunteer for this has to leave the room. And if you volunteer, you can’t talk about this to anybody,'” Dugan said. “We all volunteered and he said all approach techniques were authorized. Someone asked, ‘Even dogs?’ And he says, ‘yep, even dogs.’ He’s like, ‘We got a chance to break this unlawful insurgency, and the people in an unlawful insurgency have no protection under the Geneva Conventions.'”

Dugan thought that was pretty definitive. “If the fuckin’ secretary of defense designates the motherfucker an unlawful insurgency, I mean, what the fuck am I supposed to say? It’s an unlawful insurgency, wouldn’t you think? He’s the second-highest motherfucker in the country during the war.”

Philip Gourevitch, Standard Operating Procedure.

September 19, 2006

Moderate Muslims

British novelist Martin Amis wrote a 12,000 word piece in the Guardian to coincide with the 5th anniversary of September 11th. In it he rails against Islamism, and describes how he abandoned short story dealing ...

British novelist Martin Amis wrote a 12,000 word piece in the Guardian to coincide with the 5th anniversary of September 11th. In it he rails against Islamism, and describes how he abandoned short story dealing with a would-be terrorist.

The piece has sparked much intense debate in the bloggosphere, especially over what he calls the “civil war within Islam.”

Until recently it was being said that what we are confronted with, here, is a ‘civil war’ within Islam. That’s what all his was supposed to be: not a clash of civilizations or anything like that, but a civil war within Islam. Well, the civil war appears to be over. And Islamism won it. The loser, moderate Islam, is always deceptively well-represented on the level of the op-ed page and the public debate; elsewhere, it is supine and inaudible. We are not hearing from moderate Islam. Whereas Islamism, as a mover and shaper of world events, is pretty well all there is.

Martin Amis, The age of horrorism, The Guardian, 9/10/06

This, plus comments made by the Pope this week, reminded us of part of the conversation from our show about generational differences in the Middle East. Some of our guests said that moderate voices were indeed being marginalized in political discourse in the Middle East, in part because actions of the West made it very difficult to argue for a moderate stance.

So tonight we’re wondering, what exactly does it mean to be a moderate Muslim? Which ideas or views define the center, and which rule it out? Does it mean something different to be a moderate Muslim in Detroit or LA than it does in Jeddah or Baghdad or Jakarta? Is there an internal struggle within Islam to draw these lines? And why has the west been so concerned with seeking out moderate Muslim voices since 9/11?

Khaled Abou El Fadl

Classically trained Islamic jurist

Professor of law, UCLA

Author, The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists

Numan Waheed

Post-doctoral research associate, Institute of Polymer Science, University of Akron

Usamah Kayyali

Assistant Professor of Medicine, Tufts University

Amani Jabbar

Blogger, Mental Mulisma

Extra Credit Reading
Martin Amis, The age of horrorism, The Observer, September 10, 2006.

Pankaj Mishra, The politics of paranoia, The Guardian, September 17, 2006: “Many people, such as Martin Amis last weekend, may continue to berate Muslims for their apparent incompatibility with ‘Western’ values of democracy and rationality….But a more urgent question is: where will all this rage and distrust end? How can we change policies that have so comprehensively failed?

smiffy, Martin and the Monsters: Amis on Islamism, The Cedar Lounge Revolution, September 13, 2006: “In what sense, exactly, has Islamism ‘won it’? What is he basing this on? What criteria is he even using?”

Steven Scholl, Scholl Guest Editorial: Response to Amis, Informed Comment, September 18, 2006: “I share some of Amis’s concerns but find his analysis of Islam and Islamism rather mixed up.”

Amani Jabbar, The Papal thing…, Mental Muslima, September 18, 2006: “Even though my blog has a limited audience, I feel if I can change one person’s perceptions about Islam, then that is enough reason to continue.”

Teresa Watanabe, Defining Today’s Moderate Muslim, Los Angeles Times, September 17, 2006: “Who is a moderate Muslim?”

Haitham Sabbah, Are you Extremist or Moderate?, Sabbah’s blog, September 18, 2006: “This [LA Times] article sounds like the litmus test is for defining a ‘moderate Muslim’, or to put it right, defining ‘extremist Muslim.’ The test is very simple and straight forward. If you support Zionism, you are in good shape, in other words “moderate”. If not, you are an extremist.”