Qutbist Zakir Naik — Threat to National Security(?)


February 25, 2017

 Qutbist Zakir Naik — Threat to National Security (?)

by S Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for Theresa May on Zakir Naik

Qutbist Zakir Naik endorsed by Najib, Hadi and Harussani et.al in UMNO and PAS

“Is there any need for Muslim scholars or intellectuals, when according to Harussani, spiritual rewards are possible without understanding or hard work but with blind recitation in a foreign tongue?”

– S Thayaparan, ‘Zakir Naik and his poverty of ideas

In yesterday’s article, I argued that it is immoral for Malaysians not to speak up when faced with an existential threat. I also rejected the idea that merely keeping silent when it comes to the excesses of a state-sponsored religion is evidence of racial and religious harmony.

Here in Malaysia, there is enough empirical evidence of the bias of the state when it comes to dealing with religious provocations. Freedom of speech is limited but what is not in short supply are the efforts of the security apparatus to police our public spaces in an attempt to curb any provocations against Islam.

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This is where someone like Indian Islamic preacher Zakir Naik thrives. He is free to make claims against any religion he chooses, safe in the knowledge that his speech is protected whilst his detractors are not. Admirers of Zakir (and unfortunately, they are legions) seem to have no knowledge of his attacks against other religions or peoples even when evidence is adduced to demonstrate such.

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Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi is playing politics with Qutbist Zakir Naik

A couple of years ago, I had a very public falling out with Hindraf chairperson P Waythamoorthy, and while we may disagree on a range of issues, I admire his tenacity in tackling this issue of Zakir Naik. It is a matter of public record that I have argued numerous times, the Islamist – using the Sam Harris definition – agenda is the existential threat facing Malaysia today.

Waytha has been in the forefront of making the case that Zakir is a threat to national security but so far this has been a muted affair with other NGOs not jumping in the fray for various reasons. The indefatigable Lim Teck Ghee is attempting to remedy this sad state of affairs by reaching out to other interested parties, while Waytha has been busy agitating the UMNO state to the dangers of Zakir Naik.

When Zakir was banned from England in 2010, UK Prime Minister Theresa May, then Home Secretary, said (on BBC) – “Numerous comments made by Dr Naik are evidence to me of his unacceptable behaviour.”

While certain countries have argued that his behaviour is unacceptable, Malaysia on the other hand, when denying rumours that he was granted citizenships, said (Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed) – “He is more Indian and South Asia-centric but some of his ideas can be used here. That’s why he was awarded the Tokoh Maal Hijrah award.” What exactly those “ideas” are was not mentioned.

In reference to letters written by Waytha’s solicitors to Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Waytha said – “I am rather puzzled and am not able to comprehend as to why you and your government seem to be harbouring this fugitive who is evading arrest and investigations under the terrorism laws and money laundering of Republic of India. On the contrary, you and the deputy prime minister seem to be innocently and naively hosting the said Zakir Naik for breakfast and dinners.”

In that same letter to the Prime Minister, Waytha argued that Zakir is as much of a threat to Malaysia as he is to the United Kingdom. The following are what Waytha wants the Prime Minister to answer:

1) Whether you would place the security of Malaysia and the peaceful co-existence of our multiracial and multi-religious society top priority.

2) Whether you would honour your pledge at international conferences to cooperate with international community to combat terrorism.

3) Whether it is indeed true Zakir has been given permanent resident status;

4) Whether the government would be willing to revoke his visitor visa/entry permit or any other permission granted to him to remain in Malaysia.

5) Despite all the representations made, would the government still be willing to harbour this fugitive hate preacher?

6) I also urge you to keep your promise to the Malaysian society that you would promote the concept of ‘wasatiyyah’ (moderation).

In his letter, Waytha produced two statements (of many) that the Court of Appeal in the UK used to uphold the ban.

Statement 1: “As far as a terrorist is concerned, I tell the Muslims that every Muslim should be a terrorist… What is the meaning of the word ‘terrorist’? ‘Terrorist’ by definition means a person who terrorises. When a robber sees a policeman he’s terrified. So for a robber, a policeman is a terrorist. So in this context, every Muslim should be a terrorist to the robber… Every Muslim should be a terrorist too.”

To really appreciate the acrobatics of Zakir’s argument defending such a statement, you have to read the detailed Guardian article, which is interestingly enough for a left-leaning publication to support the ban.

“As (Court of Appeal judge) Gross LJ observes, Dr Naik’s explanation that he used the word ‘terrorist’ to support terrorising ‘anti-social elements’ is difficult enough to follow on its own terms, even with time to analyse the written word; this ‘convoluted explanation’ would simply be lost on a ‘live’ audience.

“In any event, the notion that for a robber, a policeman is a ‘terrorist’, belongs in the realms of linguistic fantasy. – Gross LJ.”

The other statement was, “The pig is the most shameless animal on the face of the earth. It is the only animal that invites its friends to have sex with its mate. In America, most people consume pork. Many times after dance parties, they have swapping of wives; many say, ‘you sleep with my wife and I will sleep with your wife.’ If you eat pigs, then you behave like pigs. [Occasion unspecified, referred to in Western Mail, August 2006]”

I do not know if this demonstrates that Zakir is a threat to national security but it does make me want to have a bacon sandwich, preferably during ladies’ night at a club in downtown Kuala Lumpur.

Zakir a special case

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So, is Zakir a national security threat? I have never advocated that anyone should be banned. I have never advocated that anyone should stop talking or writing because what they say or write offends me. However, Zakir is a special case.

In a time when the Islamist agenda in this country is taking new forms and the agenda is promulgated by new alliances, a preacher like Zakir who specialises in deepening already established cultural and religious rifts, is a threat to national security.

While I do not make the claim that he is a terrorist, he has not demonstrated in any of his speeches that he would disavow any terrorist act that even the government of Malaysia would. While the Malay/Muslim elite think that some of his ideas are suitable for Malaysia, the reality is that he is the – again as Sam Harris would argue – the motherlode of bad ideas.

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A Royal Endorsement by The Raja of Perlis

In this country because the Prime Minster has chosen to stir up the Rohingya issue, we have sympathisers ready to assert their prerogatives. We have a revived Muslim agenda because an opposition party and an establishment party wish to preserve their power.

The region is a hotbed of terrorist activity and the term “moderate” has lost all meaning. What we have in Malaysia is a tenuous form of moderation nurtured by an already divisive majority who just want to live in peace.

While Muslim potentates in this country court a firebrand like Zakir, they unknowingly allow a certain type of Islamic fervour to spread among the disenfranchised. I say unknowingly because there is a disconnect between the political elite and the security apparatus who genuinely want to keep the country safe.

These “foot soldiers” of the security apparatus, and not the top brass who enjoy positions of influence and patronage, are losing the war for the hearts and minds of a diverse Muslim polity made of diverse nationalities, thanks to the machinations of the establishment.

This is not fear mongering. This is the reality we face and the great joke is that to people like Zakir Naik, this is how it should be.

Yesterday: The ignorant M’sians who support Hadi’s bill

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.

 

Policy uncertainty threatens trade growth, says World Bank


February 22, 2017

Policy uncertainty threatens trade growth, says World Bank

Warning on protectionism and threats to trade agreements in Trump era

https://www.ft.com/content/9d49b092-f859-11e6-9516-2d969e0d3b65

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Political uncertainty is slowing trade growth, a World Bank report has concluded, indicating that the rise of Donald Trump may already be casting a shadow over the global economy.

Major international institutions such as the IMF, the OECD and World Bank have recently upgraded their forecasts of global economic growth largely due to expectations that tax cuts, rising infrastructure spending and a wave of deregulation will boost the US economy under the new president. But the report by World Bank economists, released on Tuesday, highlights the fragile state of one historically important engine of global growth — trade.

To the extent that the policy uncertainty will remain high we should continue to expect [global] trade growth to be subdued. Michele Ruta, World Bank report co-author

The study avoids naming Mr Trump, but highlights rising protectionism and threats to unwind trade agreements — such as those made by the president. It also raises the prospect that attempts by the Trump administration to force companies to repatriate global supply chains to the US could undermine efforts to boost lagging productivity growth. To the extent that the policy uncertainty will remain high we should continue to expect [global] trade growth to be subdued Michele Ruta, World Bank report co-author International trade has been growing below historic trends for the past five years. The 1.9 per cent growth recorded in 2016, according to the team at the bank, was the slowest since the 2009 collapse in commerce that followed the global financial crisis.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with U.S. President Donald Trump in the Oval Office at the White House–The Future of NAFTA

The team found that some of the reasons for the anaemic trade growth, which affected both developed and developing economies, were broader trends such as slow economic growth around the world and a collapse in commodity prices. But in 2016 the principal change was a surge in uncertainty about economic policy. According to the World Bank’s calculations, such uncertainty was responsible for 0.6 percentage points of the 0.8 percentage-point fall in trade growth between 2015 and 2016. The team at the bank based their figure on a study of the relationship between trade and economic policy uncertainty in 18 countries over three decades. They added they expected the impact to continue in 2017. “To the extent that the policy uncertainty will remain high we should continue to expect [global] trade growth to be subdued,” said Michele Ruta, one of the authors. The World Bank team also sought to quantify the impact of trade agreements on global trade growth. World trade grew at an annual rate of 6.53 per cent between 1995 and 2014, they calculated. Had no new members — including China — joined the World Trade Organisation or no new trade agreements been signed, international trade would have grown at just 4.76 per cent annually, they found.

One of the big consequences of the explosion in trade deals in recent decades has been the emergence of global supply chains. Such chains are widely seen by economists to have made businesses more efficient and boosted productivity. But Mr Trump and his administration have said they want to unwind those international supply chains and bring them home. “It does the American economy no long-term good to only keep the big box factories where we are now assembling ‘American’ products that are composed primarily of foreign components,” Peter Navarro, one of the president’s top trade advisers, told the Financial Times last month.

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According to the World Bank team such a move, coupled with unwinding existing trade agreements that have encouraged the establishment of international supply chains, would hurt productivity growth. “Preserving and expanding the reach of trade agreements, rather than backtracking on existing commitments, would help to sustain the growth of productivity,” the bank’s economists wrote.

Sri Lanka and China’s Indian Ocean Strategy


February 22, 2017

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Number 372 | February 21, 2017

ANALYSIS

Sri Lanka Suffers from China’s Indian Ocean Strategy

By Shiyana Gunasekara

Amidst local protests against the Chinese presence in the southern Sri Lankan town of Hambantota, Beijing insists that the town’s port project has been discussed in the “spirit of equality and mutual benefit, and follows market rules.” China’s activity in the Indian Ocean – particularly in Sri Lanka, which is a focal point in China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) plan – appears to be predatory lending under the guise of economic development.

India needs to recalibrate its strategy towards the other South Asian countries for its own security, if not regional stability; however, Delhi has yet to offer a comparable alternative to doing business with China. Instead, India has taken its asymmetric power in the region and the de facto allegiances of its much smaller neighbors for granted.  With China’s recent track record of placing military vessels in traditionally commercial docks, India must take its role as the South Asian hegemon seriously.

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80% share of  Sri Lanka’s Hambantota Port goes to China

In October 2016, Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe announced that the China Merchants Holdings (International) Company Ltd. would hold an 80% share of the Hambantota Port in exchange for over USD $1 billion in the country’s debt.  This should be of particular concern to India, since China has used the Colombo South Container Terminal, owned by the same Chinese firm, to dock submarines, as opposed to the Sri Lanka Port Authority’s mooring designated for military vessels.  Previously, Colombo intended to hide visits of two other Chinese naval vessels from the media. With the majority of the Hambantota Port sold to China’s semi-private sector, India should be prepared for another visit by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy – perhaps for a much longer period of time.

The complete details of Chinese loans and other financial assistance have not been disclosed to the public, notably including details of the loan interest rates. China leads the country’s foreign inflows, with 98% of Chinese assistance to Sri Lanka being loans and only two percent as grants. China’s Export-Import Bank accounts for 77% of these loans, with 14% coming from the China Development Bank, and five percent from interest-free loans. China’s Export-Import Bank has notoriously given loans to countries on its OBOR initiative with strict self-serving procurement and contracting regulations: Chinese companies must be awarded the contract, both for the project itself and for procurement, and at least 50% of project procurement must be services, equipment, technology and materials from China.

Foreign direct investment and other forms of financial engagement from a G2 country to an emerging economy should be focused on market-friendly approaches to supporting economic development in the latter. Chinese investment in Sri Lanka, and other countries along China’s visionary trail would be a true boost to the local economy if the loan money were staying in the country through greater local employment and project procurement. Instead, Sri Lanka borrows money from China, which China requires to be used to contract largely state-owned Chinese companies. These companies provide salaries to Chinese employees who come to Sri Lanka to build infrastructure projects using mostly Chinese materials and technology.

The Mattala Airport and the Hambantota Port are prime examples of large-scale infrastructure projects financed by China that did not promote local economic development.These projects were purely gambles by the former Sri Lankan government, for which there was no guaranteed return on investment – a risky move for an economy coming out of an expensive three-decade war.

Sri Lanka, undergoing vast economic reforms outlined by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), might not be the only South Asian state that will have to be bailed out due to crushing Chinese-owned debt.  An IMF report on the Chinese-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), noted that import requirements of the project “will likely offset a significant share of inflows, such that the current account deficit would widen.” While the IMF acknowledges that the long run benefits may help mitigate said costs, such success is not guaranteed, as seen in Sri Lanka.  Hence Pakistan too should take into serious consideration the equity-for-debt swap that Sri Lanka was forced into due to the island nation’s ill-advised decisions and China’s over-eagerness to offer self-serving loans.

India is the largest power in South Asia in essentially every measure, and should continue to initiate deeper maritime collaborations with its neighbors for its own interests as well as for the benefit of the region. India can accomplish this goal by providing fiscal alternatives for its smaller neighbors to develop their infrastructures and human capital that are more favorable than Chinese-financed loans with unclear intentions.

China is a pragmatic power, and most likely foresaw Sri Lanka’s economic decline that resulted in Chinese ownership of the Hambantota port. China’s actions of fostering questionable loan conditions and blurring the line between commercial and military objectives do not correspond to its purported aim of establishing a positive public image. Ultimately, if China commits to increased transparency, its ambition to become a re-emerging global power will be better received.

About the Author

Shiyana Gunasekara is a masters candidate at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies focusing on international economics and Asian affairs, and was a Fulbright Scholar to Sri Lanka in 2014-2015. She can be contacted at Shiyana.Gunasekara@jhu.edu

The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue.

Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.

APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington
APB Series Coordinator: Peter Valente, Project Assistant, East-West Center in Washington

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated.

De-coding New Yorker Trump in The White House


February 18, 2017

De-coding New Yorker Trump in The White House

by Bunn Nagara@www.thestar.com.my

On Wednesday, February 8, a US Navy spy plane and its Chinese counterpart each tempted fate, flying within 300m of each other over the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.

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Both were quad-prop surveillance aircraft on airborne patrol. The near-miss, the first this year after two incidents last year, showed the high-risk “great game” of the two major powers in this region.

US-China relations were already strained after President Donald Trump questioned Washington’s One China policy and wanted China to quit the disputed islands it already occupies ( he subsequently reaffirmed that his administration  would abide by the existing US 1-China Policy would remain much to the relief of China) .

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There was also speculation on a “trade war”. An aerial collision between their military aircraft over disputed territory would have sharpened prospects of conflict.

Within hours, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson persuaded Trump to go easy on China rather than flirt with reviewing the One China policy. The result: a long and “very cordial” phone conversation between Presidents Trump and Xi Jinping, the first after Trump’s inauguration and the second since his election. Warm mutual greetings were exchanged with mutual invitations to visit each other’s country.

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President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson–Go  Easy on 1China Policy

Trump had his moment as the master of brinkmanship. Now it is Xi’s turn to shine, if he does, as a master strategist – if he is one.

China’s chances here are uncertain. It has been slow and flat-footed in the diplomatic stakes with Washington so far. In contrast, Japan and Israel moved quickly to engage Trump early. When it did not seem clear if Trump would favour Japan or Israel in any way, their leaders sought to engage him first.

Prime Ministers Shinzo Abe and Benjamin Netanyahu correctly read Trump, when reasonably managed, as a highly impressionable person with very impressionistic views. Whoever engages him first gets a head start in good relations.

Now Trump may be better disposed to Japan and Israel than he might otherwise have been. Diplomatic engagements are basically a political investment.

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Towards Better Relations with China?

But the media focus on US-China ties has obscured the poor state of US-Japan relations. Abe needs to invest in the Trump presidency.Trump had swiftly dumped the TPP that Japan was counting on. He has also accused Japan of suppressing the value of the yen and not paying enough for its own defence, while threatening Toyota with high taxes on vehicles from new Mexican plants rather than US ones.

Japanese manufacturers, including Toyota, then pledged more production, and jobs, at US plants. Abe may also want to “position” Japan favourably over China in strategic terms to Trump.

Last September, Netanyahu met Trump and Hillary Clinton separately in New York. He reportedly spent a long 90 minutes at Trump Tower.

When Trump received flak for wanting a wall on the border with Mexico, Netanyahu signalled approval by referencing his own fence projects on the borders with Egypt and Palestine. Trump duly reciprocated.

Now Israel’s barrier builder, Magal Security Systems, wants to build Trump’s wall with Mexico. Beyond just a business deal, it would be a political investment to cement Israel’s controversial schemes.

Israel’s right-wing now wants Netanyahu to drop the two-state solution altogether. But Netanyahu will not have it easy, since just days before his arrival, Trump openly opposed his settlements policy.

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Reaffirming US -Israel Relations

In September, candidate Trump used the meeting to project his image as a prospective world leader. Now Netanyahu is using Friday’s meeting with President Trump to draw dividends as Israel receives flak for illegal settlements in Palestine.

Yet, compared to other countries, the US and China have more to talk about: from economics to diplomacy to security. As two hulking, intertwined economies, and as permanent members of the UN Security Council, their range of interests and concerns is global.

Enter the low-profile second track diplomacy China has been pursuing with the US since late last year. This is led by State Councillor Yang Jiechi, an ambassador to the US before serving as Foreign Minister when Secretary of State Clinton announced the US “pivot” to Asia.

An alumnus of the London School of Economics, Yang is fluent in English and understands the US better than his contemporaries in Beijing. He is often described as China’s “top diplomat” who outranks Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

This second track is vital and befits “ChinAmerica”, ties between the two major powers that make for the world’s most important bilateral relations today. However, how far Xi or Beijing ultimately listens to Yang remains to be seen. A lacklustre first track diplomacy remains very much in evidence.

The hesitancy and passivity of Track One, notwithstanding standard shrill reactions to issues like Taiwan, seem to be a timid international response to the Trump era.

There are vocal Trump opponents, there are visible Trump supporters, and there are others like China gingerly treading water and keeping their distance. But there are also others like Japan and Israel who seize the moment without hesitation.

Much of the hesitancy seems to be caused by internal US politics rejecting someone who is wilfully politically incorrect. This sense is consistently projected by Western mainstream media, as if the issues they cover are necessarily universal.

They include Trump’s decision to scrap Obamacare, state-sponsored abortions and special toilets for transgender people. Given the extreme views at both ends, the middle way Trump prefers begins to look like moderation.

Meanwhile, an opposition-fuelled media has been tweaking news about Trump policies in an unfavourable light, carrying negative emotions with it.

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Case in point: travel restrictions into the US, pending new measures to screen out potential terrorists. What Christiane Amanpour on CNN (pic above) and some others call a “Muslim ban” is nothing of the kind.

The restrictions comprise three components suspending entry regardless of race and religion: by all refugees for four months, by Syrian passport holders indefinitely, and by passport holders of six other countries for three months.

If the restrictions are defined as a Muslim ban, they have to be definitively a ban on Muslims which they are not. Protesters argue that since the seven are Muslim-majority countries, there is a Muslim ban.

But if a majority count determines definition, then since the majority of the world’s 49 Muslim-majority countries (2010 data) are unaffected, there is no Muslim ban. How effective such restrictions can be in keeping out potential terrorists is another matter.

Protesters forget that Barack Obama had earlier listed these seven countries as being “of concern”. Trump only used the list for restrictions for a limited period.

The US has had several immigrant and citizenship restrictions going back a century. Some of these came together in the Immigration and Nationality Act (1952), parts of which remain today.

These restrictions survived Republican and Democratic administrations alike. Yet they were not controversial before, or the media did not make them appear so controversial.

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A real concern, however, is Trump’s intention to scrap the Iran nuclear deal. He and his advisers fail to realise that it is more than a nuclear deal, being also a face-saving measure for all eight signatories, including Iran.

Nobody can know if Iran ever wants to develop nuclear weapons. The only possible agreement is the present deal that puts any such plan on hold.

Undoing the deal will open a can of worms, starting with emboldening Iran’s hardliners over its moderates. Learning superpower politics on the job can be so hazardous.

Bunn Nagara is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia.

Steve Bannon: An Unusual Conservative


February 13, 2017

Steve Bannon: An Unusual Conservative

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria@The Washington Post

Image result for fareed zakaria with Henry Kissinger

Dr Fareed Zakara and America’s Foreign Policy Enfant Terrible Dr. Henry Kissinger

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/stephen-bannons-words-and-actions-dont-add-up/2017/02/09/33010a94-ef19-11e6-9973-c5efb7ccfb0d_story.html?utm_term=.14e5d7218424

Perhaps it’s just me, but a few weeks into the Trump presidency, between the tweets, executive orders, attacks and counterattacks, I feel dizzy. So I’ve decided to take a break from the daily barrage and try to find the signal amid the noise: What is the underlying philosophy of this administration?

The chief ideologist of the Trump era is surely Stephen K. Bannon, by many accounts now the second-most powerful man in the government. Bannon is intelligent and broadly read, and has a command of U.S. history. I’ve waded through his many movies and speeches, and in these, he does not come across as a racist or white supremacist, as some people have charged. But he is an unusual conservative. We have gotten used to conservatives who are really economic libertarians, but Bannon represents an older school of European thought that is distrustful of free markets, determined to preserve traditional culture and religion, and unabashedly celebrates nationalism and martial values.

In a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2012, Bannon explained his disgust for Mitt Romney and his admiration for Sarah Palin, whose elder son, Bannon noted, had served in Iraq. The rich and successful Romney, by contrast, “will not be my commander in chief,” Bannon said, because, although the candidate had five sons who “look like good all-American guys . . . not one has served a day in the military.”

Image result for steve bannon donald trumpPresident Trump’s Chief Ideologue Stephen Bannon–The Powerafter President Trump in 1600, Pennslyvania Avenue, Washington DC

The core of Bannon’s worldview can be found in his movie “Generation Zero.” It centers on the financial crisis of 2008, and the opening scenes — in their fury against bankers — could have been written by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). But then it moves on to its real point: The financial crisis happened because of a larger moral crisis. The film blames the 1960s and the baby boomers who tore down traditional structures of society and created a “culture of narcissism.”

How did Woodstock trigger a financial crisis four decades later? According to Bannon, the breakdown of old-fashioned values resulted in a culture of self-centeredness that measured everything and everyone in one way: money. The movie goes on to accuse the political and financial establishments of betraying their country by enacting free trade deals that benefited them but hollowed out Middle America.

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Historian, Civil Rights Activist and Public Intellectual, Howard Zinn

In a strange way, Bannon’s dark, dystopian view of U.S. history is closest to that of Howard Zinn, a popular far-left scholar whose “A People’s History of the United States” is a tale of the many ways in which 99 percent of Americans were crushed by the country’s all-powerful elites. In the Zinn/Bannon worldview, everyday people are simply pawns manipulated by their evil overlords.

A more accurate version of recent American history would show that the cultural shift that began in the 1960s was fueled by a powerful, deeply American force: individualism. The United States had always been highly individualistic. Both Bannon and Trump seem nostalgic for an age — the 1930s to 1950s — that was an aberration for the nation. The Great Depression, the New Deal and World War II created a collectivist impulse that transformed the country. But after a while, Americans began to reassert their age-old desire for personal freedom, fulfillment and advancement. The world of the 1950s sounds great, unless you were a woman who wanted to work, an African-American who wanted to vote, an immigrant who wanted to move up or an aspiring entrepreneur stuck in a large, faceless corporation.

The United States that allowed individuals to flourish in the 1980s and 1990s, of course, was where the young and enterprising Bannon left a large bank to set up his own shop, do his own deals and make a small fortune. It then allowed him to produce and distribute movies outside of the Hollywood establishment, build a media start-up into a powerhouse and become a political entrepreneur entirely outside the Republican hierarchy. This United States allowed Bannon’s brash new boss to get out of Queens into Manhattan, build skyscrapers and also his celebrity, all while horrifying the establishment. Donald Trump is surely the poster child for the culture of narcissism.

Image result for president donald j trumpMaking America Great Again in a Messy World

In the course of building their careers, Trump and Bannon discarded traditionalism in every way. Both men are divorced — Bannon three times, Trump twice. They have achieved their dreams precisely because society was wide open to outsiders, breaking traditional morality did not carry a stigma and American elites were actually not that powerful. Their stories are the stories of modern America. But their message to the country seems to be an old, familiar one: Do as I say, not as I do.

 

Remembering Herman Kahn–A Pioneer in Future Studies–Thinking the Unthinkable


February 6, 2017

Remembering Herman Kahn–A Pioneer in Future Studies

In Defense of Thinking

by Herman Kahn

Social inhibitions which reinforce natural tendencies to avoid thinking about unpleasant subjects are hardly uncommon.–Herman Kahn

https://hudson.org/research/2211-in-defense-of-thinking

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Futurist Herman Kahn with President Gerald Ford and Donald Rumsfeld

Seventy-five years ago white slavery was rampant in England. Each year thousands of young girls were forced into brothels and kept there against their will. While some of the victims had been sold by their families, a large proportion were seized and held by force or fraud. The victims were not from the lower classes only; no level of English society was immune to having its daughters seized. Because this practice continued in England for years after it had been largely wiped out on the Continent, thousands of English girls were shipped across the Channel to supply the brothels of Europe. One reason why this lasted as long as it did was that it could not be talked about openly in Victorian England; moral standards as to subjects of discussion made it difficult to arouse the community to necessary action. Moreover, the extreme innocence considered appropriate for English girls made them easy victims, helpless to cope with the situations in which they were trapped. Victorian standards, besides perpetuating the white slave trade, intensified the damage to those involved. Social inhibitions which reinforce natural tendencies to avoid thinking about unpleasant subjects are hardly uncommon.

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A Message  for Donald J. Tump

The psychological factors involved in ostrich-like behavior have parallels in communities and nations. Nevertheless, during the sixty years of the twentieth century many problems have come increasingly into the realm of acceptable public discussion. Among various unmentionable diseases, tuberculosis has lost almost all taint of impropriety; and venereal disease statistics can now be reported by the press. Mental illness is more and more regarded as unfortunate instead of shameful. The word “cancer” has lost its stigma, although the horror of the disease has been only partially abated by medical progress.

Despite the progress in removing barriers in the way of discussing diseases formerly considered shameful, there are doubtless thousands going without vital medical treatment today because of their inhibitions against learning, thinking, or talking about certain diseases. Some will not get treatment because they do not know enough to recognize the symptoms, some because they are consciously ashamed to reveal illness, and some because they refuse to think about their condition it seems too horrible to think about. It may now be possible to condemn unequivocally the extremes of Victorian prudery, but less doctrinaire forms of ostrichism must be considered with more care; they are, after all, often based on healthy instincts.

Everyone is going to die, but surely it is a good thing that few of us spend much time dwelling on that fact. Life would be nearly impossible if we did. If thinking about something bad will not improve it, it is often better not to think about it. Perhaps some evils can be avoided or reduced if people do not think or talk about them. But when our reluctance to consider danger brings danger nearer, repression has gone too far.

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In 1960 I published a book (pic above) that attempted to direct attention to the possibility of a thermonuclear war, to ways of reducing the likelihood of such a war, and to methods for coping with the consequences should war occur despite our efforts to avoid it. The book was greeted by a large range of responses, some of them sharply critical. Some of this criticism was substantive, touching on greater or smaller questions of strategy, policy, or research techniques. But much of the criticism was not concerned with the correctness or incorrectness of the views I expressed.

It was concerned with whether any book should have been written on this subject at all. It is characteristic of our times that many intelligent and sincere people are willing to argue that it is immoral to think and even more immoral to write in detail about having to fight a thermonuclear war.

By and large this criticism was not personal; it simply reflected the fact that we Americans and many people throughout the world are not prepared to face reality, that we transfer our horror of thermonuclear war to reports about the realities of thermonuclear war. In a sense we are acting like those ancient kings who punished messengers who brought them bad news. This did not change the news; it simply slowed up its delivery. On occasion it meant that the kings were ill informed and, lacking truth, made serious errors in judgment and strategy. In our times, thermonuclear war may seem unthinkable, immoral, insane, hideous, or highly unlikely, but it is not impossible.

To act intelligently we must learn as much as we can about the risks. We may thereby be able better to avoid nuclear war. We may even be able to avoid the crises that bring us to the brink of war. But despite our efforts we may some day come face to face with a blunt choice between surrender or war. We may even have war thrust upon us without being given any kind of choice. We must appreciate these possibilities. We cannot wish them away. Nor should we overestimate and assume the worst is inevitable. This leads only to defeatism, inadequate preparations (because they seem useless), and pressures toward either preventive war or undue accommodation.

Many terrible questions are raised when one considers objectively and realistically the problems created by the cold war and the armaments race. For some years I have spent my time on exactly these questions both in thinking about ways to prevent war, and in thinking about how to fight, survive, and terminate a war, should it occur. My colleagues and I have sought answers to such questions as these: How likely is accidental war? How can one make it less likely? How dangerous is the arms race today? What will it be like in the future? What would conditions be if a nuclear attack leveled fifty of America’s largest cities? Would the survivors envy the dead? How many million American lives would an American President risk by standing firm in differing types of crises? By starting a nuclear war? By continuing a nuclear war with the hope of avoiding surrender? How many lives would he risk? How is it most likely to break down? If it does break down, what will be the consequence? Are we really risking an end to all human life with our current system? If true, are we willing to risk it? Do we then prefer some degree of unilateral disarmament? If we do, will we be relying on the Russians to protect us from the Chinese? Will the world be more or less stable? Should we attempt to disarm unilaterally? If the answers to these last questions depend on the degree of damage that is envisaged, are we willing to argue that it is all right to risk a half billion or a billion people but not three billion?

There seem to be three basic objections to asking these types of questions:

1. No one should attempt to think about these problems in a detailed and rational way. 2. What thinking there is on these problems should be done in secret by the military exclusively, or at least by the government. 3. Even if some of this thinking must be done outside the government, the results of any such thought should not be made available to the public.

It is argued that thinking about the indescribable horror of nuclear war breeds callousness and indifference to the future of civilization in our planners and decision makers. It is true that detailed and dispassionate discussion of such questions is likely to look incredibly hard-hearted. It should also be clear, at least to thoughtful readers, that such questions must be considered. The reality may be so unpleasant that decision makers would prefer not to face it; but to a great extent this reality has been forced on them, or has come uninvited.

Thanks to our ever-increasing technology, we are living in a terrible and dangerous world; but, unlike the lady in the cartoon we cannot say, “Stop the world, I want to get off. We cannot get off. Even the most utopian of today’s visionaries will have to concede that the mere existence of modern technology involves a risk to civilization that would have been unthinkable twenty-five years ago. While we are going to make major attempts to change the nature of this reality, accepting great risks if necessary, most of us are unwilling to choose either a pronounced degree of unilateral disarmament or a preventive war designed to “settle” our problems one way or another. We therefore must face the facts that thermonuclear bombs now exist [and that] unless we are willing to abdicate our responsibilities, we are pledged to the maintenance of terrifying weapon systems with known and unknown, calculable and incalculable risks, unless and until better arrangements can be made.

If we are to have an expensive and lethal defense establishment, we must weigh all the risks and benefits. We must at least ask ourselves what are the likely and unlikely results of an inadvertent war, the possibilities of accident, irresponsibility, or unauthorized behavior on the other side as well as on our own.

A variation of the objection to careful consideration of these problems focuses on the personality of the thinker. This argument goes: Better no thought than evil thought; and since only evil and callous people can think about this, better no thought. Alternatively, the thinker’s motives are analyzed: This man studies war; he must like war much like the suspicion that a surgeon is a repressed sadist. Even if the charge were true, which in general it is not, it is not relevant. Like the repressed sadist who can perform a socially useful function by sublimating his urges into surgery, the man who loves war or violence may be able to successfully sublimate his desires into a careful and valuable study of war. It does indeed take an iron will or an unpleasant degree of detachment to go about this task. Ideally it should be possible for the analyst to have a disciplined empathy. In fact, the mind recoils from simultaneously probing deeply and creatively into these problems and being conscious at all times of the human tragedy involved.

This is not new. We do not continually remind the surgeon while he is operating of the humanity of his patient. We do not flash pictures of his patient’s wife or children in front of him. We want him to be careful, and we want him to be aware of the importance and frailty of the patient; we do not want him to be distracted or fearful. We do not expect illustrations in a book on surgery to be captioned: “A particularly deplorable tumor,” or “Good health is preferable to this kind of cancer.” Excessive comments such as, “And now there’s a lot of blood,” or “This particular cut really hurts,” are out-of-place although these are important things for a surgeon to know. To mention such things may be important. To dwell on them is morbid, and gets in the way of the information. The same tolerance needs be extended to thought on national security.

Some feel that we should consider these problems but view them with such awe and horror that we should not discuss them in normal, neutral, professional everyday language. I tend to disagree, at least so far as technical discussions and research are concerned. One does not do research in a cathedral. Awe is fine for those who come to worship or admire, but for those who come to analyze, to tamper, to change, to criticize, a factual and dispassionate, and sometimes even colorful, approach is to be preferred. And if the use of everyday language jars, that is all the more reason for using it. Why would one expect a realistic discussion of thermonuclear war not to be disturbing?

The very complexity of the questions raised is another reason why many object to their consideration. There is no doubt that if we reject hard thinking about alternatives in favor of uncritical acceptance of an extreme position we make the argument simpler and most of us prefer simple arguments.

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To summarize: Many people believe that the current system must inevitably end in total annihilation. They reject, sometimes very emotionally, any attempts to analyze this notion. Either they are afraid of where the thinking will lead them or they are afraid of thinking at all. They want to make the choice, between a risk and the certainty of disaster, between sanity and insanity, between good and evil; therefore, as moral and sane men they need no longer hesitate. I hold that an intelligent and responsible person cannot pose the problem so simply.

The last objection to detailed thought on thermonuclear war rests on the view that the subject is not only unpleasant but difficult. Many people feel that it is useless to apply rationality and calculation in any area dominated by irrational decision makers. This is almost comparable to feeling that it would be impossible to design a safety system for an insane asylum by rational methods, since, after all, the inmates are irrational. Of course, no governor or superintendent would consider firing the trained engineer, and turning the design over to one of the lunatics. The engineer is expected to take the irrationality of the inmates into account by a rational approach. Rational discussions of war and peace can explicitly include the possibility of irrational behavior.

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Of course, analysts may be misled by oversimplified models or misleading assumptions, and their competence readily attacked. However, except for irrelevant references to game theory and computers, such attacks are rare, and are usually so half-hearted that it is clear that their main motivation is not to expose incompetency. Given the difficulty of the problems, one would expect the critics to work more effectively on the obvious methodological problems and other weaknesses of present-day analysts.

Critics frequently refer to the icy rationality of the Hudson Institute, the Rand Corporation, and other such organizations. I’m always tempted to ask in reply, “Would you prefer a warm, human error? Do you feel better with a nice emotional mistake?” We cannot expect good discussion of security problems if we are going to label every attempt at detachment as callous, every attempt at objectivity as immoral. Such attitudes not only block discussion of the immediate issues, they lead to a disunity and fragmentation of the intellectual community that can be disastrous to the democratic dialogue between specialist and layman. The former tends to withdraw to secret and private discussions; the latter becomes more and more innocent, or naive, and more likely to be outraged if he is ever exposed to a professional discussion.

Finally, there is the objection that thermonuclear war should not, at least in detail, be discussed publicly. Even some who admit the usefulness of asking unpleasant questions have advocated raising them only in secret. One objector pointed out to me that if a parent in a burning building is faced with the problem of having to save one of two children, but not both, he will make a decision on the spur of the moment; it wouldn’t have made any difference if the parent had agonized over the problem ahead of time, and it would have been particularly bad to agonize in the presence of the children. This may be true, but other considerations dominate our nation’s choices; our capabilities for action and the risks we are assuming for ourselves and thrusting on others will be strongly influenced by our preparations both intellectual and physical.

Other reasons for this objection to public discussion range all the way from concern about telling the Soviets too much, and a fear of weakening the resolve of our own people, through a feeling that public discussion of death and destruction is distastefully comparable to a drugstore display of the tools, methods, and products of the mortician. Perhaps some or all of these objections to public discussion are well taken. I do not know for sure, but I think they are wrong.

They are wrong if we expect our people to participate rationally in the decision-making process in matters that are vital to their existence as individuals and as a nation. As one author has put it: “In a democracy, when experts disagree, laymen must resolve the disagreement.” One issue is whether it is better that the lay public, which will directly or indirectly decide policy, be more or less informed. A second issue is whether the discussion itself may not be significantly improved by eliciting ideas from people outside of official policy-making channels.

There are in any case at least two significant obstacles to full public debate of national security matters. The first, of course, is the constantly increasing problem of communication between the technologist and the layman, because of the specialization (one might almost say fragmentation) of knowledge. The other lies in the serious and paramount need to maintain security. Technical details of weapons’ capabilities and weaknesses must remain classified to some degree. Nonetheless, technical details may be of vital importance in resolving much broader problems. (For instance, who can presume to say whether the military advantages of atomic weapons testing outweigh the obvious political and physical disadvantages unless he knows what the military advantages are.) Moreover, those who feel that in some areas “security” has been unnecessarily extended must concede that in certain areas it has its place. To that extent the functioning of the democratic processes must be compromised with the requirements of the cold war and modem technology. Fortunately, non-classified sources often give reasonable approximations to the classified data. I would say that many of the agonizing problems facing us today can be debated and understood just about as easily without classified material as with provided one carefully considers the facts that are available.

It is quite clear that technical details are not the only important operative facts. Human and moral factors must always be considered. They must never be missing from policies and from public discussion. But emotionalism and sentimentality, as opposed to morality and concern, only confuse debates. Nor can experts be expected to repeat, “If, heaven forbid. ….,” before every sentence. Responsible decision makers and researchers cannot afford the luxury of denying the existence of agonizing questions. The public, whose lives and freedom are at stake, expects them to face such questions squarely and, where necessary, the expert should expect little less of the public.

*Herman Kahn, Founder, Hudson Institute

January 1st, 1962 Adapted from Thinking About the Unthinkable (Horizon Press), © Hudson Institute

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