Blum’s Straw Men
by Kim Petersen - Dissident Voice
August 12th, 2016
Back on 6 July 2016, anti-imperialist Bill Blum wrote an otherwise excellent article with the exception of one paragraph that detracted from its overall message. I responded to that paragraph in an article.
Blum affirmed that these were indeed his views in a second article. Now he has written a third article persevering on his thesis, albeit in a logically unsound piece.
Blum claims his “crime” was being “politically incorrect.” I demur.
The reason that I dissented was because Blum was painting a diverse grouping as a monolith. He was, in effect, branding the entirety of Islam and Muslims with the violent radicalism of the Islamic State.
Yet, if Blum’s postulate holds for Islam, then he should apply his critism equally to the violence of Christianity, Judaism, or other religions wherein violence arises; for example, the Buddhist Sri Lankan violence against Tamils. Blum does not do this even though he self-identifies as a Jew and lives in a predominantly Christian nation.
So Blum erected a straw man for himself to knock down: the fallacious straw man of political incorrectness.
Blum’s next straw man was to write about “Muslim countries in the recent past killing thousands of Muslims and causing widespread horror. Therefore, whatever ISIS and its allies do is ‘revenge’, simple revenge, and should not be condemned by anyone calling himself a progressive…”
Comment: Blum apparently is painting “progressives” as a monolith. It is the logical fallacy of guilt by association. Blum does not acknowledge diversity among members of a grouping. I do not know of any person(s) that referred to the actions of ISIS as “revenge.” Blum does not provide any substantiation.
And why confine his comments to the “recent past”? In response to Blum I had earlier asked: “If Islam is the motivating source for terrorism, then how does Blum explain that there was not any act of so-called jihadist terrorism in the period 1945-1967 (from the end of WWII until the Israeli war against Egypt, Syria, and Jordan)?” Does Blum hypothesize a timer within Islam set to wreak violence in the recent times?
Blum: “Moreover, inasmuch as ISIS is the offspring of religion, this adds to my political incorrectness: I’m attacking religion, God forgive me.”
Comment: Again Blum provides no substantiation for what he writes. He seems to be fabricating an anonymous person’s argument to oppose. This epitomizes straw man argumentation.
To be clear, as a free speech advocate — within certain bounds, such as public safety — people should be free to criticize, argue, comment, and opine on any topics, including religion.
And, with all due respect, Blum is wrong. ISIS is not the offspring of religion; ISIS is the offspring of US and western violence.
Blum continues: “Totally irrelevant to my critics is the fact that the religious teachings of ISIS embrace murderous jihad and the heavenly rewards for suicide bombings and martyrdom. This, they insist, is not the real Islam, a religion of peace and scholarly pursuits. Well, one can argue, Naziism was not the real Germany of Goethe and Schiller, of Bach and Brahms. Fortunately, that didn’t keep the world from destroying the Third Reich.”
Comment: It is implied by Blum that the Qur’an teaches “murderous jihad and the heavenly rewards for suicide bombings and martyrdom,” but he cites nothing in the Qur’an to support his claim. By choosing what constitutes Islam, he casts himself in the role of an expert on Islam.
And when he draws the analogy of Naziism not being “the real Germany of Goethe and Schiller, of Bach and Brahms,” well… it is hard to discern where he is going with the analogy. If one infers from his stance toward Islam, it would seem he implies that Naziism guides Teutons. It ignores the many, albeit a minority, of Germans who opposed Nazism (see The German Opposition by Michael Thomsett, 1977). Germans are not a monolith.
Nonetheless, this represents a shift by Blum. Previously he wrote: “It’s the teachings of Islam that inspire the Islamic terrorists to carry out jihad and suicide bombings.” Now “Islam” is replaced by “ISIS.” Nevertheless, ISIS claims to be following the teachings of Islam.
To be clear, first, I am not a critic of Blum, but I am critical of his disjointed depiction of Islam and Muslims as constituting a homogeneous entity. Second, it is not the religious teachings of Islam or ISIS that this writer focuses on. What is important is the different interpretations people derive from Islam and how people act out their faith to such words and their interpretation. I object to Blum’s lumping all Muslims in one boat of violent “jihadism.” Third, most of all I object to Blum’s shifting the focus of blame from the instigator of the violence to the violence of resistance. I asked previously, “However, in the absence of imperialist evil wreaked against them, would these people professing to be Muslims have been inspired/manipulated into violent reprisals?”
Blum does not deign to answer. Instead he conjures straw men. It is far easier to debunk one’s own creations.
Blum: “We should also consider this: From the 1950s to the 1980s the United States carried out atrocities against Latin America, including numerous bombings, without the natives ever resorting to the repulsive uncivilized kind of retaliation as employed by ISIS.”
Comment: “natives”? Is that how the peoples of the lower western hemisphere are referred to? “resorting to the repulsive uncivilized kind of retaliation…” What one deduces from this statement is that Blum acknowledges that the violence of Muslims was in response to a preceding act against them. Unmentioned by Blum here is what the preceding act was. Was it the partitioning of the Arab world? Was it handing over Arab territory to Europeans living on another continent? Was it the dropping of two 900-kilo GBU-27 laser-guided bombs on the Amiriyah shelter that incinerated 408 civilians inside? Was it callously writing off the lives of a half-million Iraqi children? Was it the war of aggression against Iraq and the genocide carried out? Are not these acts carried out by western agents repulsive? Are these western acts not inciting a repulsive uncivilized kind of aggression?
Blum downplays the origins of ISIS which many call a creation of the United States. Conclusively, the US has been supporting al Qaeda and ISIS in Libya and Syria. (source 1 and source 2 ) If the American Dr Frankenstein gave life to ISIS who bears the ultimate responsibility for the violence of ISIS: the creation or the creator?
Blum: “It doesn’t matter to my critics that in my writing I have regularly given clear recognition to the crimes against humanity carried out by the West against the Islamic world. I am still not allowed to criticize the armed forces of Islam, for all of the above stated reasons plus the claim that the United States ‘created’ ISIS.”
Comment: This is a red herring. What does Blum mean it doesn’t matter that he recognized western crimes? It is clearly acknowledged that Blum has written on this. ISIS, independent of how it was spawned, is despised by the writer as well. However, this is separate from Blum’s criticism of Islam as a whole.
Blum: “It’s certainly true that US foreign policy played an indispensable role in the rise of ISIS. Without Washington’s overthrow of secular governments in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and – now in process – Syria, there would today be no ISIS. It’s also true that many American weapons, intentionally and unintentionally, have wound up in the hands of terrorist groups. But the word ‘created’ implies intention, that the United States wanted to purposely and consciously bring to life the Frankenstein monster that we know and love as ISIS.”
Comment: Blum does concede that US foreign policy played an indispensable role in the rise of ISIS, and then he tries to buttress his stance by quibbling on the meaning of “created.” This is further distraction by Blum, and it has no bearing on his demonizing the religion of Islam. The demon is western militarism and imposition of imperialism on peoples living outside the US (and this does not mean to diminish the genocide wreaked against the Original Peoples of Turtle Island by the American colonialists).
Blum: “I support Western military and economic power to crush the unspeakable evil of ISIS.”
Comment: What is the US then, a speakable evil? Blum might better consider which is the greater evil. The insouciance of US elitists to aggression, genocide, and killing stands in clear contradiction to what the Qur’an preaches or even what Osama bin Laden espoused.
Blum: “And my readers, and many like them, have to learn to stop turning the other cheek when someone yelling ‘Allahu Akbar’ drives a machete into their skull.”
Comment: Blum’s final sentence is pathetic. It does not address why a person may be motivated/driven to attack someone else, presumably a westerner. Blum focuses blame and criticism in the wrong place.
As to where the blame and focus of criticism belongs, I had written:
[I]t is plain wrongheaded to criticize Islam – and Islam exclusively among religions – for spurring terrorism. To gain understanding, it is crucial to put terrorism and violence in proper context since terrorism against the West did not arise out of a vacuum. Neither does the Qur’an instruct Muslims to attack friendly nations. So-called jihadist terrorism is in response to the far greater preceding terrorism and unremitting oppression from the Christian West and the Jewish Israel. By way of simple analogy, if someone punches you in the face without reason, and you punch that person back, yes, you used violence, but who deserves greater condemnation: the initiator of violence or you who responded to the violence with violence? Or should you and the initiator of violence be equally condemned? And if you had turned the other cheek to the person who first punched you, what lesson would that impart? Would the perpetrator be deterred from punching you again?
And Blum wants the US to militarily clean up its mess!? How will the people traumatized by American aggression, plunder, and war crimes react to that?
I submit that the victims of American violence would do much better if the US butted out and let these people recover as they see best for their circumstances.
Instead, the US should be brought to stand in the docket, let justice take its course — and where sentenced, be appropriately punished for its crimes of aggression and other war crimes. Moreover, the US must pay full reparations to its victims.
Kim Petersen is a former co-editor of Dissident Voice. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @kimpetersen. Read other articles by Kim.