Friday, July 13, 2007

Mised opportunities...

In the latest Kaus-Wright diavlog on Bloggingheads, I think each participant let his adversary get the better of an exchange, when there were better arguments that could have been made.

First, Kaus lets Wright frame the issue of profiling Muslims as "Won't this increase Muslim resentment and lead to more terror attacks?"

This argument almost refutes itself. If there's a group of people who are so touchy that they would blow stuff up if they get a little extra attention, then it seems that it would be prudent to keep an eye on them.

The expected response is that this is a universal reaction to being singled out by race, not something particular to Muslims.

My experience in being part of targeted groups is somewhat limited, but I notice that this argument is not deployed in opposing profiling any other group. If anti-abortion or ecoterrorists were subjected to similar scrutiny, anyone opposing it on the basis that it could anger them more and produce more attacks would be laughed out of the room. Would anybody question the Plame investigation by saying that investigating the Bush Administration will only make them mad and apt to do more destructive things? But in this case, Wright seems to think it's an argument-ender.

This does seem to smack of some cultural superiority. The other groups are assumed to have some moral agency, but not Muslims. They are mindless reactors to American policies.

This has long been a problem I've had with Wright's work. Recent events may have vindicated him that bombs are not the way to solve Islamic terrorism, but I don't think cowering in fear is, either.

I am open to arguments that profiling is ineffective. I am open to arguments that it goes against our principles. But this argument that we shouldn't do this because it will only enrage the other side is an invitation to define our relationship with Muslims in terms of fear. One which we do not accept in any other context.

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Later, Wright lets Kaus frame the torture debate in terms of the tired "ticking time bomb" scenario. He claims to oppose torture just like Wright and John McCain do, but seems quite eager to move the discussion to this. And that if we could countenance the use of torture in the ticking time bomb scenario but want to ban torture are "hypocrites."

Well, first of all, I'm not convinced that torture is the correct course of action even in the ticking time bomb scenario. I don't know that John McCain or Bob Wright think it is either, but recognize that "no" is not a politically viable answer to the question of whether to torture in that case.

Secondly, As I've said before, if the possibility of criminal sanctions enter at all into whether to torture someone, then you're not really in a "ticking time bomb" scenario. McCain's caveat isn't an admission that torture is the way to go so much as a statement that a law against torture would not prevent torture if people really thought it was the only way to save the world. A speeding law isn't going to prevent me from rushing a dying family member to the hospital.

Thirdly, immediately turning the discussion to the "ticking time bomb" scenario, which has not happened, when there have apparently been many cases of torture for more mundane reasons betrays some sympathy for torture. Similar to immediately turning discussions of abortion to saving the life of the mother. Yes, there may be hard cases. We can handle them as they come up.