Posts Tagged ‘National Review Online’

The Paradise of the Real

April 26, 2014

That is the title of  an article by Kevin D Williamson at National Review Online that should be required reading for anyone who has ever had a discussion about economics with a liberal. I can’t even begin to express how informative this article is and can only provide a few excerpts. You really have to read it all.

Word Problem No. 1: It’s lunchtime for Mrs.Piketty’s second-grade class. Bobby has 20 GummiWorms, and Jenny has 20 SweeTarts. Bobby and Jenny both like Gummi Worms and SweeTarts, but both like SweeTarts a little bit more, so Jenny trades three of her SweeTarts for four of Bobby’s GummiWorms. Both are happy with this trade, so they do it again. Question: How many pieces of candy do the two students end up with for dessert?

Word Problem No. 2: Mrs. Piketty is unhappy with the inequality in her second-grade classroom. Jenny’s 20 SweeTarts are valued much more highly than are Bobby’s 20 Gummi Worms, trading at a rate of 3:4. To even things out, Mrs.Piketty gives Bobby a voucher for seven SweeTarts. Question: How many pieces of candy do the two students end up with for dessert?

Word Problem No. 3: Mrs. Piketty’sattempt to solve the problem of inequality in her classroom has yielded unsatisfactory results. Bobby has his 20 Gummi Worms, and Jenny has her 20 SweeTarts, and SweeTarts still trade for Gummi Worms at a rate of 3:4. So Mrs. Piketty enacts some new policies. First, she hires Bobby as a hall monitor and decrees that hall monitors receive a minimum income of at least ten SweeTarts or the equivalent value in Gummi Worms. Also, she decrees that the high price of SweeTarts — three of them cost four Gummi Worms — is oppressive, but she’s not an all-the-way-to-the-wall outright red, either, more of a social-democrat type with a subscription to The Nation, so she simply enacts some counteracting price supports for Gummi Worms, decreeing that they cannot be traded at a price less than 13/15th of a SweeTart. She enlists Mrs. Yellen from the next classroom over to provide zero-interest financing for the purchase of up to fiveSweeTarts per lunch period, increases Bobby’s voucher allowance to nineSweeTarts per lunch period, and offsets that on her budget with a “fairness” tax of two SweeTarts per lunch period on Jenny, who is the sole member of her tax bracket. Question: How many pieces of candy do the two students end up with for dessert?

Answers: (1.) 40; (2.) 40; (3.) 40. There are only 40 pieces of candy, and rules, vouchers, taxes, zero-interest loans, redistribution, and mandates do not magic more pieces of candy into existence. If Jenny does not like the trading price imposed by Mrs. Piketty, she can keep all of her SweeTarts, while Bobby gets none. If Mrs.Piketty sends out her second-grade tactical SWAT unit to seize Jenny’s SweeTartsand put some serious asset-forfeiture and social-by-God-justice up in her smug little1-percenter face, Jenny can still leave her SweeTarts at home, eating them before or after school, and maybe even save them up in the hopes that her third-grade teacher next year will not be a howling moonbat.

Forty is forty is forty, 10 times 4, 8 times 5, 6.32455532034 squared, 23 plus 17. You can set the trading ratio of apples to oranges however you like, but if you have 20 of each, you have 40 pieces of fruit at any price — and the only way to bring more of it into the world is to plant trees, cultivate them, and pick the fruit.

The whole of progressive economics, as well social policy is to deny that two plus two equals four. Naturally the person who insists that two and two make four is a racist, bigoted, homophobic, sexist hater.

Here is something for those concerned about  increasing income inequality.

Measured by money, things look relatively grim for the American middle class and the poor. Men’s inflation-adjusted average wages peaked in 1973, and inflation-adjusted household incomes for much of the middle class have shown little or no growth in some time. The incomes of those at the top of the distribution (which is not composed of a stable group of individuals, political rhetoric notwithstanding) continue to pull away from those in the middle and those at the bottom. The difference between a CEO’s compensation and the average worker’s compensation continues to grow.

But much of that is written into the code. If, for example, you measure inequality by comparing the number of dollars it takes to land at a certain income percentile, with a hard floor on the low end (that being $0.00 per year in wages) but no ceiling on the top end, and if you have growth in the economy, then it is a mathematical inevitability that incomes at the top will continue to pull away from incomes at the bottom, for the same reason that any point on the surface of a balloon will get farther and farther away from the imaginary fixed point at its center as the balloon is inflated. 

The rich are getting richer but the poor are also getting richer. What people are complaining about amounts to the fact that the rich are getting richer faster than the poor. That may be a concern but it is not true that the rich are getting richer by stealing from the poor. When the economy grows, everyone benefits, some more than others but I would be wary of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs by pursuing policies of redistribution.

With economic models, we are a little like Neo in The Matrix, before he takes the red pill: We are not in the real world, but in a simulacrum of it, one that has rules, but rules that can be manipulated by those who understand the code. Economic models and analysis are very useful, but it’s worth taking the occasional red-pill tour, leaving behind the world of pure symbolism and taking a look at the physical economy.

That is an important point to remember.

The physical economy — the world of actual goods and services — looks radically different from the symbolic economy. Measured by practically any physical metric, from the quality of the food we eat to the health care we receive to the cars we drive and the houses we live in, Americans are not only wildly rich, but radically richer than we were 30 years ago, to say nothing of 50 or 75 years ago. And so is much of the rest of the world. That such progress is largely invisible to us is part of the genius of capitalism — and it is intricately bound up with why, under the system based on selfishness, avarice, and greed, we do such a remarkably good job taking care of one another, while systems based on sharing and common property turn into miserable, hungry prison camps.

We treat the physical results of capitalism as though they were an inevitability. In 1955, no captain of industry, prince, or potentate could buy a car as good as a Toyota Camry, to say nothing of a 2014 Mustang, the quintessential American Everyman’s car. But who notices the marvel that is a Toyota Camry? In the 1980s, no chairman of the board, president, or prime minister could buy a computer as good as the cheapest one for sale today at Best Buy. In the 1950s, American millionaires did not have access to the quality and variety of food consumed by Americans of relatively modest means today, and the average middle-class household spent a much larger share of its income buying far inferior groceries. Between 1973 and 2008, the average size of an American house increased by more than 50 percent, even as the average number of people living in it declined. Things like swimming pools and air conditioning went from being extravagances for tycoons and movie stars to being common or near-universal. In his heyday, Howard Hughes didn’t have as good a television as you do, and the children of millionaires for generations died from diseases that for your children are at most an inconvenience. As the first 199,746 or so years of human history show, there is no force of nature ensuring that radical material progress happens as it has for the past 250 years. Technological progress does not drive capitalism; capitalism drives technological progress — and most other kinds of progress, too.

Read those last paragraphs over and over until you get it. We are living in an age of unprecedented peace and prosperity. A lot of people have come to believe that this is the norm. It is not. The norm is poverty and misery. There is a lot more here on this but I will skip ahead a little.

For the conservative, people are anasset — in the coldest economic terms, a potentially productive unit of labor. For the progressive, people are aliability — a mouth to be fed, a problem in need of a solution. Understanding that difference of perspective renders understandable the sometimes wildly different views that conservatives and progressives have about things like employment policy. For the conservative, the value of a job is what the worker produces; for the progressive, the value of a job is what the worker is paid. Politicians on both sides frequently talk about jobs as though they were economic products rather than contributors to economic output, as though they were ends rather than means. The phrase “there aren’t enough jobs” is almost completely meaningless, but it is a common refrain.

Remember all the talk about overpopulation that was popular a couple of decades ago. The people who worry about that sort of thing see people only as blind consumers, stomachs that need to be fed. The truth is that a more people is a net asset since each person has two hands that can work and a brain that can think.

This next part is great.

For example, The Nation yesterday published a hilariously illiterate essay by Raúl Carrillo, who is a graduate student at Columbia, a Harvard graduate, and an organizer of something called the Modern Money Network, “an interdisciplinary educational initiative for understanding money, finance, law, and the economy.” All three of those institutions should be embarrassed. Mr. Carrillo is the sort of man who thinks that 40 pieces of candy can be divided and recombined in such a way as to arrive at a number greater than 40. His essay, “Your Government Owes You a Job,” argues that the federal government should create a guaranteed-job program, “becoming our employer of last resort.” Mr. Carrillo’s middle-school-quality prose must be read to be appreciated — “Would jobs for all skyrocket wages and prices, spurring inflation? Such unfounded belief holds the jobless hostage to hysteria” — but his thinking is positively elementary. It does, however, almost perfectly sum up the symbolism-over-literal-substance progressive worldview: “You need dollars to eat,” he writes, “and unless you steal the dollars, you generally have to earn them.”

But you do not need dollars to eat. You need food to eat. Experiment: Spend six months locked in room with nothing other than a very large pile of dollars; measure subsequent weight loss.

I sometimes hear commercials on the radio and on the internet stating that the economy is due to collapse and therefore I should buy gold. If we end up in a sort of Mad Max style post-apocalyptic society, gold is going to be completely useless. You can’t eat gold. A dollar bill is just a piece of green paper. It is the goods and services that the dollar can buy that is important. Don’t confuse wealth with money.

Mr. Carrillo’s intellectual failure is catastrophic, but it is basic to the progressive approach. Mr. Carrillo argues that a guaranteed-job program would “pay for itself,” mitigate deficits, empower women, strengthen communities, liberate us from Walmart and McDonald’s — I half expected him to claim that it would turn asandwich into a banquet. But the question he never quite gets his head around is: Jobs doing what? Americans in guaranteed government jobs “needn’t construct trains or solar panels,” he writes. Instead, they could be employed in “non-capital intensive” sectors such as “child-care, eldercare, and” — focus in here, kids — “community gardening.” Experiment: Offer for sale at a price of $250 a voucher entitling its bearer to one year’s worth of meals at McDonald’s, one year’s worth of groceries at Walmart, or one year’s worth of produce from your local community garden; compare sales figures.

Mr. Carrillo cites William F. Buckley Jr., who once recommended that welfare dependents be put to work tidying up parks. What Mr. Carrillo does not understand is that Mr. Buckley’s case was not an economic one but a moral one; he believed idleness to be a sin. (“I get satisfaction of three kinds,” he said. “One is creating something, one is being paid for it, and one is the feeling that I haven’t just been sitting on my ass all afternoon.”) Mr. Carrillo’s argument is an explicitly economic one, and it is illiterate. The economic difference between paying a man to engage in “community gardening” and paying a man to sit on his ass all afternoon is negligible, as good as the spade in the soil might be for his soul. Our food does not come from community gardens for the same reason that we do not generate our own electricity at home or build automobiles in a million mom-and-pop shops across the fruited plains.

I think this is what Cliven Bundy was trying to express with his controversial remarks.

The more removed you are from actually producing anything, the more likely you are to be a progressive.

The farther away we move from the physical economy into the manipulation of symbols through public policy, the more progressive ideas make apparent sense. And symbolism is more comfortable for progressives in general, owing to a disinclination to literally get their hands dirty. There is, for example, no environmentally clean way to produce energy, and the really productive ways of producing energy — like fracking for gas in Pennsylvania — give them the fantods. There is no environmentally clean way to build a man a house, either, or provide him with clean drinking water, or to heat that house, or to grow a crop of wheat, or to make that wheat into bread. If you think you can have health care and electric cars without steel mills and oil refineries, you are mistaken. But actually expanding physical production within our own political boundaries, for instance by building more pipelines to connect petroleum producers with petroleum refiners, scandalizes the progressives. Every smokestack is another Barad-dûr to them — even as they bemoan the loss of “good factory jobs,” the largely mythical former prevalence of which provided their political forebears with a deep bucket of solutions to throw at the problem of potentially bumptious poor people. They detest the economic use of undeveloped lands, whether for energy or timber or grazing cattle — as though beef comes from Trader Joe’s. They refuse to understand that if you want more oranges and apples, you have to plant some trees — maybe even cutting down some other trees to make room for them, or, angels and ministers of grace defend us, harassing a tortoise in the process.

 

Though there are many exceptions, the closer a man’s occupation takes him to the physical economy, the more skeptical he is of progressive central-planning ambitions. You do not meet a great many left-wing corn farmers, copper-mine operators, oil drillers, or house builders. You do meet a fair number of progressives on Wall Street and Silicon Valley and on the campus of Harvard utterly failing to teach the likes of Mr. Carrillo the fundamentals of economics, prose composition, or anything else. Follow that road to its terminus and you end up at the place in which the secret to national prosperity appears, self-evidently, to be stimulating demand, as though the nation could grow wealthier by wanting more rather than by making more, as though we could consume that which has not been produced.

What can I say? Read the whole thing again and again, and remember that two plus two equals four. No politics can change that in the slightest. You cannot just legislate prosperity.

 

 

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Sheriffs Against Gun Control

December 18, 2013

I read in the news this week that there are some county sheriffs in Colorado and New York that have decided to refuse to enforce the stricter gun control laws that their state legislatures have passed. The story can be found in the New York Times, but I first read about it in Charles C. W. Cooke’s article on National Review Online. Here is an excerpt from the New York Times story.

When Sheriff John Cooke of Weld County explains in speeches why he is not enforcing the state’s new gun laws, he holds up two 30-round magazines. One, he says, he had before July 1, when the law banning the possession, sale or transfer of the large-capacity magazines went into effect. The other, he “maybe” obtained afterward.

He shuffles the magazines, which look identical, and then challenges the audience to tell the difference.

“How is a deputy or an officer supposed to know which is which?” he asks.

Colorado’s package of gun laws, enacted this year after mass shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., has been hailed as a victory by advocates of gun control. But if Sheriff Cooke and a majority of the other county sheriffs in Colorado offer any indication, the new laws — which mandate background checks for private gun transfers and outlaw magazines over 15 rounds — may prove nearly irrelevant across much of the state’s rural regions.

Some sheriffs, like Sheriff Cooke, are refusing to enforce the laws, saying that they are too vague and violate Second Amendment rights. Many more say that enforcement will be “a very low priority,” as several sheriffs put it. All but seven of the 62 elected sheriffs in Colorado signed on in May to a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the statutes.

The resistance of sheriffs in Colorado is playing out in other states, raising questions about whether tougher rules passed since Newtown will have a muted effect in parts of the American heartland, where gun ownership is common and grass-roots opposition to tighter restrictions is high.

In New York State, where Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed one of the toughest gun law packages in the nation last January, two sheriffs have said publicly they would not enforce the laws — inaction that Mr. Cuomo said would set “a dangerous and frightening precedent.” The sheriffs’ refusal is unlikely to have much effect in the state: According to the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services, since 2010 sheriffs have filed less than 2 percent of the two most common felony gun charges. The vast majority of charges are filed by the state or local police.

In Liberty County, Fla., a jury in October acquitted a sheriff who had been suspended and charged with misconduct after he released a man arrested by a deputy on charges of carrying a concealed firearm. The sheriff, who was immediately reinstated by the governor, said he was protecting the man’s Second Amendment rights.

I really hate to say it but Andrew Cuomo is right and these sheriffs are wrong. While law enforcement does have some discretion in making priorities and allocating resources in  enforcing the law, they do not have the authority to decide what laws they wish to enforce, nor may they refuse to enforce laws duly made by the legislature. In our republic  it is the legislature’s job to make the laws and the judiciary’s job to decide on their constitutionality. If the people do not like the laws that the legislature makes, they can petition the legislature to change the laws or they may change the legislators, as has already been done in Colorado. By acting as they are, the sheriffs, however well intentioned, are setting a precedent for the replacing of a country governed by laws and the constitution into a country governed by the whims of despots. I might add the fact that the chief law enforcer of the country, the President, has been deciding for himself what laws to enforce may well be considered grounds for impeachment, however politically impossible it may be at this time. These sheriffs are making themselves part of the problem rather than the solution.

Mustafa Akyol

July 27, 2011
Taken from Mustafa Akyol site"

Mustafa Akyol

Over at National Review Online, Kathryn Jean Lopez interviewed Mustafa Akyol, a Turkish Muslim who wrote a book titled, Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty.  In his book and interview, Aykol makes the case for an Islam more receptive to Western ideas about liberty and freedom. He does not believe that it is necessary to abandon Islam in favor of westernization but argues that Islamic traditions and scriptures favor freedom.

LOPEZ: You ask, “Could authoritarian Muslims be just authoritarians who happen to be Muslim?” But isn’t it a huge obstacle that they have as much Islamic material to work with?

AKYOL: Sure, there is a lot of material in the classical Sharia that Muslim authoritarians of today can refer to — as they do. But I am showing that those materials were also products of authoritarians who happened to be Muslim a millennium ago. One of my basic arguments is that most authoritarian elements within the Sharia come from post-Koranic (i.e., “man-made”) parts of Islam. I also show that the more liberal strains within this “man-made” tradition were suppressed by the more rigid camp, which we face in the modern world, in its purest form, as Wahhabism.

So, essentially, he argues that Islam, in its purest form is not an authoritarian ideology, but rather that authoritarians in the early, formative years of Islamic law strongly encouraged the development of authoritarian strains in the laws and traditions of Islam. I like how he implies that the supposedly ultra-conservative Wahhabis are, in fact, innovators.

Naturally, he contends that the worst practices associated with Islam are based more in culture than in anything the Koran commands

LOPEZ: Honor killings and female-genital mutilation: Even if in your reading the Koran doesn’t prescribe them, does it matter when this seems to be a growing or widespread — or at least not uncommon — problem among Muslims?

AKYOL: When you show believers that what they consider God’s commandment is just the tradition of men, you have a better chance of convincing them to abandon the terrible elements in those traditions. (Jesus, too, criticized the Pharisees for holding fast to “the tradition of men,” while leaving “the commandment of God.”) Horrors such as honor killings and female-genital mutilation are such terrible traditions, which come from patriarchal taboos, not Islam. (Female-genital mutilation has no place in the Koran. As for honor, the Koran also considers adultery a grave sin, but finds the male and the female equally guilty, and yet I have never seen a boy or a man falling victim to an “honor killing.”)

LOPEZ: Is this book a call for a Muslim reformation?

AKYOL: Well, if that is a reformation with a capital R, as in Christianity, no. For, as I have said, we don’t have a central religious authority in Islam that we can reform. But I certainly argue for renewing our understanding of Islam, rather than preserving it as it was interpreted 1,000 years ago. The medieval division of the world into “House of War” and “House of Islam,” for example, is totally irrelevant today, for many Muslims feel much safer in lands that are ruled by non-Muslims.

Good point about honor killings. I have a feeling that  that practice would end quickly if it were applied to men. I am not sure how any Muslim scholar could reliably differentiate between the teachings of God and the teachings of men. As far as I know, everything in the Sharia is supposed to be of God.

It is interesting that many Muslims would feel safer in non-Muslim countries. Back during the Crusades, many of the Muslim population of the Holy Lands preferred to live under the rule of the Crusaders, to the disgust of Muslim chroniclers. It would seem that the Crusader tax collectors were not as rapacious.

LOPEZ: Should Muslims and non-Muslims be able to work together on the issue of religious freedom? We are facing some serious threats to individual conscience rights of religious people here in the U.S. Could there be a real coalition?

AKYOL: Of course. Actually, many pious Muslims will be positively surprised to learn that there are Westerners who really care about religion and want to cooperate for the rights of all religious believers. For historical and geographic reasons, most Muslims know the West only from Europe, which is, as you know, thoroughly secular. That is, in fact, one of the reasons that many pious Muslims reject any reform in their tradition. Once a prominent Islamic intellectual in Turkey told me, “We don’t want to begin with concessions, in order to end up like those godless people in Amsterdam.” He probably would find more common ground with people from America’s Bible Belt.

I thing that Akyol is absolutely right about this. I don’t imagine that our incredibly vulgar popular culture is winning us many friends in that part of the world. Conservative Christians and Muslims probably would get on well together if it weren’t for the ‘kill the infidel’ thing and the anti-Semitism.

LOPEZ: You don’t appear to have a problem with Sharia courts in England. This isn’t a matter of religious intolerance but justice and practicality: How can a country with dual legal systems possibly work?

AKYOL: I look at that as I look at the Halakha of Orthodox Jews. The British “Sharia courts” actually evolved from the same arbitration courts that Orthodox Jews also have used for decades. And their scope is limited to issues such as settling financial and family disputes. If they violated any basic human right, such as ordering a corporal punishment, I would certainly oppose them. But there is no harm, I believe, in allowing conservative communities to settle some of their disputes according to their traditions, as far as they remain under the umbrella of the law of the land. This is not a dual legal system, which had its merits in the pre-modern times, but a sub-level system under a single national law.

Another example might be canon law, which governs the Catholic Church. I don’t the precedent though and I think it is only a matter of time before Sharia courts in Britain begin to demand jurisdiction in criminal cases.

LOPEZ: The issue of Israel is one that seems to be an irresolvable one in the Middle East. As a Muslim, do you believe there is a realistic peace plan?

AKYOL: Sure. It is commonly known as the two-state solution. And, on both sides, there are people who would settle with that solution, along with people who have more maximalist goals. On both sides, I support the minimalists.

Here, let me also add that I don’t see the Palestinian–Israeli conflict as a religious one: It is a land dispute between two nations. Yes, Jerusalem is sacred for Muslims, as it is to Jews and Christians, but, as a Muslim, I am not horrified to see it under the Israeli flag as long as the Dome of Rock is open to Muslim worship — as it is now. I value Palestinians’ claim to East Jerusalem as well, but out of a respect for their national aspirations, not any theological necessity.

He’s right but he misses the essential point. Until the Muslim world abandons the Islamic version of the Brezhnev Doctrine, Muslim territories must be Muslim forever, Palestinian-Israeli conflict is going to continue.

LOPEZ: You’re a fan of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, but he’s moved the country a little more Islamist than some would like, hasn’t he?

AKYOL: Well, I would not define myself as a “fan” of Erdoğan, though I value the political change that Turkey has gone through under his party, the AKP. I also see the AKP as the most important experiment of democracy within the Muslim cultural sphere. (The Turkey before AKP, which was kept hyper-secular by a bunch of sinister generals, did nothing but give a bad name among Muslims to the secular state.)

Meanwhile, though I disagree with Michael Rubin and his very pessimistic outlook on Turkey, I do see problems in Erdoğan’s style, such as his confrontational tone and intolerance of criticism. But these are issues with his personality, and problems with Turkish political leaders in general. (As I once said, “AKP is not too Islamic, it is too Turkish.”) Personally speaking, my ideal Turkish leader is President Abdullah Gül, whose worldview is similar to Erdoğan’s, but whose tone is much more conciliatory, modest, and nuanced.

LOPEZ: What was your lesson from seeing your father in jail for writing? It might have made some young boys look for a different career.

AKYOL: I think it showed the eight-year-old me that there are tyrants in the world, and they can hurt your beloved ones for no reason. It also taught me, as I figured later, that secularism is no guarantee for freedom or democracy. (It was the all-secular Turkish military, after all, which imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Turks and tortured many of them.)

Here is another point: In the past decade, Americans have repeatedly heard the stories of ex-Muslims such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, explaining how they, in their childhood, were oppressed by some ruthless cleric in a radical madrassa. My story reminds them that Muslim kids can be oppressed by some ruthless officer in a secular garrison as well. When people see both of these stories, perhaps, they might feel that the problem with tyranny is not a direct problem with Islam.

LOPEZ: Does it worry you that there is as much court action by the Turkish government against journalists as there is?

AKYOL: Yes, it does worry me. But I was more worried in the ’90s, when death squads, on the orders of Turkey’s overbearing generals, were assassinating journalists. What I mean is that press freedom has always been attacked in Turkey, and things are actually better now than they were before. This should not minimize today’s problems, but it should put them in context. The basic trouble is that we have illiberal laws about “insulting state officials” or “spreading terrorist propaganda,” and courts are often aggressive in executing them.

Moreover, the recent impression that whoever criticizes the AKP goes into jail is simply not true. A few journalists are in custody (wrongly in my view) for allegedly taking part in coup schemes, whereas most others are accused for pro-PKK propaganda, or membership in Marxist-Leninist terror groups.

LOPEZ: The murder last year of Catholic bishop Luigi Padovese doesn’t suggest everything is as peachy for Christians in Turkey as you paint it, does it?

AKYOL: No, it is not peachy at all. Not just Bishop Padovese, but also Fr. Andrea Santoro and three Protestant missionaries were brutally killed in Turkey in the past decade. But please note that these murders were committed by ultra-nationalists, not Islamists. (In Turkey, the Islamist movement has been largely peaceful, whereas violence has been a hallmark of Kurdish separatists, Turkish fascists, and the Communists.) It might be worthwhile to note that some of the people suspected of arranging the killing of the three missionaries in eastern Turkey were also the same people who are on trial for conspiring a military coup against the AKP.

It is a good, and forgotten,  point that the military rulers of Turkey were not exactly paragons of human rights. I am far less confident than Aykol is about Erdogan and the AKP. I think there is a good chance that Turkey will go the way of Iran under the AKP, though I’m sure Aykol knows far more about Turkish politics than I do.

LOPEZ: Would you encourage full transparency in the building of mosques? Would you be supportive of communities asking questions — such as, who is funding this? — before permits are issued? A board member who supports Hamas, for example, would understandably be an issue.

AKYOL: I would care more about the content of the preaching in a mosque, than about its financial resources. As for supporting Hamas, well, I condemn the terrorist actions of that organization, but I see that it is also a political party with hospitals and charities. (Had they been more strategic about it, they might have made the IRA/Sinn Fein division that the Irish nationalists did.) So, any support for terrorist acts is of course intolerable, but holding someone responsible for donating to, say, a Hamas-related hospital or kindergarten, and opposing a mosque for simply getting money from that same donor, might be too much.

In Turkey, we have similar questions regarding the PKK, the Kurdish terrorist group. My take is to condemn the violent acts of the PKK, but also to understand that it has a political wing and many social networks, which I don’t oppose. I actually think that tolerating the peaceful side of a quasi-militant movement might be a better strategy for its moderation, rather than blocking it by all means.

I am not for letting Hamas off the hook quite so easily as that. Bad people do good deeds for all sorts of reasons, good public relations, salving consciences, etc. Hitler was nice to his dog and his secretary.

I hope that Mustafa Akyol is successful in his efforts, both for the West’s sake and the Middle East’s. I can’t say that I am very optimistic though and I think that he downplays just how difficult modernizing Islam is likely to be. At the very least the Sunni Muslims are going to have to reopen the door of Ijtihad, or Islamic jurisprudence that was closed around a thousand years ago. This will not be easy or safe as anyone who proposes new interpretations of the Koran or Sharia stands a good chance of being labeled an apostate or heretic.


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