Apr 5th 2010

Before It's Too Late

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute
The arrests of nine members of an armed militia group in Michigan, hell bent on fomenting violence, should serve as a wake up call to those in political leadership roles who are inciting rage against the government. My fear, however, is that they will not see the connection between their rhetoric and the rage they inspire.

Back in January of 2009, the Department of Homeland Security issued a warning (based on analysis compiled during the closing days of the Bush Administration) that right wing militia-type groups were a growing threat here in the US, noting that "the historical election of an African American president... the prospect of policy changes... and the economic downturn...are proving to be a driving force for right-wing extremist recruitment and radicalization...Lone wolves and small terrorist cells embracing violent right-wing extremist ideology are the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States".

An FBI official told me, at the time, that law enforcement agencies were focusing more of their attention on this phenomenon. And bearing out these concerns, a recent report by the Southern Poverty Law Center notes that in just the past year, these armed "patriot" militias have tripled in number - with over 130 such armed groups now known to be operating across the U.S.

It is important to recognize that the Obama election, was, in many ways, born out of the same set of circumstances. Having studied social movements that emerge in response to social dislocation and stress, I know that in periods of great anxiety, the public can be motivated in different directions. They can be inspired by hope, believing that positive change is in the offing, or, as is also the case, they can be moved to respond in fear and anger, striking out at targets identified as the cause of their distress.

Obama's messages of hope and change won the election, but, as we soon saw, did not put an end to those who preyed on discontent. Donning the robes of populism, they focused their attacks on "them" - whether the government, liberal elites, or the President, himself. Their rhetoric was vile, if not also violent. Watching the "Tea Party" movement emerge and play a disruptive role last summer shouting down and at times breaking up town meetings called to discuss health care reform, was instructive. On the one hand, the established political leaders and TV personalities who fomented this mob-like behavior were no doubt pleased as they saw this anti-government movement grow and suit their anti-reform agenda. Then again, when their offspring acted out of control, they were able to disassociate themselves from the fruits of their labor with a wink and a "tsk, tsk".

But the danger remains and the possibility of violence is real. And those in respected leadership roles need to recognize that, in the current environment, playing with matches can start fires. We've seen the ugly racist placards, heard the chants and shouted epithets, and witnessed the raw anger at rallies. Can violence be far behind?

I know this to be true and can speak from experience of the dangers of incitement. In the past decade alone, federal law enforcement officials have arrested, charged, convicted, and sentenced three individuals for making violent threats against me and my family. In these threats I have been called "a rag head", a supporter of "jihad" and "Hizbollah" - all rather weird, one might say, since I am a Catholic who has consistently spoken out against all violence. Where, then, did these deranged fellows get their distorted ideas? The answer is: from a group of individual associated with right-wing "think tanks" who write "blogs" or articles that consistently defame or distort the positions of most recognized Arab American and American Muslim leaders.

And it hasn't stopped. When, for example, I was given the honor of delivering the closing remarks at the Department of Justice's commemoration the 40th anniversary of the signing of the civil rights bill, an article written by one of these characters termed it an outrage that the DOJ would invite a "Hizbollah supporter" to speak at this affair. And when the Pentagon invited me to speak at their annual Iftar, honoring the service of Muslim Americans in the US military another writer decried my presence at the event calling me an extremist "Wahhabi supporter".

Just as I feel that these writers bear responsibility for their words and for the behavior of those whom their words motivate to commit illegal acts, so too those elected officials and political leaders who rant on the floor of Congress or at mass rallies about "creeping communism", or "Obamunism", or about "death panels", etc, must own up to the atmosphere they are creating and the behavior of desperate lost souls who will use their words as a license to violence.

Given the circumstances we face, the old saying "sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me" needs to be updated by adding "but may provoke others to break my bones". A warning is in order "Put away the matches". It's dangerous out there and you don't know who's listening or what they might do to act on what you say. It's time to lower the temperature and tone down the rhetoric, before it's too late.

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More Current Affairs

Sep 29th 2022
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Sep 20th 2022
EXTRACT: "Russia’s focus on Ukraine and Putin’s choice to frame this as a civilisational struggle with the west has created opportunities for China to enhance its influence elsewhere – at Russia’s expense."
Sep 20th 2022
EXTRACTS: ”The Ukrainian army is making spectacular advances,” --- “…the European Union has fully mobilized to confront the energy crisis.” ---- “we are helping our partners in the Global South to handle the fallout from Russia’s brutal aggression and cynical weaponization of energy and food.” ---- “In short: the overall strategy is working. We must continue to support Ukraine, pressure Russia with sanctions, and help our global partners in a spirit of solidarity.”
Sep 8th 2022
EXTRACT: "In 1950, a team of sociologists, including the philosopher Theodor Adorno, conducted an empirical study, later published as The Authoritarian Personality, which ....... “If a potentially fascistic individual exists, what, precisely, is he like? What goes to make up antidemocratic thought? What are the organizing forces within the person?... what have been the determinants and what is the course of his development?”
Aug 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "Russian aggression certainly poses a threat; but it is a familiar one that we know how to deal with. Rising temperatures, dry riverbeds, parched landscapes, falling crop yields, acute energy shortages, and disruptions to industrial production are something else."
Aug 25th 2022
EXTRACTS: "As the revolutionary founder of a new Chinese state, Mao emphasized ideology over development. For Deng and his successors, it was the opposite: De-emphasis of ideology was viewed as necessary to boost economic growth through market-based 'reform and opening up.' Then came Xi. Initially, there was hope that his so-called 'Third Plenum Reforms' of 2013 would usher in a new era of strong economic performance. But the new ideological campaigns carried out under the general rubric of Xi Jinping Thought, including a regulatory clampdown on once-dynamic Internet platform companies and associated restrictions on online gaming, music, and private tutoring, as well as a zero-COVID policy that has led to never-ending lockdowns, have all but dashed those hopes." ----- "With the upcoming 20th Party Congress likely to usher in an unprecedented third five-year term for Xi, there is good reason to believe that China’s growth sacrifice has only just begun."
Aug 23rd 2022
EXTRACTS: "Less widely noted, however, is that the prices of many commodities fell this summer. The price of oil decreased by about 30% between early June and mid-August. The politically sensitive price of gasoline in the United States fell by 20% over the same period, from $5 per gallon to $4 per gallon. The overall index fell 12%." ---- "There are two macroeconomic reasons to think that commodity prices in general will fall further. The level of economic activity is a self-evidently important determinant of demand for commodities and therefore of their prices. Less obviously, the real interest rate is another key factor. And the current outlook for both global growth and real interest rates suggests a downward path for commodity prices."
Aug 22nd 2022
EXTRACT: "How Trump planned to use the classified documents remains a question that investigators presumably have made a high priority. Depending on the answer and the resulting charges, if any, one thing is certain: Trump will play hardball, including by amplifying his claims of victimhood at the hands of the fictional Deep State, and denying any wrongdoing in purloining the documents. His lies and hyperbole, however, don’t preclude seeking a plea deal. In his previous tangles with the law, such as his Trump University scam, he agreed to compensate the victims (in that case $25 million) after his prevarications were exhausted."
Aug 21st 2022
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Aug 10th 2022
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Jul 29th 2022
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Jul 29th 2022
EXTRACTS: "Right-wing media outlets including Fox News, One America News (OAN), Newsmax, and talk radio are grossly abusing the right to free speech and are causing profound, if not irreparable damage to our country at home and abroad. They have been engaged in these deliberate practices of spreading poisonous misinformation all in the name of free speech." ---- "A team at MIT, analyzing propaganda techniques in the news, underscores the use of logical fallacies – such as strawmen (the misrepresentation of the other’s position), red herrings (the provision of irrelevancies), false dichotomies (offering two alternatives as the only possibilities), and whataboutism (a diversionary tactic to avoid directly addressing an issue). ---- Whataboutism is worth considering more closely because it is becoming ubiquitous among Republicans – perhaps this is not surprising given that it is certainly Trump’s “favorite dodge.” It is one of the fundamental rules by which he operates: when you are criticized, say that someone else is worse. In an interview with Trump, Bill O’Reilly states the obvious fact that “Putin is a killer,” and who can forget Trump’s response: “There are a lot of killers. You got a lot of killers. What, you think our country is so innocent?” That is classic whataboutism. And it is also of course all over Fox News’ most popular line-up."
Jul 24th 2022
EXTRACTS: "For three hours, against the unequivocal advice of his counsel, friends, and family, Trump purposefully and steadfastly declined to give the mob he had summoned any signal to disperse, to exit the building peacefully, or to simply cease threatening the life of his vice president or other members of Congress." ------ "Trump is corrupt to the core, a traitor who deserves nothing but contempt and to spend the rest of his life behind bars because he remains a menace to this country and an existential threat to our democratic institutions."
Jul 21st 2022
EXTRACT: "For some countries, diasporas also are not new. Just ask the Russians. For three-quarters of a century, Stalin’s NKVD and its successor, the KGB, kept close tabs on expatriate Russians, constantly worrying about the threat they might pose. And now, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s security service, the FSB, is continuing the tradition. According to recent FSB estimates, almost four million Russians left the country in the first three months of this year. Obviously, FSB statistics are hard to verify. But the sheer magnitude of this year’s departures is striking."
Jul 20th 2022
EXTRACTS: "We need leaders who will be honest about our problems in the short, medium, and long term. We are becoming poorer than our neighbors, with our per capita growth and productivity lagging behind theirs. We confront surging energy prices, soaring inflation, and public-sector strikes. Our fiscal deficit is uncomfortably high. Our influence is diminished. Far from recognizing these challenges, let alone proposing sensible solutions, the candidates to succeed Johnson are trying to win votes with reckless proposals like ever-larger tax cuts." ----- "There is one exception. Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak refuses to abandon the notion that expenditure should bear some relationship to revenue. "
Jul 13th 2022
EXTRACT: "Looking ahead, five factors could make today’s energy crisis even worse. First, Putin has opened a second front in the conflict by cutting back on the contracted volumes of natural gas that Russia supplies to Europe. The goal is to prevent Europeans from storing enough supplies for next winter, and to drive prices higher, creating economic hardship and political discord. In his speech in June at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Putin made his reasoning clear: “Social and economic problems worsening in Europe” will “split their societies” and “inevitably lead to populism … and a change of the elites in the short term.” ...... As it is, Germany is now anticipating the need for gas rationing, and its minister for economic affairs, Robert Habeck, warns of a “Lehman-style contagion” (referring to the 2008 financial crisis) if Europe cannot manage today’s energy-induced economic disruptions."
Jul 5th 2022
EXTRACT: "Fortunately, I am not alone in claiming that the survival of democracy in the US is gravely endangered. The American public has been aroused by the decision overturning Roe. But people need to recognize that decision for what it is: part of a carefully laid plan to turn the US into a repressive regime. We must do everything we can to prevent that. This fight ought to include many people who voted for Trump in the past."
Jul 2nd 2022
EXTRACT: "The Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit described this succinctly in his book On Compromise and Rotten Compromises. In “politics as economics,” material interests are “subject to bargaining, everything is negotiable, whereas in the religious picture, centered on the idea of the holy, the holy is non-negotiable.” This, then, is why politics in the US is now in such a perilous state. More and more, the secular left and the religious right are engaged in a culture war, revolving around sexuality, gender, and race, where politics is no longer negotiable. When that happens, institutions start breaking down, and the stage is set for charismatic demagogues and the politics of violence."
Jul 2nd 2022
EXTRACT: "...EU enlargement is essentially a political decision by member states, based on a multitude of considerations that sometimes include dramatic events. Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is such a turning point."
Jun 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "Most market analysts seem to think that central banks will remain hawkish, but I am not so sure. I have argued that they will eventually wimp out and accept higher inflation – followed by stagflation – once a hard landing becomes imminent, because they will be worried about the damage of a recession and a debt trap, owing to an excessive build-up of private and public liabilities after years of low interest rates." ----- "There is ample reason to believe that the next recession will be marked by a severe stagflationary debt crisis. As a share of global GDP, private and public debt levels are much higher today than in the past, having risen from 200% in 1999 to 350% today (with a particularly sharp increase since the start of the pandemic). Under these conditions, rapid normalization of monetary policy and rising interest rates will drive highly leveraged zombie households, companies, financial institutions, and governments into bankruptcy and default."