Cella's Review
Politics, Culture, the Public Square

“. . . And beer was drunk with reverence, as it ought to be.” — G. K. Chesterton

Sunday, November 28, 2004  

The always fascinating Parapundit points readers to this valuable empirical study of the composition of al Qaeda, by Marc Sageman of the Foreign Policy Research Institute. The result is heavy on significant facts.

I started gathering terrorist biographies from various sources, mostly from the records of trials. The trial that took place in New York in 2001 in connection with the 1998 embassy bombing, for instance, was 72 days long and had a wealth of information, 9,000 pages of it. I wanted to collect this information to test the conventional wisdom about terrorism. With some 400 biographies, all in a matrix, I began social-network analysis of this group. [. . .]

Most people think that terrorism comes from poverty, broken families, ignorance, immaturity, lack of family or occupational responsibilities, weak minds susceptible to brainwashing — the sociopath, the criminals, the religious fanatic, or, in this country, some believe they’re just plain evil.

Taking these perceived root causes in turn, three quarters of my sample came from the upper or middle class. The vast majority — 90 percent — came from caring, intact families. Sixty-three percent had gone to college, as compared with the 5-6 percent that’s usual for the third world. These are the best and brightest of their societies in many ways.

Al Qaeda’s members are not the Palestinian fourteen-year- olds we see on the news, but join the jihad at the average age of 26. Three-quarters were professionals or semi- professionals. They are engineers, architects, and civil engineers, mostly scientists. Very few humanities are represented, and quite surprisingly very few had any background in religion. The natural sciences predominate.

Here is a remarkable fact: “At the time they joined jihad, the terrorists were not very religious. They only became religious once they joined the jihad.”

So what’s in common? There’s really no profile, just similar trajectories to joining the jihad and that most of these men were upwardly and geographically mobile. Because they were the best and brightest, they were sent abroad to study. They came from moderately religious, caring, middle-class families. They’re skilled in computer technology. They spoke three, four, five, six languages. Most Americans don’t know Arabic; these men know two or three Western languages: German, French, English.

When they became homesick, they did what anyone would and tried to congregate with people like themselves, whom they would find at mosques. So they drifted towards the mosque, not because they were religious, but because they were seeking friends. [. . .]

These cliques, often in the vicinity of mosques that had a militant script advocating violence to overthrow the corrupt regimes, transformed alienated young Muslims into terrorists.

It’s all really group dynamics. You cannot understand the 9/11 type of terrorism from individual characteristics. The suicide bombers in Spain are another perfect example. Seven terrorists sharing an apartment and one saying “Tonight we’re all going to go, guys.” You can’t betray your friends, and so you go along. Individually, they probably would not have done it.

Sageman says that since September 11 and the American response to it, al Qaeda has become much more decentralized:

The movement has now degenerated into something like the internet. Spontaneous groups of friends, as in Madrid and Casablanca, who have few links to any central leadership, are generating sometimes very dangerous terrorist operations, notwithstanding their frequent errors and poor training. What tipped the Madrid group to operation was probably the arrest of some of their friends after the Casablanca bombing. Most of them were Moroccans and the Moroccan government asked the Spaniards to arrest several militants. So the group was activated, wanting to do something. Their inspiration — the document “Jihad al-Iraq” — probably was found on the Web. Six of its 42 pages argued that if there were bombings right before Spanish election, it could effect a change of government and the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq, the expulsion of the “far enemy” from a core Arab state. From conception to execution, the operation took about five weeks.

Reading this, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the most important security measure against jihadist terror is the simple expedient of keeping the jihadists out. No jihadists in the United States, no jihadist terror in the United States. How blindingly obvious. But that is not all: Even if we concede that keeping every last jihadist out is nearly impossible in a society such as ours, this study suggests that merely keeping their friends and sympathizers out will produce the desired effect. Jihadist terror is nurtured by a distinct culture; without the culture, even the most enterprising jihadist will be trussed and frustrated.

And so our inquiry must lead inevitably to immigration policy; and, if we are serious about national security, it must lead to an immigration policy which discriminates. I do not think America can aspire to become the teacher of Islam, a fanciful hope that some seem to harbor; what Islam is, is a question only Muslims can answer. But America can surely say, as a sovereign republic, that she will have no business with Islam or Muslims until such time as the religion demonstrates, to our satisfaction, its capacity to live peacefully with its neighbors. Our immigration policy is an instrument of American national interest (not, mind you, the interest of transnationalism or multiculturalism); all debate on it must always keep that interest in mind.*

At any rate, it is refreshing to encounter a discussion of our enemies that issues more in fact than in speculation and asseveration (both of which this writer has been known to employ on occasion.)

* I do not mean to imply that the supreme question of politics — the question of justice — should be dismissed: but this tremendous question (adjudication of which would take us so far afield as to render this blog entry absurd) cannot be detached from the question of how closely the American state embodies the just regime. That is, the justice of our immigration policy is inescapably dependent on the justice of our nation. If America is fundamentally a just society, then her national interest is just. If America is fundamentally unjust, then no immigration policy, however just, can redeem her. [What is the point of this footnote? — Ed. Whatever it is, I hope I have made it sufficiently obscure.]

posted by Paul Cella | 5:02 AM |

Saturday, November 27, 2004  

“To condone illegal immigration is to condone anarchy. If illegal aliens are condoned for breaking the law because they are only escaping poverty, then by such logic we should also condone burglars who are poor. And pretty soon there would be an excuse for violating every law. The inevitable result would be anarchy.” — Ian de Silva, Washington Times, Nov. 19, 2004.

The question recurs, “how shall we fortify against [the loss of faith in our political institutions]?” The answer is simple. Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others. As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor; — let every man remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the character of his own, and his children’s liberty. Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap — let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs; — let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars. — Abraham Lincoln, Lyceum Address, January 27, 1838.

posted by Paul Cella | 5:41 AM |

Thursday, November 25, 2004  

SUB SPECIE AETERNITATIS: Governor Bradford’s own history of the Plymouth Bay Colony over which he presided is a story that deserves to be far better known—particularly in an age that has acquired a mania for socialism and communism, regards them as peculiarly “progressive” and entirely new, and is sure that they represent “the wave of the future.”

Most of us have forgotten that when the Pilgrim Fathers landed on the shores of Massachusetts they established a communist system. Out of their common product and storehouse they set up a system of rationing, though it came to “but a quarter of a pound of bread a day to each person.” Even when harvest came, “it arose to but a little.” A vicious circle seemed to set in. The people complained that they were too weak from want of food to tend the crops as they should. Deeply religious though they were, they took to stealing from each other. “So as it well appeared,” writes Governor Bradford, “that famine must still ensue the next year also, if not some way prevented.”

So the colonists, he continues, “began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery. At length [in 1623] after much debate of things, the Gov. (with the advice of the chiefest among them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves. . . .

“And so assigned to every family a parcel of land. . . .

A Great Success

“This had very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Gov. or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content.

“The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn, which before would allege weakness, and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.

“The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years, and that among godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato’s and other ancients, applauded by some of later times; — that the taking away of property, and bringing in community into a commonwealth, would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. . . .

“By this time harvest was come, and instead of famine, now God gave them plenty, and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many, for which they blessed God. And the effect of their particular [private] planting was well seen, for all had, one way and other, pretty well to bring the year about, and some of the abler sort and more industrious had to spare, and sell to others, so as any general want or famine has not been among them since to this day.”

The moral is too obvious to need elaboration.

— Henry Hazlitt, 1949 (Reprinted in The Freeman, Nov. 2004.)

[Via Orrin Judd.]

posted by Paul Cella | 11:16 PM |

The current issue of First Things features Fr. Richard John Neuhaus doing some hard thinking; to my ears, thinking that has generally not been done by the people most required to do it. I am heartened by Neuhaus’s trenchancy and independence.

In the war on terror, we have been too reticent in acknowledging the challenge posed by Islam’s culture, morality, and very different civilizational aspirations. It is understandable that political leaders are eager not to define the conflict in terms of religious warfare, but that does not require speaking of Islam as a religion of peace that a few fanatics have hijacked for their lethal purposes. We must hope that there are Muslim thinkers of influence who will succeed in setting it right, but there is something terribly wrong with Islam in its inability to get along with the non-Muslim world. Almost everywhere we witness the what [Samuel] Huntington calls “the bloody borders of Islam.” [. . .]

In these pages, we have adumbrated in a thousand ways why politics is in largest part dependent upon culture, and why culture is the product of a morality and meaning most deeply grounded in religion. On all these scores, the Islamic world is grievously impoverished. That does not mean Islamic nations are not capable of democracy. It does mean democracy will require deep and difficult transformations not just in politics but, much more importantly, in culture, morality, and religion. [my emphasis] [. . .]

We need to abandon the conceit that they hate us only because of how wonderful we are — how free, how productive, how powerful, how rich, and (repeat ten times) how free. No doubt there is ressentiment, but it is ressentiment with a multitude of reasons that we need to understand, if not accept. . . As for our blessed freedom, it has also brought to the world pornography, abortion, irreligion, and rampant licentiousness in the name of liberty.

Amen, father! These things need to be said by the men who move opinion in this country. And I’ll note that the last quoted remark is of the kind that might well have brought down upon its speaker’s head the opprobrium of “anti-American” three years ago. I submit that any man who will pronounce Fr. Neuhaus an anti-American has not got his head on straight.

There is another Neuhaus article in the same issue which exhibits a similar penetration in analyzing the role of the Vatican in the shifting sands of world politics.

We should all understand why President Bush refuses to speak about a clash of civilizations or to describe our circumstance as one of religio-cultural warfare. But we should all know that that is what, in fact, it is. Or, as the report of the 9/11 Commission prefers, it is an ideological conflict inescapably tied to religion. It would be an exquisite irony of history if, when war is declared on the Christian West by those inspired by a possibly perverse but undeniably Islamic ideology, the Vatican refused to take sides; thus, willy-nilly, taking the other side.

The Vatican may refuse to take sides because it is an irretrievably European institution, and has imbibed deeply of European anti-Americanism. But while the Vatican may be quite European in its prejudices (a word I do not, student of Burke that I am, use as a curse), even our most implacable Europe-contemnors here on the American Right cannot possibly maintain that it is not Christian. And, being Christian, the Vatican’s opposition to America is anchored by deeper roots than mere envy; it is, in short, an opposition that we cannot so easily dismiss, as Neuhaus seems to sense.

The big question lurking behind Neuhaus’s fine reflections is not something so simple as whether this war is worth fighting (the answer to that, if we aspire to survive, is yes), but, when we come to acknowledge that this war is “inescapably tied to religion,” whether America is a nation capable of waging war, as she once did, as a Christian nation.

I said the question was big. Confronting it, however, may be a challenge for which we will, one Thanksgiving of the future, give fervent thanks.

posted by Paul Cella | 10:32 AM |

Monday, November 15, 2004  

Here is something interesting: a list of “Authors Most Frequently Cited by the Founders of the United States.” Hardly definitive, of course, but nonetheless revealing. For instance, St. Paul tops off the list, while Montesquieu is cited almost three times as often as John Locke. I’d say that the theorists who presume that Locke was the most important influence on the Founders have some explaining to do.

[Via Philokalia Republic.]

posted by Paul Cella | 1:37 AM |

Saturday, November 13, 2004  

SUB SPECIE AETERNITATIS: “The equality of the Declaration [of Independence] is the equality to which, say, Abraham Lincoln was born — an equality that conferred upon him merely an equal right to compete with his fellow-men in the race, as we run it here in America, for whatever prize he in his equality chose to go after. Not so the egalitarianism of the Liberals. It must pick Lincoln up at dawn in a yellow bus with flashing lights, so saving him shoe-leather, whisk him off to a remote consolidated school (financed, in all probability, by inflationary bonds), feed him a free lunch, educate him for democracy, protect him from so-called concentrations of social and economic power, eke out his income by soaking the rich, doctor him, hospitalize him, and, finally, social-work him — if, as he probably will now, he turns into a juvenile delinquent. Equality, by offering him the rewards of self-reliance, encourages him to become, above all — self-reliant; egalitarianism encourages him to learn to play the angles. Revolutionary? Yes indeed, and in a three-fold sense: revolutionary, because give the Liberals their way and the American social order will not bear even a cousinly resemblance to that which is traditional among us; revolutionary, because the revolution must go on and on forever, since if you are in the business of making people equal there is and can be no stopping place; revolutionary, finally, because the job cannot be done by a government of limited powers — anymore, to use James Burnham’s phrase, than you can use an automobile to dig potatoes.” — Willmoore Kendall, “What Is Conservatism?,” in The Conservative Affirmation in America (1963).

posted by Paul Cella | 6:15 AM |

Monday, November 08, 2004  

A well-worn topic indeed, but Patrick Henry Reardon’s brilliant essay on the First Amendment brings a certain fruitful and unexpected originality.

It is important to examine carefully the precise wording of this very precisely worded affirmation. It does not say that religion and the press shall be prohibited from bringing political influence and power to bear on Congress. It says, rather, that Congress must not bring political influence and power to bear on religion and the press. In not the slightest respect does the First Amendment restrict the influence and activities of religion and the press with respect to the political life of the nation. The restrictions in this amendment are laid entirely on the government, none of them on religion and the press.

Mr. Reardon shrewdly compares Church to Press, both of which institutions are emphatically protected from government (to be more precise: congressional) interference by the First Amendment; and thus he demonstrates the absurdity of the very phrase “separation of church and state” in the context of the Constitution.

The prohibition that restricts Congress from interfering with the press has never been regarded as some kind of “wall of separation” between government and the press. We do not expect to find on the editorial page of the Chicago Tribune a statement that says, for example, “Although we ourselves personally approve a woman’s right to choose, we refrain from pushing the point in these pages, lest we appear to be imposing our own moral persuasion on the normal workings of the courts and the legislature. The traditional wall of separation between Press and State must be maintained at all peril.”

Likewise, we would be more than slightly miffed if the Weekly Standard were to declare, “No standard is more serious than the separation of government and the press. Therefore, we think it inappropriate for us to interject our own views into the political process and impose our morality on others. We are willing to admit, however, strictly in our private and personal capacity, that our own view of ‘gay marriage’ is something other than completely favorable.” We never expect statements like that from the press.

On the contrary, we take it as obvious that the Chicago Tribune and the Weekly Standard can say whatever they want on any subject under the sun, including the workings of government, and this is precisely the function they serve in civil society. [. . .]

In recent decades, however, there has arisen the very strange notion, promoted mainly by irreligious people, that the churches are supposed to remain quiet about civic and political matters, for fear of “interfering with the business of government.” Our forebears would have regarded that thought as weird indeed. They expected the churches to interfere. They wanted the churches to interfere. Indeed, they provided a specific constitutional amendment to guarantee that the churches would interfere.

Now this is a view obviously at odds with the great bulk of the legal profession in this country. But is it at odds with the plain meaning of the text in question? I think not. To hell with the legal profession; the Constitution is far too valuable a document to leave in its rapacious hands.

The one codicil I would add to Mr. Reardon’s analysis is that the First Amendment was designed to bind to Congress alone, thus allowing the state legislatures much broader authority in these matters (and yes, I know what Incorporation Doctrine is.) We can illustrate this point by merely looking at the state constitutions at the time of the First Amendment’s passage: many had very emphatic religious establishments, religious tests for office, etc.

posted by Paul Cella | 5:40 AM |

Sunday, November 07, 2004  

“The rejection of gay marriage cannot be understood except in relation to the social activism from the Left, any more than a Warsaw barricade can be explained by a sudden desire to pile domestic possessions in the middle of a roadway without glancing at the Panzerkampfwagen VI rattling down the street.”

— Wretchard of The Belmont Club.

posted by Paul Cella | 4:05 AM |

Wednesday, November 03, 2004  

The great novelist Tom Wolfe gave an interview to the UK Guardian (an exquisitely Leftist organ) the other day; in the course of which he propounded a very crisp and cogent explanation for President Bush’s popularity; an explanation which will serve pretty well, I think, as a final commentary on this election. Because, as my father likes to say, it’s all over but the shoutin’.

“I think support for Bush is about not wanting to be led by East-coast pretensions. It is about not wanting to be led by people who are forever trying to force their twisted sense of morality onto us, which is a non-morality. That is constantly done, and there is real resentment. Support for Bush is about resentment in the so-called ‘red states’ — a confusing term to Guardian readers, I agree — which here means, literally, middle America. I come from one of those states myself, Virginia. It’s the same resentment, indeed, as that against your own newspaper when it sent emails targeting individuals in an American county.” Wolfe laughs as he chastises. “No one cares to have outsiders or foreigners butting into their affairs. I’m sure that even many of those Iraqis who were cheering the fall of Saddam now object to our being there. As I said, I do not think the excursion is going well.”

The whole interview is well worth reading, though towards the end Wolfe makes a puzzling comment about political correctness quite unworthy of his other remarks.

* * *

Unless the lawyers overturn this thing (a distinct, though increasingly remote, possibility), it certainly will be recorded as a strong victory for the Bush-led G.O.P. Whatever my problems with the President (and they are legion), this is a gratifying and healthy rebuke to the modern Left — a coalition of strange and fevered factions which in its totality constitutes, indeed as Wolfe asseverates, the organized imposition of an alien morality (consider the overwhelming rejection of homosexual marriage in nearly a dozen states) upon a republican people; in short an enormous usurpation. Let them stew in their in the bitterness of defeat; and then perhaps, one hopes, begin to engage in the kind of introspection that will eventually bring them back into realm of sane politics.

For now, congratulations are in order for George W. Bush and the Republican Party; for soon our critique will begin in earnest, and it will not relent.

[Cross-posted at RedState.]

posted by Paul Cella | 4:16 AM |

Tuesday, November 02, 2004  

Is there anything, in all the wide world, quite as dismal as the inexorable advance of the despotism of the European Union? Charles Moore’s Daily Telegraph column catalogues some of the features of this unsightly monster.

Mr. Moore describes how a man was rejected for a position among the EU commissioners because he affirms (somewhat problematically) Christian doctrine on human sexuality. A tacit test for office prohibits orthodox Christians, but it does nothing to impede the participation of Communists. Moore goes on to note some measures under consideration by the EU which ought to make any man jealous of his liberties very queasy: common European arrest warrants, “pan-European prosecuting magistrates,” etc. And then this: “When the European Parliament recently interviewed all 25 potential commissioners, it asked each whether he or she would feel free to implement their bits of the European Constitution now, without waiting for the national referendums and ratifications on the subject. Only six out of the 25 said they should wait.” Nothing new here. This contempt for the integrity of the nation-state is a settled sentiment with most of the leaders not merely of the EU but of the Western world at large.

One is tempted to attribute the cause of this to the decadence of Europeans: certainly that is true of the rootless statists among their elites. But it is not clear that the peoples of Europe will have much of a say on the matter. All the august parliaments and republican assemblies of Europe are being emasculated. Popular majorities are dazed, trussed, or bought off. My personal favorite trick is the mechanism of multiple referenda: officials continue to hold a series of national referenda on some surrender of sovereignty to the EU until they get the result that they want; then the referenda stop. The whole thing is depressing.

* * *

I am troubled by the flippancy of the response to this sad spectacle by American Conservatives. Our laments are often touched with the hint of a sneer, as if the decay of our ancestral civilization into the most ugly, because most insipid, of tyrannies were an occasion for cynical laughter. I have even seen men who fancy themselves Conservatives hail the rise of a Islamic Europe as something not merely inevitable but encouraging, as if the quiet, apathetic capitulation of what is left of Christendom to the enemy against which her sons fought and died for five hundred years, were something distant and irrelevant to our own trials. What is suggested by this flippancy is the penetration of the American Right by the very poison which has led a blind and bewildered Europe to embrace the simultaneous disaster of bureaucratic despotism and slow-motion invasion. No man who is really alive to the historic spirit, to the rooted character of his culture, can watch the death throes of his civilizational kinsman with jaded eyes. No honorable man can view with equanimity the prospect of his brother’s suicide.

posted by Paul Cella | 4:56 AM |
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