Terrorism without Mens Rea?

We’ve had our share of disagreements about the semantics of “terrorism” on this blog, but I think we can all admit that this claim, (supposedly) made by Senator Rick Scott (R-FL) about the recent shooting at the Pensacola Naval Air Station, makes no sense at all. From a story in The New York Times:

Senator Rick Scott of Florida, also a Republican, said the attack should be considered terrorism, regardless of the gunman’s motivation.

If we eliminate the gunman’s motivation altogether, then all we’re left with is the fact that a Saudi trainee shot some people at a naval air base. That fact by itself is consistent with an accident. But however we define it, an act of terrorism can’t be an accident. Continue reading

Have You Been Saved?

Imagine there’s a reset button
that would restore those you love
to an earlier, saved state
before they left you
suddenly in anger
or slowly drifting away in boredom
before they betrayed you
or you betrayed them
or they thought you had
before they went mad
and forgot your name
or before they died
turned to rotting flesh underground
or incomprehensible ashes in a cardboard box

Imagine there’s a reset button
but someone else has it
and is about to delete
everything you’ve thought, felt, and done
since your last save point
someone who loves your past self so much
they’re willing to kill your present self to get it

Perhaps it has already happened

that Peloton commercial

Here we go:

My initial, emotion-driven evaluation, when I started seeing the ad (over and over and over and over, watching NFL football), was negative.  I think I was responding to the woman seeming sort of unsure of herself, maybe weak in some way — and her husband “saving her” by getting her the machine.  I think this got my feminist hackles up.  However, upon reflection, I don’t think the commercial is sexist.  I don’t think it is about a husband wanting his “116 lb wife to be a 112 lb wife.”  It is about an unsure or insecure or unhappy person find strength in accomplishment — and being helped to this by a loved one, by her partner (and, somewhat oddly to my tastes, documenting the whole adventure via selfie).  I suspect that the woman playing this role (unsure, insecure, needing support) made me uncomfortable (even though I bring no simple egalitarian ideals to the table).  For the images and story of the commercial, in addition to capturing a conventional gender reality (but perhaps also non-conventional psycho-sexual reality) that is not, in itself, obviously objectionable, also easily fits into or slides into representations of gender and marriage roles that are unjust and oppressive.  Danger, Will Robinson, danger!  My emotional reaction, but not my considered judgment, more or less line up with the negative evaluation of the commercial as sexist.  Thoughts?

Don’t Lean On Me

The New York Times recently reported this case, involving a high school English teacher fired for tweets she sent President Trump:

A high school English teacher in Texas who was fired after she sent tweets to President Trump asking him to rid her school of undocumented immigrants should be reinstated or be paid a year’s salary, a state agency ruled this week.

This is a case where (assuming the truth of the accusations against her) I can see the merit in complaints that the teacher created a hostile, even dangerous environment for students. But the facts of the case are somewhat unclear or contested, so I’m going to bypass that issue. Continue reading

Islamic Wine-Goblets and Christian Adultery

Wine and the nectar of the beloved’s mouth entail no sin or crime
Except for heretics who have swerved from our (rightful) creed.
— Ibn Rāfi’ Ra’sah (early Islamic poet; quoted in J. A. Abu-Haidar, “The Muwashshahāt and the Kharjas Tell their Own Story,” p. 57; Al-Qantara 26.1 (2005): 43-98)

Avicenna was fond of wine, and, on being reproached for his defiance of the Koran, replied: “Wine is forbidden because it excites quarrels and bad passions, but I, being preserved from excesses by my philosophy, drink wine to sharpen my wits.”
— George Henry Lewes, The History of Philosophy From Thales to Comte, vol. 2 (1867)

The Mahommedan and Christian Arabs of Asyut get on admirably together. They smile at the mistaken (as they suppose) opinions of each other; and the educated Arab smiles at both. But there is no intolerance, no ill-will, no anathematising. I remember offering a glass of wine to an Arab at Tunis, chiefly with the mischievous object of seeing how he would refuse it. Quaffing it off, to my surprise, he drank my health. “I thought,” said I, “that wine was forbidden by your religion?” “Drunkenness, not drink, is what is meant,” he replied with a smile.
— Wordsworth Donisthorpe [yes, that Wordsworth Donisthorpe], Down the Stream of Civilization (1898)

Some years ago, I attended a dinner at Princeton University where I witnessed a revealing exchange between an eminent European philosopher who was visiting from Cambridge, and a Muslim scholar who was seated next to him. The Muslim colleague was indulging in a glass of wine. Evidently troubled by this, the distinguished don eventually asked his dining companion if he might be so bold as to venture a personal question. “Do you consider yourself a Muslim?” “Yes,” came the reply. “How come, then, you are drinking wine?” The Muslim colleague smiled gently. “My family have been Muslims for a thousand years,” he said, “during which time we have always been drinking wine.” An expression of distress appeared on the learned logician’s pale countenance, prompting the further clarification: “You see, we are Muslim wine-drinkers.”
— Shahab Ahmed, What Is Islam? The Importance of Being Islamic (2015)

That of which a large amount intoxicates, a small amount is forbidden.
— The Prophet Muhammad, Hadith, quoted in Ahmed, op. cit.

Reference to an ‘Islamic wine goblet’ makes about as much sense as talk of ‘Christian adultery.’
— Thomas Bauer, quoted in Ahmed, op. cit.

Islamic wine goblet (Uzbekistan, 15th century)

Drink Wine and Look at the Moon

I recently finished reading What Is Islam? (available on Amazon here, and free to read online or download here) by the late Shahab Ahmed (note: not to be confused with the Australian murderer of the same name!). I wasn’t convinced by all of it, or by the author’s slightly postmodern frame of reference (while Ahmed pokes fun, in a footnote, at another scholar’s prose style as “unnecessarily complicated and none-too-transparent,” I fear the same charge could be brought against much of Ahmed’s own book too), but I think it’s nonetheless a terrific book that makes a persuasive case, backed up by a wealth of historical detail, for, at the very least, the following important claims:
Continue reading

Pete Buttigieg, Iowa, and Character-Based Voting

I am colossally overdue in finally editing and posting the fifth installment in my supposedly five-installment-long series on character-based voting. Resolution: before the year is out. But here, at any rate, is a passing thought on that same subject, inspired by a New York Times article on Pete Buttigieg. In previous posts on this topic, I’ve tried to flesh out the ways in which character might be relevant to justified voting. An indirect route to that same end is to reflect on a case where it’s mostly (or largely) irrelevant. Continue reading

Happy Thanksthieving*

Sometimes, my cynicism about our national holidays even starts to get to me. But not today. So here I am, bright and early, to crap on Thanksgiving. For most people, Thanksgiving is a feel-good holiday about gratitude for God’s plenty and the wonders of mutual understanding in a multicultural context. For me, it’s about theft, lies, self-delusion, and worst of all, football. So here are some downer, myth-busting pieces on Thanksgiving. Continue reading

Vile, Stupid, and Tenured

I rarely praise university administrators, but then, I rarely have the opportunity to do so. For once, an opportunity presents itself:

The provost did not mince her words about the opinions of a professor on her campus. His views were racist, sexist and homophobic, she wrote in a statement this week. They were “vile and stupid,” she said, and “more consistent with someone who lived in the 18th century than the 21st.”

But the provost, Lauren Robel of Indiana University Bloomington, was equally clear on another point: The First Amendment prohibited the university from firing the professor, Eric Rasmusen, for expressing those views. “That is not a close call,” wrote Professor Robel, who also teaches at the law school.

The unusually candid statement quickly drew attention from students, academics and lawyers, many of whom praised the provost for publicly excoriating the professor’s opinions while respecting one of the nation’s basic freedoms.

For once, a provost who’s struck the right balance between bureaucratic amoralism and opportunistic, pseudo-moralistic pandering. She’s absolutely right: firing Rasmusen is not a close call; neither is condemning him. The only close call is whether he should have been hired in the first place, but that ship has sailed. Continue reading

The Unwarranted Demonization of Scot Peterson (5): “It Was Chaos”

This article is (in most but not all respects) a useful corrective to the reflexive, unwarranted demonization of Scot Peterson over the Parkland shooting of 2018. The “chaos” to which the article refers arose because it was unclear where “the” shooter was, and how many shooters there were. Unfortunately, like so much journalism on this topic, the article seems to suggest that there was chaos for everyone but Scot Peterson, who infallibly knew that there was one shooter, and knew in real time exactly (or even approximately) where this shooter was. Just to be clear: there is no evidence in the public domain that indicates this. The evidence indicates the reverse: that he did not know how many shooters there were, or where any of these shooters were. Continue reading