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Political Ignorance and Muslim perceptions of 9/11 and the War on Terror:

Both the blogosphere and the press have noted the important recent Pew survey of American Muslim opinion. Ali Eteraz makes some good points about it in this post. On the positive side, the survey provides extensive evidence that most American Muslims are assimilated, opposed to Muslim religious extremism, and generally happy with their lives in the United States. In these respects, they differ greatly from their co-religionists in most majority-Muslim countries and in Western Europe.

However, there are some skunks at this otherwise wonderful garden party. To me, the most worrisome is not the widely cited finding that 13% of American Muslims support suicide bombing in at least "rare" instances. It is the fact that only 40 percent agree that "groups of Arabs" committed the 9/11 attacks, while 28% rejected this proposition, and 32% refused to give an opinion. Public opinion researchers have long recognized that survey respondents sometimes conceal views that are considered socially unacceptable. At least some of the 32% who said that they had no opinion in fact agree with the 28% who believe that someone other than Arab terrorists committed the 9/11 atrocities. Ignorance on this point is more than a detail. If you believe that 9/11 wasn't really perpetrated by Arab Muslim terrorists, then you are unlikely to support any efforts to retaliate against the perpetrators and track them down. Any such efforts will seem like unjustified persecution of Muslims. It is not, surprising, therefore, that a 48% plurality of respondents to the survey oppose the war in Afghanistan, as compared to 35% who support it (despite divisions over the war in Iraq, polls show that non-Muslim Americans overwhelmingly support the war in Afghanistan).

This kind of ignorance is far more prevalent among Muslims in other countries than in the US. As I note in this article(pg. 275), surveys taken in majority Muslim countries have a much higher rate of respondents who reject the proposition that the 9/11 attacks were perpetrated by groups of Arabs. That was the answer given by 89% of Kuwaitis, 86% of Pakistanis, and 58% of Lebanese, among others. Many Muslims in Western Europe hold similar views. Pew's 2005 international survey of Muslim opinion (pg. 5) found that 56 percent of British Muslims, 46 percent of French Muslims, and 44 percent of Spanish Muslims also believe that "groups of Arabs" did not carry out the 9/11 attacks.

As I have argued in much of my academic work, ordinary citizens have strong incentives to be "rationally ignorant" about politics. Because there is very little chance that any one vote will be decisive to the outcome of an election, there is little incentive to invest time and energy in acquiring political information. Muslims are far from unique in this regard. But it is also rational for citizens to do a poor job of analyzing the information they do have, a point I made in the article linked above and that Bryan Caplan drives home in his excellent recent book. Because individual citizens do not pay any cost for clinging to false beliefs about politics, they are likely to embrace emotionally satisfying falsehoods rather than search assiduously for the truth. Bryan calls this "rational irrationality."

At least in the case of Muslims living in the West, I suspect that rational irrationality is more responsible for ignorance about 9/11 than pure rational ignorance. Even the most ignorant person living in the West has likely been exposed to numerous news reports identifying Al Qaeda as the perpetrators of 9/11. Meanwhile, there is no evidence supporting the proposition that any other group was responsible. Muslims who persist in rejecting the evidence probably do so because they are unwilling to believe that their own coreligionists perpetrated such a horrendous atrocity, and are unwilling to give objective consideration to evidence that goes against their preconceptions.

Again, Muslims are far from unique in refusing to give a fair shake to evidence that undercuts their political or religious views. Numerous studies show that this is a trait that cuts across ethnic, religious, and ideological lines (I cite some in my article linked above). Muslims are not even unique in their reluctance to believe that members of their own group could be responsible for terrible atrocities. For decades, the majority of white Americans refused to believe that Jim Crow segregation and other policies instituted by whites were responsible for the plight of African-Americans.

Nonetheless, Muslim ignorance about 9/11 is an important and underrated problem, one that makes it far more difficult to attract Muslim support for the War on Terror and for efforts to curb radical Islamism. Unfortunately, there may not be any easy solution. Still, we should start by recognizing the scope of the problem and the degree to which it exacerbates anti-Americanism among Muslims.

UPDATE: The link to Ali Eteraz's post on the Pew Survey seems to be dead. I am leaving it up in case the people at Huffington Post (where Etaraz blogs) restore it.

UPDATE #2: Thanks to commenter "Serenity Now," we now have a working link to the Eteraz post.

UPDATE #3: Some commenters on this post have been trying to downplay the significance of the data I cite by pointing out that various other groups are also ignorant about important issues. A few of the analogies they make seem apt, while others are much less so. In any case, I don't deny (and in fact emphasized in the post) that rational ignorance and irrationality about politics are common among many groups. The fact that other groups are ignorant about many issues doesn't mean that Muslim ignorance about 9/11 isn't a serious problem.

Richard Nieporent (mail):
To me, the most worrisome is not the widely cited finding that 13% of American Muslims support suicide bombing in at least "rare" instances. It is the fact that only 40 percent agree that "groups of Arabs" committed the 9/11 attacks, while 28% rejected this proposition

This statement ignores the existence of the "9/11 Truthers". While the percentage of Americans who don't believe that idiocy is larger than 40%, it does enable Muslims to engage in an understandable but irresponsible denial of the fact that it was members of their religion that carried out the 9/11 attack. I also think that it is quite worrisome that 13% of American Muslims believe that suicide bombing is acceptable in any instance. Would 13% of any other group of Americans condone wanton murder for any reason?
5.26.2007 9:03am
Ilya Somin:
This statement ignores the existence of the "9/11 Truthers". While the percentage of Americans who don't believe that idiocy is larger than 40%, it does enable Muslims to engage in an understandable but irresponsible denial of the fact that it was members of their religion that carried out the 9/11 attack.

It is highly unlikely that an obscure bunch of wackos whom most American Muslims (like most other Americans) have probably never even heard of explains these poll results. Certainly, the Truthers have not had much impact on non-Muslim opinion in the US. If I recally correctly, well over 90% of non-Muslim Americans agree that Arabs carried out the 9/11 attacks.

I also think that it is quite worrisome that 13% of American Muslims believe that suicide bombing is acceptable in any instance. Would 13% of any other group of Americans condone wanton murder for any reason?

I agree that it's worrisome. But the poll question did not ask about "wanton murder," but rather about "suicide bombing" of civilian targets in order to "defend Islam." In very extreme cases, I bet that at least some significant number non-Muslim Americans would be willing to countenance violence against civilians if it was the only possible way to preserve a cherished value. I don't defend such attitudes, but they are less worrisome (because less widespread) than 9/11 denialism.
5.26.2007 9:41am
Enoch:
If I recally correctly, well over 90% of non-Muslim Americans agree that Arabs carried out the 9/11 attacks.

At least one-third of Americans believe the Truther version of events or have "suspicions" about government knowledge / involvement in 9/11, so it is difficult to argue that American Muslims are unusually ignorant or conspiracy-minded. Who can say how many of these people got their opinions from the Truthers, but the fact is that their version of events resonates with a lot of people even if they haven't had much direct impact themselves.
5.26.2007 10:03am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
I see two items not addressed here:

One is that the belief that Muslims didn't do 9/11 is not merely that they didn't do it. That would leave the identity of the perps in doubt. For those people, the identity of the perps is not in doubt. It was Bush. Non-Muslims who think Bush did it do not--from the ones I've talked to and some I've heard--really in their rational hearts think Bush did it. It just makes them feel good to say so and on a certain superficial level they think they believe it. They love to say it. It's like bumperstickering something outrageous. In your face!
(I'm not a shrink, but I have let people ramble on while choking my own need to yell.)
Muslims are probably not as afflicted with BDS as the morons who believe the Truthers.
They believe it because they can't believe Muslims would do it, and it fits with the general proposition that Muslims are always the sinned against.
And, as noted, it makes gathering intel against domestic terrorism tougher.
The other is what Muslims think of as "the faith". There have been riots over a depressing litany of things whose analogous offenses against Christianity or Judaism generate letters to the editor. I read a book long ago about a Turkish diplomat whose youth was spent in the Balkans "fighting for the Faith". Given the dates, that would have been prior to WW I, trying to retain Ottoman occupation of Christian countries. But they think of it as fighting for the Faith. The UN removal of Indonesian power from East Timor after the genocide there was considered by 10% of Indonesians polled as justifying the Bali bombing--the Aussies led the effort--as a defense against those who would attack the Faith. Ten percent weren't primarily worried about Indonesian sovereignty or white colonialism or the usual cant. Their freedom to kill Christians on East Timor was theFaith.
If we don't understand that, for Muslims, the Faith includes a good deal more of their world than Christianity or Judaism does for us, we won't understand some things we need to understand.
5.26.2007 10:41am
Tom Cross (www):
According to this poll 70% of Americans believed Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the 9/11 attacks during the early days of the present conflict in Iraq. Most people in America have an irrational view of 9/11 and War on Terrorism. American Muslims are not an exception.
5.26.2007 10:44am
Blar (mail) (www):
Those foolish Muslims. Fortunately, most Americans know that Saddam did it. Unfortunately, as Ilya points out, those who don't believe that he was a perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks have been unlikely to support our efforts to retaliate.
5.26.2007 10:48am
neurodoc:
While the percentage of Americans who don't believe that idiocy is larger than 40%, it does enable Muslims to engage in an understandable but irresponsible denial of the fact that it was members of their religion that carried out the 9/11 attack.

This is "understandable"? I am able to "understand" many beliefs that I myself do not hold, e.g., the notion that life on earth only goes back 6,000 or so years. And I recognize how powerful a psychological defense "denial" can be, allowing individuals to avoid dealing with unpleasant realities. But I just cannot fathom how at least 28%, and probably a much greater %age, of American Muslims can believe that "groups of Arabs" did not commit the 9/11 attacks. Do they doubt Osama bin Laden?

After the US put a man on the moon, I remember there were reports of a Muslim cleric in Afghanistan telling his followers that what they were hearing on their transistor radios about this accomplishment were all lies, it being impossible for anyone to reach the moon given that that heavenly body was as far up and away as 500 mountains piled atop one another. At the time, the primitivism that could not accept as true our space program's remarkable feat was mildly amusing to me. Almost 40 years later, with the events of intervening years, especially those happening or originating in the Muslim world in more recent times, I no longer find the "denial" by substantial numbers of people of this world's realities even mildly amusing. And while the non-Muslim world is not free of the likes of "9/11 Truthers," the number of such crazies among non-Muslims is miniscule in comparison to the number among Muslims, including those Muslims living in the US. Furthermore, there aren't many non-Muslims of the crazy or non-crazy sort who are willing to accept suicide bombing as legitimate, while there are substantial numbers of Muslims in this country who are, and many, many more Muslims outside the US who are.

I presume, perhaps wrongly, that "understandable" roughly equates with "not surprisingly." Though I am by nature somewhat cynical and I have some professional acquaintanceship with the major psychopathologies that require medical interventions, what large numbers of Muslims take to be true is surprising as hell to me, and very disturbing given the implications. That so many Germans bought into the repugnant and pernicious Nazi mythology is not so schocking to me, while the buy in of so many Muslims to their own special truth-denying, repugnant and pernicious beliefs absolutely nonplussed.
5.26.2007 11:01am
Richard Nieporent (mail):
But the poll question did not ask about "wanton murder," but rather about "suicide bombing" of civilian targets in order to "defend Islam."

Ilya, as far as I am concerned that is the definition of wanton murder.
5.26.2007 11:08am
Tom Cross (www):
Another hole in this bucket:

Perhaps the problem is that the question centers around the terrorist's race rather than their ideology... While Americans tend to cast everyone from the middle east as "Arab" I think people who are actually from the region have a more detailed view of the various ethnicities. Perhaps some of the terrorists were Persian? I don't really know. Perhaps some of the respondants don't either.

I also might suggest that some might have been offended by the question. Putting myself in this postion, I imagine a black guy walking up to me in the mall and handing me a survey which asks questions like: "Do you agree that groups of Whites bombed the Oklahoma Federal Building?"

Its an inappropriate question because it implies a relationship between race and extremeism. I might have said I disagreed just to be a jerk about it.

Also, to those in this thread that did express concern that 13% of Muslims support suicide bombing in at least "rare" instances, are there circumstances in which you would support nuclear bombing? Do you think the nuclear bombing of Japan in World War II was justified or do you think it was a war crime?
5.26.2007 11:20am
Steve Lubet (mail):
Very interesting post, Ilya, but please reconsider the following:


Public opinion researchers have long recognized that survey respondents sometimes conceal views that are considered socially unacceptable. At least some of the 32% who said that they had no opinion in fact agree with the 28% who believe that someone other than Arab terrorists committed the 9/11 atrocities.


That is accurate, of course, but isn't it equally possible that Muslim respondents are concealing the "socially unacceptable" view (within parts of the Mustlim community) that 19 Arabs were in fact responsible for 9/11? In other words, the myth on non-responsiblity is more more socially acceptable than the well-recognized truth, so survey respondents repeat the myth (or don't deny it), even though they don't really believe it.

I'm not saying that's what happened, but I think it is at least a plausible explanation for the U.S. survey results.
5.26.2007 11:20am
John Burgess (mail) (www):
Ilya: I think you underestimate the attraction of off-the-wall theories to be used to justify pre-existing beliefs. While I find this to be a global problem, it most certainly exists in the Arab world to a great extent.

I know very well educated Arabs, with 10 or more years of education in American schools, who will grasp at comments by figures with at least some authority to justify their prejudices. People like David Duke, who gained great 'legitimacy' through his book publications and his running for elective office, will be quoted to demonstrate that at least some American 'authorities' have qualms about Jews.

A professor from any US university, a person who is able to command media attention, any politician, will be presumed to have great--and perhaps hidden--knowledge of the 'real facts'. Polls that 'show' that a significant minority of Americans believe that the USG was behind 9/11 will be cited as proof positive that surface appearances only conceal the truth.

Rather than moral weakness, however, I see this as the result of exceptionally bad education systems that have dominated the region. And that's when there are even education systems worth mentioning. Public schooling, for instance, was first started in the 1950s in Saudi Arabia; in the 1960s in Yemen.
5.26.2007 11:28am
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
Where did I see the headline: "66% OF MIDWESTERN LUTHERANS REJECT SUICIDE BOMBINGS, BEHEADINGS, AS DEFENSE OF THEIR FAITH"
5.26.2007 11:32am
neurodoc:
Richard Aubrey: They believe it because they can't believe Muslims would do it, and it fits with the general proposition that Muslims are always the sinned against.

Then there are those "moderate" Muslims who "agree that 'groups of Arabs' committed the 9/11 attacks," and will freely acknowledge that beheadings and the like committed by still other Arabs are unconscionable barbarities, but will maintain that the perpretrators of those crimes are not Muslims. Islam, you see, is a religion of tolerance and peace, and a true follower of Islam does not act inconsistent with its most noble precepts. (You are supposed to ignore, deny, overlook, understand in context, or whatever the not so noble ones.) In the eyes of many "moderate" Muslims, someone who choses to act inconsistent with those precepts, as they are understood by the "moderates," cannot be counted a Muslim, though such individuals may claim to be acting in the name of Islam, be able to recite the Koran from start to finish, be directed and praised by Muslim clerics, etc.

Neat, huh, to define away the problem of "bad" Muslims, and thus deny any responsibility for co-religionists. And it is not inconsequential that so many "moderates" approach do so. (Has the volume or frequency of denunciations by "moderate" Muslims of the "bad" ones been too great for anyone?)
5.26.2007 12:00pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Ah, Tom Cross nails it -- I am simply astonished that the poster could've written without taking the "Saddam helped execute 9/11" finding into account. If I were a Muslim, I would assume that prejudice against my religion were the explanation for the omission.
5.26.2007 12:31pm
jimbino (mail):
It seems to me that the majority of my fellow Amerikans are in denial over the fact, as mentioned by Ron Paul, that past and present Amerikan policy, like 60 years of irrational support of Israel, is in part responsible for the worldwide animus against the USSA.

Henry Kissinger is not considered a war criminal throughout South America for nothing.

Irrationality among Amerikans is more dangerous than the muslim kind, because Amerikans have the bomb.
5.26.2007 12:48pm
Jacob (mail):
Unfortunately, there may not be any easy solution. Still, we should start by recognizing the scope of the problem and the degree to which it exacerbates anti-Americanism among Muslims.
Another modest but important start might be not throwing "assimilated" around, or at least giving it some sort of specific definition (like the Pew Study tried to do). A desire to take part in American society and embrace an American culture of openness and tolerance is important. A word that is also likely to mean (to many Muslim Americans) "abandon all trappings of your heritage, especially those different enough to make the rest of us feel uncomfortable" is less helpful. That's a higher hill to scale, and grouping those Muslim-Americans hesitant to satisfy that requirement with those who support religious extremism might also exacerbate problems, no?
5.26.2007 1:10pm
Andrew Okun:
Ilya,

I think the strikingly high 32% figure having "no opinion" could conceal a number of interesting possibilities and I actually think the "really believe 9/11 was not done by Arabs" is one of the lesser ones.

An American Muslim who is assimilated, tolerant and pleased with life here, and yet resentful of the west's role in Palestine and the Middle East generally, may know just who is responsible for 9/11 but not be willing to say it out of a general sense of loyalty to Muslims and the Arab World. Going through that respondent's mind when asked that might be "You know damn well who did it. Why are you asking me? Because I'm Muslim and you want me to say it out loud? Go f yourself because I'm not giving you the satisfaction."
5.26.2007 1:12pm
Fub:
Ilya Somin wrote (in the original article):

Muslims who persist in rejecting the evidence probably do so because they are unwilling to believe that their own coreligionists perpetrated such a horrendous atrocity, and are unwilling to give objective consideration to evidence that goes against their preconceptions.
The phenomenon is an example of the very common No True Scotsman fallacy of reasoning, rhetoric or argumentation. It is a fallacious way of thinking that people generally, not just Muslims, often engage. In that limited sense it is understandable.

Of course, no true thinker would ever engage it.
5.26.2007 2:04pm
R Gould-Saltman (mail):
Possible further explanation occurs to me as to some of the results regarding the item "groups of Arabs committed the 9/11 attacks":
if he believes that, e.g. Afghan-based Taliban elements carried out the attacks, it does not seem impossible that a thoughtful Muslim might reject the identification of the attackers as Arab, regardless of how he identifies the attackers' religious beliefs. Just as some Christian Americans appeared, in the wake of 9/11, to be incapable of distinguishing not only between Sunnis and Shiites, but among Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Druze, and anyone else from any country where men wear beards and turbans or keffia, some respondents may be reacting to the characterization of the attackers as specifically "Arab", for better or worse, rather than the identifiction as "Muslim".
5.26.2007 2:08pm
LTEC (mail) (www):
I strongly disagree with the assertion: "Muslims who persist in rejecting the evidence probably do so because they are unwilling to believe that their own coreligionists perpetrated such a horrendous atrocity."

The typical "holocaust denier" does not deny the holocaust because he is horrified by it and therefore doesn't want to think that people he has some sympathy for (Germans) could possibly have done it. Rather, he really feels "next time we'll finish the job!" His denial of it is really part of his support for it.

The same is true of people who deny the standard explanation of what happened on 9/11. On some days they will say,"9/11 was an understandable reaction by Muslims who were justifiably upset with U.S. foreign policy" and on other days they will say "Bush is responsible for this horrible event". Their denial of it is part of their support for it.
5.26.2007 2:16pm
neurodoc:
Great parody of the Lunatic Left, jimbino.
5.26.2007 2:27pm
neurodoc:
Blar, just en arguendo for a moment: if someone believed Saddam did have some connection, however remote, to the 9/11 attacks, that wouldn't give them reason to deny to themselves or others that "'groups of Arabs' committed the 9/11 attacks," would it? Saddam was an Arab, was he not, as were all we know to have been directly or indirectly involved in them, right? (BTW, are you another of those who refers to this country as "Amerika"? Or do you come at apologies for Muslims from a different political direction from jimbino, who seems unaware of the fact that the not so rational Pakistanis managed to steal nuclear technology and manufacture atomic weapons for themselves?)
5.26.2007 2:41pm
neurodoc:
Tom Cross, the holiday weekend is going by and I really must get on the road before more of it passes. So quickly...

My response to Blar's post of 9:48AM will do for your similar one of 9:44AM too. Then, in response to your question at 10:20AM ("Do you think the nuclear bombing of Japan in World War II was justified or do you think it was a war crime?"), yes, the nuclear bombing of Japan to put an end to the war of aggression that country launched against us and spare the lives of the >100,000 Americans who would have died had we invaded Japan was justified and not a war crime. Now, I in turn will ask you if you think responses like mine to your analogizing Truman's decision to those of the Islamicists responsible for the suicide bombing somehow mitigates the approval by at least 13% of Muslims in this country of suicide bombing as a tactic?
5.26.2007 2:52pm
neurodoc:
To the Left: Please send over more worthy interlocutors to challenge us.
5.26.2007 2:53pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Well, I don't believe in polls, but in this case we don't need a poll.

On the question of suicide bombings, for example, in my version of civilization, suicide bombers, if they existed at all, would be a wasting asset.

As we can see by picking up our daily newspaper, that isn't the case in Islam.

Richard Aubrey sez: 'If we don't understand that, for Muslims, the Faith includes a good deal more of their world than Christianity or Judaism does for us, we won't understand some things we need to understand.'

That comes pretty close to my contention that the only question an infidel should be interested in asking a Muslim is: do you accept or reject the doctrine that god has decreed that the whole world will come under Islam?

Any Muslim who cannot answer 'reject' cannot be 'assimilated.'
5.26.2007 2:59pm
Andrew Okun:
Why are folks here and elsewhere discussing "suicide" bombing (and indeed why did the survey even ask about "suicide" bombing at all) as though it is something tremendously moral different than bombing at all.

It is operationally and tactically different, giving the bombers a slightly higher chance of success in a given attack at the cost of additional casualties. And it is psychologically different ... the political program of a terrorist group as well as its recruiting practices and its negotiating power, should that arise, will differ based on broader perceptions about suicidal commitment of its members.

But morally? I don't see the difference between blowing up a bus full of innocent people by sitting in it strapped to a bomb and blowing the same bus up by leaving a bomb under a seat and scurrying away. Could the mass murders by German fascists (oh, all right, by Stalinists too) have been a whit worse or better for that matter if the murderers had killed themselves in the process? Our own culture is perfectly capable of lauding suicidal acts as long as they are effective. I can't count how many movies have ended with some brave, usually American, hero tossing his own life away to save the day. Indepedence Day, Armageddon, Deep Impact, (Titan AE to teach our kids the lesson.) Kamikaze pilots were terrifying to us, but everyone was struck with admiration by the pilots who flew Devestators to pretty much certain death at Midway. We tend to judge these acts by their effectiveness and their intention.

Are jihadists worse than the IRA or ETA because some of them die during their attacks? I don't think so. They're all terrible, and it's because they're murderous, not because some of them are suicidal.
5.26.2007 3:18pm
jvarisco (www):
What's interesting is that only 44% of black Muslims think Arabs did 9/11 and 9% view al Qaeda favorably. Across the board much worse than other native-born Muslims. And keep in mind that 36% of the American public as a whole (about the same number as think Arabs did not do 9/11) thinks it was a conspiracy.

13% is hardly a lot. There are a lot of crazy people out there. And it is radically different to support suicide bombing against Israel or Russia (Chechnya) as opposed to against the United States. What percentage of the Irish population supports mail bombings? I'm going to assume it's quite a bit more than 13%, especially considering that Sinn Fein got 25% of the vote. Britain is our ally too - I don't see much difference justifying violence against it but not Israel, which we don't even have a formal commitment to.
5.26.2007 3:23pm
LTEC (mail) (www):
Related to my previous comment:

I don't agree with Fub that the "No True Scotsman" fallacy is to blame here (see his comment for the link). After all: Did the Scotsman in the story, after reading about the Aberdeen rapist, declare that the rapist was an innocent victim of Scotophobia? Does he often attend meetings where the Scottish leaders advocate rape? Does he regularly contribute money to organizations that support and train Scottish rapists?

The problem here is not ignorance (rational or otherwise) nor is it poor reasoning. The problem is evil. Banal usually, but evil none the less.
5.26.2007 3:35pm
LTEC (mail) (www):
(Unrelated to my previous comments, and not terribly important:)

I don't understand the obsession with "suicide bombings". Why do we wish to exclude the first WTC attack which did not involve suicide? Or the second one, which arguably did not involve bombing? Or the Islamist D.C. Sniper attacks that involved neither suicide nor bombing?

On the other hand, most decent people completely approve of this suicide bombing of a school full of children.
5.26.2007 3:49pm
Fub:
LTEC wrote at 5.26.2007 2:35pm:
Related to my previous comment:

I don't agree with Fub that the "No True Scotsman" fallacy is to blame here (see his comment for the link).
Yes, you disagree with Ilya's asserted hypothesis: "Muslims who persist in rejecting the evidence probably do so because they are unwilling to believe that their own coreligionists perpetrated such a horrendous atrocity."

But I think you generalize my comment beyond the limited universe to which I applied it, ie: to those Muslims for whom Ilya's hypothesis is correct. If only one Muslim rejects evidence for the reasons Ilya stated, then that Muslim is engaging the "No True Scotsman" fallacy.

Perhaps if I had written "That phenomenon" instead of "The phenomenon", that point would have been more clear.
5.26.2007 4:34pm
EIDE_Interface (mail):
I can see no one responded to jimbino &jvarisco Jew-baiting troll posts. That's good.
5.26.2007 4:35pm
tom schofield (mail):

Our own culture is perfectly capable of lauding suicidal acts as long as they are effective. I can't count how many movies have ended with some brave, usually American, hero tossing his own life away to save the day. Indepedence Day, Armageddon, Deep Impact, (Titan AE to teach our kids the lesson.)


Hmm...
Number of innocent civilians killed by the dude in Independence day = 0
Numner of innocent civilians killed by the dude in Armageddon = 0
Number of innocent civilians killed by the dude in Deep Impact = 0
...and so on. We love selfless sacrifice, and we love bravery, we just think killing civilians is cowardice. If somebody wants to die for Islam, he should go attack soldiers, not civilians. The reason Al Queda criminals kill more civilians than soldiers in Iraq is because they lack bravery and a willingness to sacrifice.
When we sought independence from Britian, we were willing to take on the most advanced standing army on earth, and the royal navy (which had ruled the seas for some time). We did not try blowing up parliament, targeting British trading ships, killing civilians or any other such amoral cowardly nonsense.

To recap:

Suicidal sacrifice for cause not involving killing innocents = noteworthy!
Suicidal sacrifice for cause involving killing innocents = revolting!
5.26.2007 4:37pm
tom schofield (mail):

Our own culture is perfectly capable of lauding suicidal acts as long as they are effective. I can't count how many movies have ended with some brave, usually American, hero tossing his own life away to save the day. Indepedence Day, Armageddon, Deep Impact, (Titan AE to teach our kids the lesson.)


Hmm...
Number of innocent civilians killed by the dude in Independence day = 0
Numner of innocent civilians killed by the dude in Armageddon = 0
Number of innocent civilians killed by the dude in Deep Impact = 0
...and so on. We love selfless sacrifice, and we love bravery, we just think killing civilians is cowardice. If somebody wants to die for Islam, he should go attack soldiers, not civilians. The reason Al Queda criminals kill more civilians than soldiers in Iraq is because they lack bravery and a willingness to sacrifice.
When we sought independence from Britian, we were willing to take on the most advanced standing army on earth, and the royal navy (which had ruled the seas for some time). We did not try blowing up parliament, targeting British trading ships, killing civilians or any other such amoral cowardly nonsense.

To recap:

Suicidal sacrifice for cause not involving killing innocents = noteworthy!
Suicidal sacrifice for cause involving killing inocents = revolting!
5.26.2007 4:38pm
EIDE_Interface (mail):
What I get from a lot of people here is that Muslims aren't unusually paranoid or prejudiced compared to other groups. If that's the case, why not a single mainstream Muslim group supoorts Israel? Every mainstream Christian denomination supports Israel.
5.26.2007 4:38pm
EIDE_Interface (mail):
tom schofield:

What do you call the firebombing of Dresden, Tokyo? The nuking of Hiroshima, Nagasaki? Those were all mass killing of innocent civilians, no?
5.26.2007 4:40pm
CLS (mail) (www):
Certainly there are aspects of this survey to concern us. But I would also like to see a survey of American Christian fundamentalists. What percentage of them would argue that, on at least rare occasions, it is permissible to bomb an abortion clinic? There are an awful lot who do. Rev. Paul Hill sounded just like a jihadist when he justified his gunning down of a doctor and his body guard. Hill went to his execution in Florida saying that he did so knowing he would awake in paradise. Sound familiar?

And it was not as if Hill had no open support from his fellow fundamentalists. The number of fundamentalist Christians of some prominence who argue that the Bible justifies the execution of homosexuals is a bit scary. Gary North wants to use stoning to accomplish that and says it must be done by the community not the state -- he calls that Christian libertarianism.

In a Pew poll on the state using torture on "suspected terrorists" 49% of fundamentalists said it was "often" or "sometimes" justified. Catholics were even more supportive of torture with 56% saying this.

The reality is that we feel comfortable polling Muslims to see if they support terrorist bombings. I know of no poll that asked Christians if they support bombing abortion clinics or if the want the death penalty for gays. I suspect that you would find there is a substantial number of fundamentalists who do actually feel that way. But since they are native born and part of the American culture we don't ask. They do preach it. They do write about it. But we pretty much pretend it doesn't happen and never poll them to find out support levels. Of course if we never do the poll we can convince ourselves that the Islamists threat is something totally alien.
5.26.2007 4:54pm
tom schofield (mail):

What do you call the firebombing of Dresden, Tokyo? The nuking of Hiroshima, Nagasaki? Those were all mass killing of innocent civilians, no?


Wow, you got me. I had never heard of Dresden before!
My position shot down in one fell swoop...

Firebombing of Dresden and Tokyo I would call "mere acts of terror and wanton destruction, however impressive. " Not my words, but they fit.

Hiroshima? Well, since nobody was standing down, the alternative was a land invasion. How many Japanese civilians would have died then? Recall we did not initiate that war.
5.26.2007 5:10pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
'Those were all mass killing of innocent civilians, no?'

EIDE, what do you propose that the residents of those cities were innocent of?

I'm not aware that anybody is 'obsessed' with suicide bombing as contrasted to other kinds of savagery. It is mere acknowledgment of reality that suicide bombing is rare across almost all societies, so we are entitled to wonder what's wrong with (Muslims, Tamils, Japanese, anybody else you can think of) when they extol it.

It would be insane to poll, say, Unitarians to find out what they think of Unitarian suicide bombers.
5.26.2007 5:34pm
Serenity Now (mail) (www):
No one bothered even clicking the broken link to Ali Etaraz's post?

working link
5.26.2007 5:34pm
tom schofield (mail):

I know of no poll that asked Christians if they support bombing abortion clinics or if the want the death penalty for gays.


So you're going to do the sensible thing and not presumptuously conclude you know the answer anyway. Right?


I suspect that you would find there is a substantial number of fundamentalists who do actually feel that way.


Sigh. On the bright side, at least you wrote "suspect" instead of "know beyond a shadow of a doubt"


But since they are native born and part of the American culture we don't ask. They do preach it. They do write about it.


"They" meaning a few demogagues? Got a list handy that's enough people to fill a movie theatre? I imagine not. Trying to equate the thousands of muslim suicide bombers with 50 people who have bombed abortion clinics is silly, and it will continue to be silly until those wild and wacky christian fundamentalists get a lot more aggressive.


But we pretty much pretend it doesn't happen and never poll them to find out support levels. Of course if we never do the poll we can convince ourselves that the Islamists threat is something totally alien.


Yes, we are all closet xenophobes who pick on Muslims for the same sins we ourselves are guilt of! Darn you for figuring out the masterplan...
It's troubling, all this weeping and whining, saying "everybody's doing it, why pick on the poor suicide bombers?" Would you have no one make any moral judgments of any action unless everybody within 6 degrees of separation is a saint? In that alternate universe, no one could ever claim the moral high ground, and those who amorally support suicide bombers could try to claim moral equality with the normal people who oppose killing civilians.

I worry the reason some elements of the Muslim community feel excluded is because group identity and pride mean more than earning the unconditional trust of their critics (which would entail simply admitting openly that evil is done in the name of Islam, without hedging or attempts at justification).
5.26.2007 5:47pm
Ilya Somin:
isn't it equally possible that Muslim respondents are concealing the "socially unacceptable" view (within parts of the Mustlim community) that 19 Arabs were in fact responsible for 9/11? In other words, the myth on non-responsiblity is more more socially acceptable than the well-recognized truth, so survey respondents repeat the myth (or don't deny it), even though they don't really believe it.

It's certainly possible. But it's less likely than the opposite phenomenon, because the survey was conducted by a non-Muslim organization using mostly non-Muslim interviewers. Respondents who believe that 19 Arabs were responsible for 9/11 but want to conceal this belief from fellow Muslims would have had much less incentive to lie to non-Muslim interviewers than respondents who disbelieve in Arab responsibility but want to hide their skepticism from non-Muslim Americans.
5.26.2007 5:50pm
SP:
Many of you are going out of your way to split hairs on this. I've had Arab associates who pass around "9/11: The Big Lie" as if it was "Tuesdays with Morrie."
5.26.2007 5:55pm
Ilya Somin:
At least one-third of Americans believe the Truther version of events or have "suspicions" about government knowledge / involvement in 9/11, so it is difficult to argue that American Muslims are unusually ignorant or conspiracy-minded.

The poll cited here is not equivalent to the one discussed in my post. The former asked respondents whether it is ""very likely" or "somewhat likely" that federal officials either participated in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or took no action to stop them "because they wanted the United States to go to war in the Middle East."" The possibility that federal officials knew about the attacks but did not stop them is perfectly compatible with the fact that they were perpetrated by "groups of Arabs." Moreover, the 9/11 poll gave respondents the option of saying that it was "somewhat likely" that the feds had some responsibility, while the poll of Muslims posed a strict binary choice (either Arabs were responsible or they weren't).
5.26.2007 5:59pm
SP:
"But I would also like to see a survey of American Christian fundamentalists. What percentage of them would argue that, on at least rare occasions, it is permissible to bomb an abortion clinic?"

Obviously not that many, since you don't see a story about a suicide bombing at an abortion clinic, do you? Do you really believe 15% of American Christians think it's okay to run around and blow people up? I'm sorry, but because there was someone like Hill doesn't demonstrate anything.
5.26.2007 6:07pm
EIDE_Interface (mail):
I suspect 15% of Christian fundies do support bombing of abortion clinics. Should we round them up too, like right wingnuts would have us do with Muslims? We really need to expunge the Michael Savage factor out of America pronto.
5.26.2007 6:21pm
Dan Simon (mail) (www):
But it is also rational for citizens to do a poor job of analyzing the information they do have, a point I made in the article linked above and that Bryan Caplan drives home in his excellent recent book. Because individual citizens do not pay any cost for clinging to false beliefs about politics, they are likely to embrace emotionally satisfying falsehoods rather than search assiduously for the truth. Bryan calls this "rational irrationality."

Anyone who could compose this paragraph--as part of a post that includes discussion of suicide bombings!--desperately needs to (re-)read Edgerton's "Sick Societies". The idea that people cling to irrational beliefs because they don't pay any price for doing so is so intuitively ludicrous that (to paraphrase Orwell) only a libertarian could believe it. Fortunately, it's also subject to thorough empirical refutation--I recommend Edgerton's chapter on traditional medicine, for instance.
5.26.2007 6:31pm
jvarisco (www):
People who actually bother to read the poll might find this (the question that was actually asked):

"Some people think that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilian targets are justified in order to defend Islam from its enemies. Other people believe that, no matter what the reason, this kind of violence is never justified. Do you personally feel that this kind of violence is often justified to defend Islam, sometimes justified, rarely justified, or never justified?"

That's the question. Not suicide bombings. Suicide bombings or other forms of violence. Really useful survey questions there.
5.26.2007 6:33pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
It's certainly possible. But it's less likely than the opposite phenomenon, because the survey was conducted by a non-Muslim organization using mostly non-Muslim interviewers. Respondents who believe that 19 Arabs were responsible for 9/11 but want to conceal this belief from fellow Muslims would have had much less incentive to lie to non-Muslim interviewers than respondents who disbelieve in Arab responsibility but want to hide their skepticism from non-Muslim Americans.
Isn't it possible that they do think that Muslims were responsible but are denying that to non-Muslims because they don't want Muslims to look bad?

Shanda fur die goyim, so to speak?
5.26.2007 6:40pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
So two points. First of all I heard (don't know if it's true) that the majority of the support for suicide bombing came from native born black muslims. Don't know what that means or if it's really true but just throwing it out there.

On the other side doesn't everyone here think suicide bombing is justified in rare instances? If someone took out hitler using a suicide bomb would you praise them or damn them? Sure this is alot different than normal suicide bombings but who knows what the ppl answering the question were thinking.
5.26.2007 7:00pm
Edward A. Hoffman (mail):
I wonder what percentage of Americans remain "rationally irrational" so they can believe the Biblical story of Creation despite the overwhelming evidence of evolution and the Big Bang.

More importantly for purposes of this discussion, I wonder what percentage of those rationally irrational Americans look at rationally irrational beliefs in others and wonder how anybody could think that way.

Unless these percentages are significantly lower than the ones reported by the Pew survey, the results really shouldn't be that surprising.
5.26.2007 7:06pm
EIDE_Interface (mail):
logicnazi:

The problem is the polls never ask the Muslims if suicide bombings are only justified in that one theoritical case of taking out a Hitler-type figure. They mean in general it's ok to blow up men, women and children in a pizza parlor in Jeruslaem.
5.26.2007 7:19pm
Brian K (mail):

Recall we did not initiate that war.


Does that mean that we are justified in doing anything we want just as long as we didn't start the war? If that's the case, you've just provided airtight reasoning for the support of suicide bombing. Iraq didn't start the war against us, we started it against them.
5.26.2007 7:46pm
Ak:
My best friend in medical school believes that Bush knew about 9/11 in advance and that Jews control the media. He's an Iranian muslim and scored in the top 1% on all the standardized tests. What do you say to that? I just shrug; you can't logic away something someone is dead set on believing.
5.26.2007 8:03pm
Blar (mail) (www):
On belief in a Saddam 9/11 connection: I was simply pointing out that Muslims are not the only group among whom wildly false beliefs about 9/11 with important implications for American foreign policy have been widespread.

On attacks against civilians: The poll results reported here show that a sizable portion of non-Muslim Americans also tell pollsters that attacks on innocent civilians are sometimes justified. 24% of Americans said that they are "often" or "sometimes" justified, and only 46% said that they are "never" justified. The Iranians surveyed reported being much more opposed to such attacks (80% said "never").
5.26.2007 8:19pm
Andrew Okun:
Suicidal sacrifice for cause not involving killing innocents = noteworthy!
Suicidal sacrifice for cause involving killing inocents = revolting!


In other words, the condemnable quality arises from something other than the suicide.
5.26.2007 8:30pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
I recall reading a Turkish blogger who said that you must bear in mind that what would in the US be the most extreme conspiracy-theory paranoia is there perfectly acceptable reasoning. His example was the number of Turks who feel that Geo. Bush is in cahoots with Iran, and going to attack secular islamic countries. Why? Well, they're fundamentalist moslems, he's a sorta-fundamentalist christian, they have a lot in common, and so G. Bush will team up with the mullahs to destroy the moslem secular governments that neither likes.
5.26.2007 8:47pm
tom schofield (mail):
Brian K,

Nothing of the sort. I can't imagine anyone taking that position, but it sure would be easy to fisk them, eh?
5.26.2007 8:58pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Edward Hoffman sez: 'Unless these percentages are significantly lower than the ones reported by the Pew survey, the results really shouldn't be that surprising.'

I didn't understand that Professer Somin was surprised. Worried.

Crazy beliefs in chiropractic, bottled water or single-payer medical insurance are just as crazy as believing Bush attacked the WTC, just not as consequential.

However, some branches of Islam are seriously weirdly crazy in ways that even Andrew Okun -- just guessin' here -- will be unable to turn against American infidels. Wearing holy amulets to protect against bullets, for example.
5.26.2007 9:11pm
tom schofield (mail):

In other words, the condemnable quality arises from something other than the suicide.

By Jove, he's got it. If you were there all along, and I misunderstood you because of:


Our own culture is perfectly capable of lauding suicidal acts as long as they are effective.


then I apologize. It sounded as though the position being taken was that the ends justify the means, and the deciding factor in judging a suicidal act is "effectiveness". I wished to emphasize that the deciding factor is morality of the act, not effectiveness, but perhaps you were already in agreement with that.

If so, my hat off to you.
5.26.2007 9:32pm
markm (mail):
Andrew, mostly I agree. The real problem with Muslim terrorism is that it is aimed at innocents. Unarmed civilians are not incidental casualties from combat with enemy forces, rather they <i>are</i> the target. It's evil.

However, there is another factor with suicide bombers. I don't think they conceive their plans and obtain their bombs themselves. Old men sit in safe locations and send youngsters out to destroy themselves - and that is evil too. So you have an intersection of two forms of evil. I think the planners of the Dresden fire-bombing should have been tried as war criminals - but at least they didn't dispatch kamikaze pilots to crash their bombers in order to burn alive the civilian population of an undefended and militarily insignificant city.

Consider some non-Muslim acts that partially compare with these:

1) Generals in the Western military tradition are old(er) men who often send troops out on highly dangerous missions - but it's pretty rare for them to plan the mission so that success means the troops die.

2) Sometimes a military commander does find it necessary to send a man into certain death - for instance, to reach a vital engine control in a burning ship - but in the instances I know of involving Americans, the purpose was to save their comrades, not to kill the enemy, let alone noncombatants. On a larger scale, Sam Houston put 200 men or more in the way of certain death at the Alamo - but they weren't there to kill Mexican women or children, they were there to delay Santa Anna for a vital two or three weeks, giving Houston time to organize his army. They died to protect their comrades. I'd never make a general, I can't make decisions like that...

3) I think the Dresden firebombing was a war crime, but also have to put it in context of a war in which civilians amounting to many times the population of Dresden had already died, many of them deliberately targeted by the Germans. Hitler didn't seize power by main force, he was allowed to gain power by German voters, among them the residents of Dresden. OTOH, I do not see any reason we <i>needed</i> to destroy Dresden.

4) By contrast, atom-bombing Hiroshima, and probably also Nagasaki, was horrible but necessary and defendable, even though these attacks basically targeted civilian populations with whatever military installations happened to be there being just a side effect. The Japanese government did not seem willing to surrender no matter how much stronger our forces were in a conventional way, but they were persuaded to surrrender by demonstrating a difference <i>in kind</i> of weapons so overwhelming that there was no way to fight it. The Japanese prosecution of the war had been too savage for us to allow the responsible authorities to remain in power, maybe to gather forces and try again later, not while we had any way of dislodging them. So if we hadn't had the nukes, or hadn't been willing to use them in a sufficiently terrible demonstration, we would have had to invade on land. Given the way doomed Japanese forces fought even in outlying islands, it's unlikely that even 10% of the millions of Japanese soldiers on the home islands would have been taken alive. The war would have lasted through a couple of winters, on crowded, mountainous islands that were already short of food. The civilians killed in the crossfire would have been the lucky ones. Most would have starved or froze to death. Hiroshima and Nagasaki prevented a much worse scenario.
5.26.2007 9:42pm
Andrew Okun:
However, some branches of Islam are seriously weirdly crazy in ways that even Andrew Okun -- just guessin' here -- will be unable to turn against American infidels. Wearing holy amulets to protect against bullets, for example.

Wasn't trying to turn anything on anybody. I was trying to guess what was behind such a large proportion of a group -- a non-amulet nutcase group for the most part -- who almost certainly have an opinion on a topic saying they have no opinion. Ilya suggested it was rational for them to, in a sense, intentionally "know" the wrong thing about 9/11. I was suggesting it was rational for them, knowing the correct information about 9/11, to perceive a reason as members of a group to say something else to a pollster.
5.26.2007 9:49pm
Mark Field (mail):

The fact that other groups are ignornat about many issues doesn't mean that Muslim ignorance about 9/11 isn't a serious problem.


True enough, but it does lead to questions about why this particular group was singled out for comment.
5.26.2007 10:30pm
DeezRightWingNutz:
I think everyone focuses way to much on our enemy's tactics (terrorism) and not enough on their motives and goals. I have a lot bigger problem with the fact that someone wants to destroy my society than I do with the fact that he's willing to target civilians to accomplish this. I myself can't say that targeting civilians is never justified. Of course we want to limit conflict to members of the armed forces, we've got the best ones.

Just because we have agreed the Marquis de Queensbury rules of war with other civilized nations (because it's in both of our best interests), doesn't mean that I expect other countries to follow them. I understand that there's a difference between Hitler, an SS troop who's aware of the holocaust, a lowly German conscript fighting in North Africa, and some frauleine baking strudel for the troops. Being able to distinguish between them is a luxury that a society whose existence isn't at stake can afford. There are gray areas even now. Is a tank factory a legitimate military target? How about the power-plant that supplies it? What about its engineers? What about the people who make his shoes?

Basically, I guess I'd like to warn people (counties) several times, before resorting to violence, that it's best if they bend to my (our) will. Then, if they don't, I'd prefer annihilation of the enemy via the most expedient means practical.
5.26.2007 11:29pm
Avatar (mail):
I think Markm raises the salient point. When we're talking about the mere fact of suicide in battle, that's not the defining factor - there's more than one description of a US pilot, generally wounded, making a "heroic crash dive" into an enemy ship against the Japanese during WWII. We recognize that sometimes, in the heat of battle, a trooper can take an act that will save the lives of many people - sometimes by taking many lives of the enemy - even though it's at the cost of his own life. In and of itself, that's not evil, it's admirable.

Nor is it the targeting of innocent civilians. We feel a revulsion at the mention of Japanese kamikaze tactics, but every last one of those affected were legitimate military targets. We stretched that definition pretty far in the bombing of Japan, but generally speaking, we can justify those raids as part of the war.

The problem with suicide bombing as a terrorist tactic is that it assumes from the beginning that the perpetrator will not survive. There's definitely a moral difference involved between a suicide bomber and someone who's trying to plant explosives and blows his charge when he gets caught. (Of course, if both are terrorists, I mean, how much worse are we talking here?)

But the public perception is that suicide bombing is also an act of courage - that nobody could pull the trigger without having come to an acceptance of death for their cause. This analysis has it backwards. In fact, it's an act of cowardice - not on behalf of the actual bomber, but of the organizers that send him out. For them, the biggest benefit of suicide bombing isn't the increased chance of success, but their personal safety. Suicide bombers can't be detained and induced to reveal who armed them, who trained them, who funded them. Once dispatched, they're very, very difficult to take alive, even when they're detected and stopped short of their target.
5.27.2007 12:58am
Harry Eagar (mail):
markm, I agree with your analysis but it is not correct that Dresden was not a significant military target. It was the choke point for a retreating army.

As it happened, the aerial attack did not work, but the intention was purely military -- to cut off a defeated army and destroy it.

Declaring targets 'not legitimate' is a favorite and very successful tactic of those who have no good will toward America. (Or Israel, as Professor Bernstein documents from time to time.) It is worth checking such claims to see whether they are valid.

In the cases of Dresden and Hiroshima, they are not.
5.27.2007 1:57am
jvarisco (www):
Harry) While that may be true, that was not our strategy during the war. We were in fact trying to kill civilians. Curtis LeMay, who commanded the bombing in the Pacific, was quoted as saying: "If you kill enough of them, they stop fighting." Certainly our allies the Soviets committed atrocities; yet we had no problem with this as long as there was a common enemy. Nor I think would we mind suicide bombing if it was being done by our allies (we gave arms to the Afghani jihadists back when they were fighting the Soviets if you recall, and we've backed up quite a few totalitarian states when it looked like the alternative was a communist revolution).

Just war theory might look nice on paper. But it has no place in actual policy when the outcome is in question.
5.27.2007 3:28am
Tom Cross (www):
neurodoc: "I in turn will ask you if you think responses like mine to your analogizing Truman's decision to those of the Islamicists responsible for the suicide bombing somehow mitigates the approval by at least 13% of Muslims in this country of suicide bombing as a tactic?"

The question is whether you think suicide bombing is EVER justified... if there is some circumstance in which suicide bombing is justified. Clearly the problem with suicide bombing isn't the suicide part, but the bombing part, particularly of innocent civilians. So the question is, is the killing of innocent civilians EVER justified? If you are comfortable with Japan, or Dresden, than you think there is a context in which the killing of innocent civilians is justified. Your answer must be yes.

If you look at the enemy with disdain for holding the exact same views that you hold, you are, frankly, a hypocrite. This is not an attempt to justify XYZ particular suicide bombing that you have a problem with or to "draw an analogy" between some particular suicide bombing that you disagree with and some other wanton killing of innocent people that you do agree with. The question is whether you think that the wanton killing of innocent people can EVER be justified under ANY circumstances. If you support your society's wanton killing of innocent people then your answer to that question must be yes. The fact that you view this particular method of killing innocent civilians as "a tactic of the enemy" is totally irrelevent and you've no grounds to make a moral judgement of them for holding views that you also hold.

If you want a personal answer, I, like you, was given an oversimplified "make you feel good about who you are" explanation of Japan when I was young. But the details aren't so comfortable. There were a number of senior military commanders who deeply opposed the bombing. The decision was made at a political level. Its not out of the question that many Allied (not just American) lives were spared (including possibly my own Grandfather). However, *I* suspect that it had more to do with scaring the Russians than it did with Japan. I'll conceed that perhaps scaring the Russians might have been necessary, but I don't think its easy to accept what happenned. I think we want it to be easy, but that leads us to reach conclusions that are misleading. Reality is more important than how you feel.

So too with regard to suicide bombings. I would be shocked if anyone reading this was capable of wanton killing of civilians. However, there are many, perhaps myself included, who read this who are capable of hypocracy. These are grave matters, and "make you feel good" hypocracy is not helpful here in the long run.
5.27.2007 3:38am
Mark F. (mail):
Hiroshima? Well, since nobody was standing down, the alternative was a land invasion.

It's a lie that there were just two choices. A third alternative (rejected by Truman) would have been a negotiated conditional surrender explicitly allowing the Emperor to stay on his thrown and not be charged with war crimes. (This was eventually agreed to anyway.)

At any rate, you and terrorists agree that it is okay to deliberately kill innocent people for a good cause.
5.27.2007 5:11am
Rich Rostrom (mail):
"For decades, the majority of white Americans refused to believe that Jim Crow segregation and other policies instituted by whites were responsible for the plight of African-Americans."

This is a patently desperate attempt to find moral equivalence. When and how was this question ever asked? Nor is the answer obvious: Jews, Chinese-Americans, and Japanese-Americans have all experienced legal and social discrimination comparable to Jim Crow, but do not share the "plight" of black Americans. There are other factors: slavery, for instance, and the difficulties experienced by most rural migrants to urban areas.

Furthermore, there is no analogy: 9-11 was a specific set of acts with very definite and immediate consequences. No white Americans deny that white Americans owned black slaves, or that whites imposed segregation on blacks.

But Moslems quite happily assert that 9-11 was a great victory for Islam - and that the Jews did it.

As for Hiroshima and Dresden: Hiroshima was II General Army
HQ, commanding the defense of all southern Japan; about half the people in Hiroshima were military personnel. Dresden was a major industrial center with dozens of war plants in full operation, also a major transportation hub and supply depot for German troops fighting savagely against the Soviet army in Silesia. Neither city would have been bombed if the German and Japanese governments had surrendered.
5.27.2007 5:13am
Avatar (mail):
It's very easy to sit here, from the comfort of the 21st century, and say "well, we'd have beat the Japanese anyway." It's actually true... certainly the Japanese by Jan. 1945 had no serious chance of returning to offensive action. Not only did we have several senior officers who had figured that out, practically the entire Japanese senior staff was aware of that as well.

One of the real reasons that we decided on an active campaign (bombing, eventually nuclear bombing) instead of slow strangulation (mining the harbors and sinking their merchant marine, which we also did) is that, in the experience of the US army, the Japanese did not surrender. They didn't surrender in mass when they held absolutely untenable positions - not just whole islands, but even when pushed into a corner, without adequate ammunition or food to continue fighting they simply didn't surrender. Individuals didn't surrender either; the total Japanese surrender rate was something like 1-2 percent, which is wholly unknown in Western armies for a defeated force. Hell, even the civilians didn't surrender, as the history of Saipan demonstrates. If that's not evidence of a fundamental cultural difference, I don't know what you'd accept as such.

Nothing the US knew suggested that the Japanese would actually surrender. Should surrender, absolutely. But what can you say? Faced with an enemy that regularly conducted desperation charges rather than give up, that was busily militarizing its entire civilian population, that was handing -sharpened sticks- to young girls for the purpose of stabbing unsuspecting soldiers... well, you get the idea. If anything, it's a miracle that they ended up surrendering when they did!

And it's not like the other option would have somehow been less bloody. Even utterly discounting American losses (and that's hardly how I would have wanted our commanders to see the issue, look you), and assuming that we stopped the fire-bombing raids because we ran out of dense city to burn, how many Japanese civilians would have starved to death in the (unusually brutal) winter of 1945? Hundreds of thousands starved anyway, in actual history, and that was with as much aid as MacArthur could get out of the US; how much worse would it have been with no shipments of oil or replacement parts for transport, no ships running anywhere, and of course, no US food aid? (Pretty bad-tasting food aid - really old Japanese still make jokes about it from time to time - but there you go.) That's discounting the losses from the possibility of civil war (a big worry on the domestic side), and also discounting civilian losses in Japanese-controlled areas like Korea, Manchuria, and China. That's ALSO discounting the threat of those far-flung garrisons not surrendering upon the loss of central control from Japan proper, which was more or less "the nightmare scenario" for the Pacific theater!

Sorry, bordering on a rant. But this is one argument I have very little patience for - as if somehow we were worried about Japan only as a theater for intimidating the Russians.
5.27.2007 5:20am
Mark F. (mail):
It should be noted that the trade embargo instituted by Roosevelt against Japan was practically an engraved invitation to attack. Roosevelt was aware of this. He wanted to get into the war, and he got his wish. At no point did the Japanese have the capability to invade and take over the United States, however.
5.27.2007 5:27am
Avatar (mail):
Mark, except the only peace negotiations the Japanese military were prepared to assent to (and that's the opinion that counts, in a country that practices politics by assassination...) were along the lines of the so-called "four point plan", to distinguish it from the "one-point plan" of survival of Imperial rule which you mentioned.

Basically, the other points were that Japan be permitted to maintain its current government, to oversee its own disarmament (to pre-war levels, we're not talking Article 9 here), and to retain some of its possessions (y'know, like Korea.) Of course this was unacceptable to the US - hell, just look at what had just happened in this other country we'd had a war with, Germany.

The major Japanese war aim from late '44 onward was to inflict an appalling loss on the US, such that domestic pressure would force the US to negotiate for peace on terms that let the Japanese maintain the "national polity" - i.e. their present government. They never got their victory, but they were banking on repulsing the initial invasion of Kyushu, and they had enough there to make it as bloody as anything the US has ever fought.

Most people don't know just how close the Japanese came to not surrendering. The general staff had just talked itself out of the shock of the first atom bomb (mostly along the lines of "surely they don't have many of them") when the second one dropped. Out of the six ministers that served on the imperial council (really, the executive body of Japanese policymaking), none of the three military members would agree even to the one-point plan of surrender even -after- Nagasaki. The intervention of the Emperor to break the tie was, to put it bluntly, unprecedented in hundreds of years of Japanese history. (Certainly they didn't consult him before starting the war!) Finally, there was a coup attempt the night after the imperial surrender was recorded, and only because they thought ahead and made extra copies of the recording did it get broadcast at all.
5.27.2007 5:32am
Ken Arromdee:
Clearly the problem with suicide bombing isn't the suicide part, but the bombing part, particularly of innocent civilians.

There's two other big problems:
1) In order for a modern suicide bomber to do his bombing, he inherently has to disguise himself as a civilian, thus endangering civilians, and taking advantage of our own reluctance to apply severe measures to civilians. Suicide bombers, in other words, take advantage of our morality. (Japanese kamikazes don't, but I don't find their behavior nearly as objectionable, though the behavior of the people who sent them is another story.)
2) Having suicide bombers implies a certain amount of fanaticism. Suicide bombing, aside from any reasons it might be objectionable for its own sake, also implies opponents who cannot be negotiated with, cannot admit they are wrong, and will not rest until we or they are utterly annihilated.
5.27.2007 6:17am
MnZ (mail):

It should be noted that the trade embargo instituted by Roosevelt against Japan was practically an engraved invitation to attack. Roosevelt was aware of this. He wanted to get into the war, and he got his wish. At no point did the Japanese have the capability to invade and take over the United States, however.


Mark F.,

The embargo on Japan was place after they invaded China. The US was the top exporter of steel and metals to Japan. These materials were going directly into the Japanese war efforts (and the associated atrocities). If the US had not place the embargo on Japan, it would have been extraordinarily immoral.

The Japanese knew that their actions in China caused the embargo by the U.S. Rather than ending the war with China, they attacked the U.S.
5.27.2007 10:56am
Justin (mail):
You say that this particular form of ignorance is a "major problem." Why, exactly? The two reasons you give seem lacking. The first is it undermines support for the War on Terror. But the "GWOT" is doing a good job undermining itself, and it has notihng to do with domestic muslim support. If the "GWOT" is even worth fighting, perhaps we should first focus on fighting it in a rational manner than worrying about who supports it.

As for the other reason, that it affects islamic radicalism ABROAD, color me unconvinced.
5.27.2007 11:48am
Joel Rosenberg (mail) (www):
Iowahawk nailed it: just substitute "Lutheran" for Muslim, and fiddle around with a few other nouns, and the standard MSM narrative becomes manifestly absurd.

What the Pew study does, I think, is give some hard data on how very large the lunatic fringe of the American Muslim community is. It's not the only community in the US that has a lunatic fringe, of course -- it's hard to argue that there isn't one that doesn't.

Most of the fringers, of course, won't be strapping on suicide belts (and, so far, we've had zero American Muslims actually doing that, although we've had a few arrested in the process of arranging terrorist attacks). But that's true of other lunatic fringes, as well; when was the last time Klanners lynched somebody? Should we not consider the Klan to be a bunch of racist lunatics because -- thankfully -- they're far more talk than action? Should there be some sort of generous double standard for Muslims who think that suicide bombing is okay?

Each to his/her own, but I'd say that the answer is no.
5.27.2007 12:36pm
Joel Rosenberg (mail) (www):
And just to add on . . . would anybody here be generous in analyzing poll results supporting lynching in "some circumstances" by coming up with an unlikely hypothetical? (Total breakdown of society and governance -- rendering application of judicial punishment utterly and indefinitely impossible -- combined, say, with a serial kiddie rapist and murderer.)
5.27.2007 12:41pm
SenatorX (mail):
An Islamic suicide bomber is one who is usually young and indoctrinated by another (who wont commit suicide). They are convinced of a reality where the more important world is the afterlive and the golden ticket is the method of death. A large population of uneducated, "have-nots" makes for a ripe recruiting field. All injustices are blamed on the Jews(and the West) "first comes Saturday then comes Sunday". There is a lot wrong with this other than the actual suicide or even the targeting of civilians.

I have a negative opinion of institutions of any sort that foster and promote convictions that turn young people into political weapons of death. This is a system of belief which absolutely believes that the end justifies the means. Personally I don't like the means OR the end.
5.27.2007 1:06pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
At this late date, when all the information needed is readily available, it is immoral to keep prating about Dresden and Hiroshima as war crimes. They weren't, no informed person could believe they were.
5.27.2007 5:28pm
a knight (mail) (www):
MR. Somin, I believe you may have performed a bit of disservice here by not providing the text of the question regarding suicide bombing, as it seems only a few actually took the time to download the whole survey report and read the methodology section.

The first sentence of that question, English version, asked:
"Some people think that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilian targets are justified in order to defend Islam from its enemies."

I feel the question leaves some ambiguity, and would have been clearer if it had stated that civilians were the primary target. I have no way of judging whether the question, when asked in other languages, was ambiguous too. Also, it is notable that this question was not exclusively about suicide bombing, but any forms of violence against civilians.

Mr. Eagar, I fear that my personal bias towards humanity interferes with my ability to be informed, so I would inquire of you; can the collateral damage in civilian deaths from an attack against a valid military target ever become large enough to define it as a war crime?
5.27.2007 11:46pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
No
5.28.2007 2:31am
Tom Cross (www):
A Knight: Thanks for providing the actual quote. I have to admit that upon reading this I've taken this entirely wrong. It is ambiguous with regard to what is meant by "targetting civilians" but it is not ambiguous with regard to why. It says "in order to defend Islam from its enemies."

In order to answer yes to this question you have to beleive that Islam is the sort of thing that has enemies and that those enemies can be influenced through violence. They should have simply dropped the civilian aspect and asked whether military action is sometimes justified in order to defend Islam from its enemies. Unfortunately I suspect that the percetage would have been higher.

Warfare is a matter of the state. If you beleive that a religion can engage in warfare you beleive that it is a state, or ought to be one. Its enemies, presumably, are those who'd deny it the power to enforce its ideology as a state enforces its laws. I think the most basic distinction between what I would consider "Moderate Islam" and what I would consider "Radical Islam" is that "Radical Islam" seeks to be more than just a religion that people freely practice, but a political system which is spread coercively.

I don't think you could have answered yes to this question if you aren't a radical islamist.
5.28.2007 2:32am
Tom Cross (www):
Avatar: Thanks for your commentaries on WWII. They are quite interesting (in spite of the fact that we appear to have veered off into a tangent).
5.28.2007 2:48am
Anderson (mail) (www):
Avatar's argument is perhaps bolstered by the argument made in Richard Frank's Downfall, that a rapid end to the war (i.e., A-bombs, not blockade) saved countless lives in China and other areas where the Japanese were still in control.

That is a pretty good argument, though I won't pretend it's decisive. A.C. Grayling, in the course of demolising the arguments for carpet bombing Germany in WW2 in his Among the Dead Cities, fails to address it, probably b/c his treatment of the war against Japan is sketchy.

Nevertheless, the ability of most Americans to shrug off the incineration of tens of thousands of women, children and babies, is an excellent clue that callousness towards civilian casualties is not a peculiarity of the Islamic faith.
5.28.2007 12:32pm
Jeek:
Grayling's book is weak. A far better discussion of the morality of strategic bombing in WW2 is the last chapter of Robin Neilland's The Bomber War.

The intervention of the Emperor to break the tie was, to put it bluntly, unprecedented in hundreds of years of Japanese history. (Certainly they didn't consult him before starting the war!)

They certainly did consult him. Edward Behr's Hirohito: Behind the Myth shows that the Emperor was was fully informed of - and approved - every major Japanese military move from 1937 to 1945.
5.28.2007 3:00pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Grayling's book is weak.

I think I would need a bit more than the mere assertion, having read it. Area bombing was indefensible by our own standards; if we didn't have the tech for precision bombing, then the answer was to develop the needed tech, not to build thousand-bomber fleets to annihilate cities.

As for Hirohito, there is a difference between "informing" and "consulting." Hirohito appears to have believed, wrongly perhaps, that if he opposed the military clique, he would be ignored, or worse. It's difficult for us to grasp the sheer insubordination of the Japanese military before &during WW2. In that context, "approved" is a bit tendentious. There was some whitewash of Hirohito early on, but I think the revisionist Bergamini school goes much too far the other way.
5.28.2007 3:30pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Jimbino: "It seems to me that the majority of my fellow Amerikans are in denial over the fact, as mentioned by Ron Paul, that past and present Amerikan policy, like 60 years of irrational support of Israel, is in part responsible for the worldwide animus against the USSA."

Of course American policy is responsible for the animus of Islamists againts America.

The American policy of republican democracy is an offense against God.

The American policy of equal treatment for women is an offense against God.

The American policy of encouraging the adoption of chldren is an offense against God.

The American policy of freedom of and from religion is an offense against God.

The American policy of freedom of the press is an offense against God.

The American policy of freedom of speech is an offense against God.

The American policy of encouraging other nations to follow the above policies is an offense against God.

You are correct. American policy has caused animus against America. So what?
5.28.2007 10:22pm
Jeek:
I think I would need a bit more than the mere assertion, having read it.

I read it too - and was unimpressed - that's why I made the assertion. The idea that the Allies could have developed the needed technology for true precision bombing, and were immoral to bomb unless and until they had that technology, is simply absurd.

Hirohito was consulted, not informed. Read Behr. No major decision, promotion or troop movement could occur without his approval, and that approval was sometimes withheld. He was the arbiter, not an ineffectual figurehead.
5.28.2007 10:38pm
Jeek:
"Could have developed" means within the timelines of WW2, of course.
5.28.2007 10:39pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Germany and Japan had to be subject to a hard defeat. A defeat nearly Carthaginian in nature.
After WW I, the distillation of all the horrors, the Germans were let up easy. The Versailles Treaty was particularly generous to a nation which had attacked pretty nearly everybody they could find on a map. And gotten millions and millions killed. Those who watch too much Masterpiece Theatre may think of post WW I in Englans as the Jazz Age salted with lords and detectives.
In fact, said one writer, the streets of London--he was there in 1923--were suffused with grief and despair. Medical science saved many lives, many wounded who would have been honorable names on a war memorial were instead crippled, blinded, hideously maimed, and all were obvious. The French built resorts for those too ashamed to come out in public.
And the Germans did it again. But there would be no third time, and Japan got the benefit of the European lesson, too.
And they've both been nice as pie, too.
5.28.2007 11:14pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Yes. So much for those who say 'there is no purely military solution' to X.

If X is Islamic aggression, then it is noteworthy that when the aggressors get slapped down hard -- as in 1683, 1798 or 1898, they stay quiescent for about a 100 years.

Not acquiescent, as some people think German and/or Japan have become, but quiescent.
5.29.2007 3:23pm
whackjobbbb:
The islamofascists are similar to their brethren, the fascist Japanese and Nazis. They kill to advance their illegitimate aims. We kill to stop them. There is no possible moral equivalency between our actions and those of the fascists, of any stripe.

I doubt we'll be nuking or firebombing fascists again any time soon, unless some nation-state rises up and embraces islamofascism. At that point, nukes will be back on the table, as well they should be.

And looking back on history, the attacks on the Japanese homeland saved many lives... on both sides. Forget the civilians and active military, and remember the hundreds of thousands of Allied POW's still in captivity in 1945. About 1/3 of them were soon dead almost immediately upon capture, another 1/3 gradually died during their brutal captivity, and Allied intelligence estimated that the final 1/3 would die within a year of the mid-1945 date we were contemplating Fat Man and Little Boy, as they reached the limit of possible endurance. There was death on all sides of the decisions made... but we made the proper decision IMO.
5.29.2007 5:31pm