Sunday, August 27, 2017

Antifa, Paranoia and Preventive Strikes

In 1981 the Israeli Air Force bombed a nuclear reactor in Iraq which was purchased from France. Though Iraqi and French authorities claimed the reactor was for peaceful research, the Israeli authorities claimed that within a month the reactor could be weaponized.  The attack was widely condemned throughout the world, including the UN and the USA.  However in more recent years the air strike has been praised by prominent figures including Bill Clinton and Dick Cheney.

The 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States (also known as the Bush Doctrine) stated:
... The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction – and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. There are few greater threats than a terrorist attack with WMD.
To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively in exercising our inherent right of self-defense. The United States will not resort to force in all cases to preempt emerging threats. Our preference is that nonmilitary actions succeed. And no country should ever use preemption as a pretext for aggression.
This policy was used to justify the 2003 Invasion of Iraq.  Apparently Israel's air strike twenty-two years earlier was not enough to prevent Saddam Hussein from developing Weapons of Mass Destruction (though during that time frame, North Korea developed those weapons).  Though the Iraq War had temporary victories, the instability within Iraq as well as Syria allowed for the formation of ISIS.  Though Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator, by most measures he was not as bad as the leaders of ISIS.  Nonetheless, the preemptive or preventative strike remains a popular strategy for dealing with rogue nations.

The USA and Israel are not the only entities that perform surprise attacks based solely on the suspicion of wrong doing.  The Axis powers of WWII launched surprise attacks on several neutral countries, most notably the attacks at Pearl Harbor.  The victors of WWII occupied a moral high ground, they did not start the war but they won it.  Yet decades later, they are employing the tactics of their former enemies.

Additionally, a small group within the USA have started launching surprise attacks domestically.  The founder of the "alt-right" movement, Richard Spencer, has been punched by complete strangers twice.  I've read arguments of progressive thinkers justifying these actions, frequently accompanied by pictures of Captain America punching Nazis (as if comic books were a source of enduring morality).  It is worth noting that Spencer denies he is a Nazi, though his beliefs are clearly outside of mainstream USA political thought.  Furthermore, the 1922 Beer Hall Putsch shows the resilience of Nazis to violence.  Hitler and other Nazis attempted to overthrow the government of Bavaria, several of Hitler's followers were killed or injured and Hitler was imprisoned and wrote Mein Kampf...  So what benefits should we expect from punching people who think similarly to Hitler?

Aside from individual surprise attacks, a disorganized group known primarily as 'Antifa' has come to disrupt events where they believe disagreeable views will be expressed.  When conservative entertainer, Milo Yianopolis visited the University of California at Berkeley (the birthplace of the 1960s free speech movement) a number of masked protesters wearing black committed acts of mass vandalism.  More recently during the Charlottesville 'Unite the Right' rally marchers who had Nazi and Confederate symbols were fought by the Antifa.  In the Boston Free Speech Rally, they fought the police.  It's worth noting that their violence is limited and so far I am not aware of any acts of murder or terrorism that they have committed.

Many people condemn the Antifa, but few try to understand them.  It seems like they are trying to unite by fighting a common enemy.  Fascism was briefly a popular ideology in Italy, and though it is connected to Naziism, the ideologies are not identical.  Very few people today call themselves fascists, so Antifa is searching for an enemy that barely exists.  They are hypersensitive to symbols, speech and behavior that are associated with right-wing ideologies.  They are trying to prevent the rise of the forces that started WWII.  But their strategy may be so ineffective that it creates sympathy for their enemies.  It may be hard to understand why citizens of the USA would resort to violence against people who hold radically different political beliefs from them.  But if you examine the foreign policy of the US in recent years, you'll see that it's not that different from Antifa tactics, it's just that the military of the USA has much more resources at its disposal than Antifa and the violence is directed primarily towards areas which display Islamic symbols, behavior and speech.

If we want to implement principle-based politics we have to understand what causes violence.  If the solution to violence is more violence, we risk escalating conflicts and divisions.  If the solution is forgiveness, we risk being ruled by those who accept forgiveness but do not give it.  If the solution is dialog, then we need to assure those with extreme views that they won't be attacked simply for expressing them.  So we need to understand why people feel it is acceptable to be violent towards those who express extreme beliefs.  I believe that people who attack extremists usually do so because they are paranoid.

Paranoia is a thought process heavily influenced by anxiety and fear.  Paranoid people are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories.  A single paranoid person isn't necessarily dangerous, but groups of paranoid people who share a world view that places them as better than other people and justifies violence is dangerous.  In practice, paranoia creates more paranoia.  When we look at history in hindsight, there are some cases when paranoia was clearly justified.  And their are patterns in history, but every year is distinct, in most cases paranoia is not rational.  The only solution to the escalation of paranoia that I can think of is trust in humanity and a belief that humans are fundamentally the same and our differences are insignificant compared to our similarities.