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We’ll Always Have Paris

“Jews invented spark plugs to control global traffic.”
Four Lions (2010)

I’m going to be a little bit of a dick here, because I don’t like a lot of what I’m seeing here on social media, which I’m too dumb to ignore at a time when I know I should. Don’t get me wrong, the outpouring of sympathy is nice; guilt-tripping memes, renewed calls to prayer and/or arms, and victim-blaming is not.

Prayer will never work. People need to take action, but not the kind of action that has been taken thus far. The western world’s fourteen years of Whac-a-Mole® in the Middle East has not worked. Call me cynical, but I don’t believe diplomacy can succeed, either. The U.S. has been secretly and not-so-secretly backing political coups, most of them leading to tightly controlled dictatorships, for more than half a century. This form of “diplomacy” is unacceptable from a country that is supposed to value freedom of choice.

But even diplomacy in a more honest fashion, in which we step back and try to talk to Middle Eastern leaders like grown-ups, will not work. When Muslim extremists gain political power through legitimate means, they do not talk to anyone like grown-ups, not even the moderate Muslims—their alleged brothers and sisters—stuck under their thumb. When they gain power through conquest, they talk even less like grown-ups.

These men suffer a mental illness borne of religious delusion, intellectual masturbation, and social disaffection. They are acting out like bewildered toddlers, throwing temper tantrums with AK-47s and explosives, and they justify it, quite legitimately, through fundamentalist veneration of ancient books that should not and cannot apply to the modern world. They can’t play nicely with others, including followers of their own religion raised in their own culture. This is not a problem of west versus east, Christian versus Muslim, white versus brown. This is a problem of the world versus abject stupidity.

These pieces of garbage seek to rule through fear and intimidation. We keep playing right into their hands, when the response to fear and intimidation is obvious: relentless, brutal mockery. These people have formed an idiotic ideology based on an idiotic interpretation of their idiotic religion (don’t get me wrong here—I think all religion is idiotic, not just Islam). The greatest weapon the western world has is its freedom of speech, its freedom to ridicule stupid ideas and the atrocities they cause. Those oppressed by dictators and terrorists may not have a voice, but we do.

In order to mock and insult most effectively, I urge you all to read the following books (in this order):

  1. Wright, Lawrence. The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. New York: Knopf, 2006.
  2. Husain, Ed. The Islamist: Why I Joined Radical Islam in Britain, What I Saw Inside and Why I Left. London: Penguin, 2007.
  3. Nawaz, Maajid, and Tom Bromley. Radical: My Journey from Islamist Extremism to a Democratic Awakening. London: WH Allen, 2012.
  4. Harris, Sam, and Maajid Nawaz. Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015.

The first is a thorough history of the modern Islamist/jihadist movement, beginning with Sayyid Qutb’s fateful trip to America in the early ’50s and ending with the attack on September 11, 2001. The second and third are personal accounts of Muslim intellectuals, both raised in the UK, who were successfully lured into Islamist groups before turning their backs on these movements. The last one is a discussion between Radical author Maajid Nawaz and outspoken/cranky atheist Sam Harris, which explores the ways in which various Islamic sects have changed with the times despite what the fundamentalists would have us believe.

I would also suggest engaging more in Middle Eastern affairs. Contrary to the meme floating around, massacres and bombings are reported daily, even by western outlets. You just have to look for it, and when you find it, it takes very little effort to share it. Once people understand how they think, why they think it, and what they’re doing to force others to conform to their beliefs, they can attack the terrorists where it really hurts: their half-formed, pretzel-shaped ideas about what their God wants for humanity and how the world should look.

The best way to defeat them is by exposing their stupidity and lunacy, belittling the threat they pose (because they do pose a threat, but they have not earned the satisfaction of watching us struggle to stamp them out or cower in fear), and fighting their bad ideas with better ones. It’s harder to recruit if everyone sees them for what they are: well-armed fools.

The world needs more media like Four Lions, and fewer like Homeland.

This is our choice, with what little actual freedom to effect change we have: we can sit idly and pray that world governments will stop making poor, short-sighted foreign policy decisions; or we can take action to learn, understand, and openly ridicule. I’ve made my choice. Care to join me?

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