The Tyranny of Continual Warfare

Our Founding Fathers considered standing armies “instruments of tyranny.”  So, to defend us “against foreign danger” they drafted the 2nd Amendment.

The 2nd is the only Amendment that states its purpose: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

Two hundred and more years later, we have a standing army and there is no connection between a “well regulated militia being necessary” and “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.”  But, as I discussed here, the downside of a standing army is greater than ever.  As James Madison explained:

In time of actual war, great discretionary powers are constantly given to the Executive Magistrate.  Constant apprehension of War, has the same tendency … Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other … No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.

Yet we are now in the midst of a “war on terror” that can by definition never end and, in our fear of terror, we are abandoning our freedom.

Comforting Lies

We have no Madison among this year’s Presidential candidates and never will get one if we don’t heed what he and more recently Eisenhower warned:

“Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

Now, Presidential candidates and our media have, as this Gallup poll reveals, persuaded 24% of Republicans, 9% of Democrats and 15% of independents that terrorism is our most important problem.

But an “alert and knowledgeable citizenry” would know car accidents kill far more of us.  Twice as many Americans die every year from texting or talking on the phone while driving as died even on 9/11.

An average of just 32 Americans per year died in terrorist attacks in the next twelve years, fewer of them killed by Islamic terrorists than by disgruntled workplace and school shooters.  Meanwhile, over 30,000 of us are killed by firearms every year, one thousand times as many as are killed by terrorists.

President Eisenhower spoke of the need for balance, for a sense of proportion.  He would be gravely disappointed in us.

We plan to spend $70B-$90B a year, over $1,100B in total, on new weapons in the next 15 years (see Defense Modernization Plans Through the 2020s) “59% of [it on] just 10 programs–all of which are … primarily intended to support high-end conventional and nuclear conflict.”

Defense Modernization Plans

Nuclear weapons are not usually considered appropriate against terrorists although one of our Presidential candidates did joke about nuking the Islamic State.

Our Unmanned Systems Roadmap FY2011-2036 to reduce American casualties will make warfare less troubling and more exciting for voters.

There will be few complaints about spending $1,100B+ on new weapons.  It is, after all, little more than our overall military spending every year.

So here we go.  We provoke hatred by killing innocents — of 2,500-4,000 people killed in drone strikes in Pakistan, 400-1,000 were civilians.  Some were “collateral damage,” some the result of a flawed algorithm that analyzes cellphone usage to assess likelihood of being a terrorist.

And we are provoking our only nuclear rival by building a new generation of nuclear weapons and quadrupling our forces on Russia’s border.

We’ve not just lost all sense of proportion — we’ve lost our senses altogether.

Excuse Me, My Car’s On Fire

Spring had come at last.  It wasn’t cold outside and it was good driving my convertible again, but it wasn’t really warm so after a while I turned on the heater.

A mile or two down the road I noticed wisps of steam.  I drove on.  The steam grew thicker.  “It would be good to get an oil change, anyway,” I thought.  “I’ll take it to the shop now in case this is smoke.”

The cabin was full of smoke as I turned into the lot so I shifted into neutral, turned off the ignition and cruised the rest of the way.  No flames were to be seen but as I opened the door I said to the mechanic standing outside the office, “Excuse me.  I think my car’s on fire.”

There never were any visible flames, perhaps because the fire truck came quickly, but sadly, the wiring harness was destroyed and the car was totaled.  Thinking about it all later, I decided not to get into such a situation again, and to get out of the car and call 911 if I ever did.

President Kennedy came to a similar conclusion soon after he succeeded President Eisenhower who in his January 17, 1961 farewell address warned (see page 15 of his annotated reading copy or watch him deliver the speech), “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

In President Kennedy’s September 25, 1961 address to the UN he said:  “Today, every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be habitable.  Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness.”  (See the full speech here)

Then came the October 16–28, 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.  One thing had led to another until, very soon, the missiles would have been on their way.  Hundred of millions would have been killed outright.  Life of any kind could have become impossible.

A year earlier Kennedy had said at the UN, “a nuclear disaster, spread by wind and water and fear, could well engulf the great and the small, the rich and the poor, the committed and the uncommitted alike.  Mankind must put an end to war–or war will put an end to mankind.”

jfk war quote

Perhaps the prospect of nuclear disaster still seemed theoretical in 1961.  It became utter conviction after October 1962.  The situation in which he found himself haunted Kennedy from then on.  He strove, in secret dialog with Soviet premier Khrushchev, to wind down the arms race and end the Cold War.

Those of us who lived through the 1960s have not forgotten that lesson.  Well, many of us at least have not.  So it is bewildering and piercingly sad that presidential candidates saying things like the following could now be applauded:

Candidate Cruz: “We will carpet bomb [ISIS] into oblivion.  I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out.”

Candidate Rubio “will destroy terrorists overseas by authorizing whatever tools our commanders need.”

Candidate Trump:  “ISIS is making a tremendous amount of money because of the oil that they took away …  I would bomb the shit out of them.”

That’s why we cannot ignore such things as President Obama’s approval of a plan to deploy a new generation of nuclear weapons, over a trillion dollars worth of them.

Perhaps we will not elect a President this year who is eager to launch such weapons.  But the way to bet is, one day we will.

I want my grandchildren and every other child to live long and happily.  That will not happen if we continue to manufacture and distribute weapons of mass destruction.

Pros and Cons of Income Inequality

 

Income inequality is a good thing but, as is proverbial, one can have too much.

We like having more and because working makes that possible, we’re motivated to work.  That’s a good thing because, although having more won’t necessarily make us happy, the way our society works requires us to work.

When there’s too much income inequality, however, when a tiny minority has most of the money, the others can’t keep buying enough and consumption drops.  Businesses start shedding workers, and money that would have been invested in production moves to secondary assets like stocks whose prices increase because of the new demand.

But enterprises underlying those secondary assets depend on the economy and because that is shrinking, those assets become increasingly over-valued.  When the discrepancy is recognized, the speculative bubble bursts.  Then all but the very rich are in trouble.

That happened in the Great Depression 80-odd years ago and, starting 8-ish years ago, it is happening again.  Our government contained the collapse more effectively this time although its effects continue, but we are now also experiencing a worsening systemic problem.

Our society depends on jobs to supply income, but jobs are disappearing.

What revived our economy from the Great Depression were economic policies that redistributed some of the wealth from the top.  Restoring buying power restored consumption, that restored investing in production, and that created more jobs — a virtuous spiral.   Those policies included Social Security, Medicare, high minimum wages, high marginal tax rates, and strong enforcement of financial regulations.  Eisenhower and Nixon supported and even extended parts of the system Roosevelt initiated that kept investment and consumption in balance.

Then economic policy reversed direction in the 1970s following dramatic cuts in the supply and corresponding increases in the price of oil.  The economy was wounded, according to the new theory, because there was not enough investment and too much consumption.  The indicated new policies included cutting the real value of the minimum wage, cutting welfare spending, cutting taxes on the wealthy, and deregulating the financial sector.  Inequality began to rise again.

That new policy direction was and still is embraced by both Democrats and Republican.  The political shift is detailed in this post but my aim here is to point not to a political but a fundamental change.

I included the leftmost chart below in my 2013 Economic Consequences of Inequality post.  We must also consider the one beside it from the World Wealth and Income Database.  Today’s income inequality and under-employment was brought to us by leaders of both political parties, none of which see that we are experiencing a second industrial revolution as momentous as the first.

Extreme Inequality

change-in-top-1-income-share-us-presidentsWhat has already happened is jobs previously done in America went where wages are lower.  What is happening at an increasing rate now is jobs done by humans are going to machines.

Economics researchers studying US Census Bureau data say half of current jobs (47%) can soon be done by machines and this study suggests 81% in the next few decades.  The schedule is arguable but the future of routine jobs is clear — they’re going away.

Routine vs Non-routine jobs

RobotsResearchers employing the quadrant chart tool I wrote about here assure us that non-routine jobs will remain beyond the reach of machines.

Watching our washing machine being repaired just now, I thought: “That’s something no machine could do. “  But the problem was diagnosed by phone, the part to be replaced was mailed here and washers could be designed to be serviced by robots.  In Japan where many are old enough to need assisted living, much of the care is already provided by smart machines.  Our physical, cognitive and emotional health care needs will increasingly be served by machines.  Robot waiters will attend us and security guards will protect us.  And so on.

Robots could even replace the guys on the freezing mud flats outside my window harvesting clams but it will probably not be worth the investment.  And there will always be jobs for thinking folks like us, right?  In fact, our lives will become ever easier as machines take over all our routine and physical tasks.

Work Sphere

Er… why do we imagine we can continue to out-think robots?   Could we not have told sagacious horses looking forward to similar benefits from the first industrial revolution that they never would learn to drive tractors?

Before that revolution 90% of Americans’ jobs were in agriculture, 3% now.  It didn’t happen suddenly.  Engines were used the same way as horses for fifty years before methods of farming changed at an increasing pace to exploit the new potential of engines.

We’re now in the second half of the second industrial revolution.  Computers began to be used for routine tasks more than seventy years ago and I was managing development of a communications grid based on the same technology as the Internet 45 years ago.  The great majority of jobs presently done by humans will again disappear.

What will happen when there are only jobs for a very few?  There must be a new foundation for the economy if there are too few new jobs for humans.  There will be no choice but to redistribute part of the profits from owners of machines to others so they can pay for the machines’ products and services.  There would otherwise be no profits.

Inevitable as it may be in the longer term, redistribution like that would, with good reason, be feared by the wealthy.  It could go too far.  The interim step, if the system dominated by “too big to fail” financial enterprises continues to collapse, will likely be a repeat of the Great Depression work programs.

We may at long last restore our transportation and other infrastructure on the way to an economic future whose structure we cannot yet discern.

Maslow Misapplied to Nations

I was excited 35 years ago to see the rewards for structuring data into quadrant charts.  That was for me!  And management consulting with those charts was fun, but I saw how misleading they can be and at last returned to product and business development.

The chart tool began as a guide for business and product strategy, the idea being that you’re in trouble in the bottom left where your competitive advantages are few and small.  You must develop more and stronger advantages to soar to the profitable heavens on the top right.

BCG Advantage Matrix

Learning how to use and not abuse that tool has continued to be useful.  What provoked this post is research from 1981 to 2014 that is well illustrated by this animation but misleadingly presented in chart in the Findings & Insights summary linked to on this page.

The religion-based labeling is accurate but, in the two-dimensional chart context where the goal is to move from bottom left to top right, it is misleading.

And in this article by a different researcher the data is naively misinterpreted to suggest that capitalism transforms national values toward the political left.

So this is an example of tool abuse.  The data points are real, the research is valuable and the animation of changes over time is meaningful.  But the complex underlying reality is distorted by a static chart labeled in this way.

Nations' Survival vs Self-espression

The World Values Survey (WVS) researchers describe the two dimensions as follows:

  • Traditional values emphasize religion, parent-child ties, deference to authority, traditional family values and national pride
  • Secular-rational values place less emphasis on religion, traditional family values and authority
  • Survival values emphasize economic and physical security, are relatively ethnocentric and feature low levels of trust and tolerance
  • Self-expression values emphasize environmental protection, tolerance, and participation in economic and political decisions

The researchers say the data show that as a country moves from poor to rich, it also tends to move from traditional to secular-rational.  The move is a tendency not inevitable because values are also highly correlated with long-established cultures.

And there is movement in both directions over time.  The USA, for example, is in 1989 a little toward the traditional end and quite far toward self-expression, then it grows more traditional over the next decade, less so in the next, then steadily less traditional and less concerned with self-expression.

The writer claiming that capitalism transforms national values so nations labeled Islamic will, if they embrace capitalism, naturally move toward Protestant heaven, confuses correlation with causation.

His explicit blunder is conceptualizing nations as people to which Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” apply.

Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs

Maslow illustrates how, if we have no food, all we care about is getting our next meal, but once we have that, we start caring about how to get the next meal and the one after that, and if we secure a reasonably dependable supply of basic needs we put effort into friendships, then start working for the respect of others, and finally devote effort to self-actualization.

Here’s a simpler way to see what Maslow was driving at (hat tip to Lexy):

Lexys-Version-of-Maslow

What Maslow’s hierarchy does not show is how circumstances impact the motivation of nations.  It can’t because nations are not people.  They are made up of people whose situations can be very diverse.

This comment on the naive article (click on the link and wait for it to scroll down) summarizes what the research actually illuminates:  “Economic and political systems, and culture/psychology interact with each other in both directions … autonomous individuals create capitalism, safety creates capitalism, peace creates capitalism.”

The top left is not unalloyed heaven because “increasing empathy and mutual respect [and] the breakdown in social capital go hand in hand with secularization and the domination of the market.”

And good governance is a prerequisite: “the state monopoly of coercion helped create the safety required for the large social networks of trust, and individual autonomy.”

According to the US Census Bureau, 15%, i.e., 47 million Americans are living in poverty meaning “a lack of those goods and services commonly taken for granted by members of mainstream society.”  That includes more than one in five of all chil­dren under age 18.

The WVS research, excellent as it is, can tell us nothing about the value those 47 million Americans place on traditional vs secular-rational values.

And we would be utterly mistaken to imagine they over-value self-expression relative to survival.

How We Choose Political Candidates

Why do we have such bewilderingly diverse presidential candidates this year, and why are they arguing so passionately for such different kinds of change?

The passion is because while every President must now declaim as each year begins, “The state of our union is strong” many believe instead that, as candidate Reagan said in 1980 and candidate Trump says now, it is urgently necessary to “Make America Great again.”

But why do we have such different ideas about who can make America great again?  The recently developed Moral Foundations Theory (MFT) offers an explanation.

The direction we want our nation to take is governed by the relative value we place on half a dozen different “moral foundations,” i.e., intuitive ethical values:

  • Care: We feel compassion for those who are vulnerable or suffering
  • Proportionality: We feel people should get what they deserve, good or bad
  • Liberty: We resent restrictions on our choices
  • Loyalty: We keep track of who is “us” and and hate traitors
  • Authority: We dislike those who undermine authority and sow chaos
  • Sanctity: We feel some things must be protected from degradation

The relative importance of the values differs from individual to individual and can change with experience but the pattern is set to a large extent by the society in which we live, and each society’s value system evolves over the long haul depending on its circumstances.

Traditional societies that are vulnerable to attack place high value on loyalty, authority, and sanctity to defend themselves.  Trading societies place higher value on liberty and fairness and tend to be more open.  And so on.

But it’s important to remember that nations are in many cases made up of diverse groups — the USA, for example, is better understood as eleven nations.  And those groups are made up of diverse families.  That’s why there are diverse value systems within nations.

So how does MFT shed light on the support for this year’s diverse presidential candidates?

The following charts show how a representative sample of supporters of each candidate over- or under-valued each of the moral foundations relative to the average American.  Since people tend to place similar values on loyalty, authority and sanctity, they are lumped together as a single category.

Among supporters of the leading candidates we see the strongest difference is on proportionality, the belief that people should get what they deserve, good or bad, with an inverse relationship to the feeling that we should care for those who are suffering.

The major difference for Sanders and Clinton is the value their supporters place on liberty vs authority.  The major difference between supporters of Carson and the other Republican candidates is that Carson supporters under-value liberty and do not under-value caring.

Candidate Supporter Moral Foundations - Tier 1

Supporters of Trump have a more traditional Republican value profile, somewhat over-valuing proportionality and authority while somewhat under-valuing caring relative to Americans as a whole.

Among supporters of the second tier candidates, the consistent difference is the value placed on proportionality.  There is no pattern to the other differences.

The stark difference between supporters of Huckabee and Paul confirms the validity of the theory — Huckabee supporters over-value loyalty-authority-sanctity and under-value liberty while Paul supporters are the reverse.  Paul supporters also under-value caring.

The weight supporters of Bush and Fiorina place on each moral foundation is much closer to that of the average American.  They are in the second tier because they have not energized passionate support.

Candidate Supporter Moral Foundations - Tier 2

This research does not tell us who will be our next President, nor even which pair (or more?) will be candidates in the election.  It could help us make a guess if we knew how many voters have which value-weighting profile, and we could estimate that using the Eleven Nations map since the population of each “nation” presumably has a relatively homogeneous moral profile.

But my aim is not to predict the outcome of elections.  What struck me when I saw the MFT research was a form of deja vu.

Early in my career, when I was doing product development, I sometimes wondered how people who wanted what we sold could be so stupid as to buy others’ offerings when ours were so much better.  It was only later, doing market research, that I realized the issue is not what customers want to buy, but why.  The deja vu was when I realized it’s the same with supporters of political candidates.

Those who don’t support our favored candidate are not necessarily stupid — although they may be that, too.  They have a different sense of what’s most important, of how things should be.   Their morality and ours are different.  That’s why democracy was invented .

All We Need is — War?

President Obama’s $583B final military budget is being sold on the premise that we are in a “new strategic era” challenged by Russia, China, North Korea, “Iran’s malign influence” and Islamic State terrorism.

We will therefore increase our military spending in Europe from $789M to $3.4B with “more rotational US forces,” “pre-positioned” weaponry and “infrastructure improvements” in response to “Russian aggression” in Ukraine and Syria, and our $71B research budget will establish “arsenal planes” to overwhelm air defenses, swarming micro-drones to be deployed from high-altitude aircraft, and much, much more.  We will also spend $40B over five years to enhance our submarine fleet.

What?  We are the ones who provoked “Russian aggression in Ukraine”, we are deeply complicit in the Syrian nightmare and we are fighting alongside “malign Iran” against the Islamic State.

Quadrupling our forces near Russia’s borders will restart the Cold War.  Western military power has not been so close to Russia since Germany’s 1941 invasion that left 10 or 20 million Russians dead.  Russia must avert any risk of that happening again.  What will they do?  Move forces near their borders.  And presumably increase spending on nuclear arms to match our plan to spend $1,000B+ on them over the next three decades.

So why are we doing all this?  Because restarting the Cold War, perpetuating violence in the Middle East and fomenting it in the Far East will continue to grow the weapons market.

International Transfers of Major Weapons

And why are “we the people” willing to spend so much to counter threats whose reality we do not question?  Because the mainstream media swamps us in fear, politicians keep telling us to be afraid, and the economy of local communities like mine depends on military spending.

How much do we spend?  Our fiscal year 2015 federal budget totaled $3.8T or $12,000 per person.  Social Security and Medicare, which are funded by dedicated taxes, are each around 23% of the total.  Around 29% or $1.11T is for “discretionary” programs that are authorized by Congress each year.

New military spending of $598B accounted for 54% of the discretionary 2015 programs, a further $160B of the overall budget was for veterans benefits, half or more of the  $229B in payments on debt resulted from wars on Iraq and Afghanistan whose cost we borrowed, and it is estimated there is another $50B+ of covert action and surveillance spending hidden in other areas.

That’s almost $1T of military spending or $3,100+ per person every year.

discretionary spending 2015

I’m not saying we should eliminate military spending — we should spend less.  We would spend much less if we thought realistically about the threats we’re told necessitate this year’s spending.

We’ve been led to believe something very odd.  The Dalai Lama puts it well:  “Since armies are legal, we feel that war is acceptable; in general, nobody feels that war is criminal …  In fact, we have been brainwashed.  War is … tragedy and suffering.”  He continues:  “although I am deeply opposed to war … it is often necessary to take a strong stand to counter unjust aggression.”

How much less would you spend on our military, and how would you use those savings to make the world happier?

The State of Our Warfare Industry

Wars used to be fought for control of land, resources and people.  Some went on a long time, but they all ended.  Now, however, war is for the USA an industry.  Its goal is not peace and stability, but ever-growing war and instability.

Media bloviating about protecting the homeland, supporting allies, and spreading democracy is a well functioning distraction.  Industry leaders are expected to deliver growth, so warfare industry leaders are promoting terror.

Over the past decade the Middle East warfare market has been well penetrated to become a base for expansion throughout the area encircled by the “Functioning Core”:

Air_and_Space_MajGenMcDew [Compatibility Mode]

The GlobalFirePower project, which tracks defense spending around the world and shows our spending ($577B) to be four times higher than our closest competitor, China, and almost ten times higher than our former arch-rival, Russia, headlines its website: “Going to war is never a decision to be taken lightly, especially when considering the overall cost of such ventures.”

So how did it happen that we no longer consider the cost of wars, and why is it that we no longer decide whether to undertake them, only where we will make wars?

As these Federal Budget charts illustrate, we categorize military spending ($598B) as “discretionary” unlike Social Security and Medicare which are funded via dedicated taxes.  Discretionary means not mandatory, but no politician proposing big cuts in military spending is electable.

I’ve written before about Our Sacrosanct Jobs Program (“One man spoke of the mass unemployment of the 1930s and said that if we could attain full employment by killing Germans, we could have full employment by building houses, schools and hospitals”) and I’ve written about our arms export industry whose collapsing market after the Cold War was rejuvenated by President Bush’s War on Terror.

International Transfers of Major Weapons

It was only in President Eisenhower’s 1961 Farewell Address, when he would never again seek election, that he warned:

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.  The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

Two years later, in 1963, President Kennedy tried again.  Condemning the demonization of Soviet leaders, he warned against the Pax Americana we still seek to enforce today:

“What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war … I am talking about genuine peace – the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living … let us not be blind to our differences – but let us direct attention to our common interests and to means by which those differences can be resolved.”

President Kennedy was soon assassinated, his successor, President Johnson, led us into the Vietnam nightmare, in the next decades we greatly increased our military spending while fighting only small wars, and then President Bush hoodwinked us into a War on Terror that can by definition never end.

Now, when President Obama endorses spending $1,000B+ over the next three decades to enhance our ability to fight nuclear war using weapons with more flexible targeting and a range of yields even down to that of large conventional weapons, Ike is not among Obama’s potential successors.

Ike, Trump and Cruz

Let’s take stock.  How is Pax Americana going?

Late last month Iraqi forces retook the provincial capital, Ramadi, from the Islamic State.  That was possible primarily due to US airstrikes which, as a side-effect, destroyed over 80% of the city.  Victories like that destroy peoples’ means of existence.

As I wrote here when I began researching the Middle East:  “We have come to believe it is not only right but good to send our children to kill, and we revel in the destruction our media presents.”

Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Mali are already failing or failed states, we will drop another 23,000 bombs on them and others this year, and our drones will go on creating “collateral damage” there, in Pakistan and beyond.

Back when I was a Senior Vice President of a large global enterprise, I sometimes imagined my colleagues’ decisions that would have bad results to be stupid.  They were not.  I was the stupid one, not recognizing those results were desired.  Now, our warfare industry leaders and I want different results.

The War on Terror will continue to grow our market.  The state of our warfare industry is strong.

Islam in the USA

Around 200,000 Africans had been brought to the US, some of them Muslims, when 55 delegates gathered at the 1787 Constitutional Convention.  Among them, 51 were Christian.  Some said Islam threatens Christianity, but those in favor of religious liberty prevailed.

John Adams had written a decade earlier in Thoughts on Government that Muhammad was a “sober inquirer after truth” along with Confucius, Zoroaster, Socrates, and others, and as President in 1797 he declared that the US has no “enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen (Muslims).”

But Islam was not much thought about after that until the late 19th century since most owners made slaves attend Christian churches.  It was only when immigrants began arriving from the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent that Muslims began to be noticeable.  Now the pace has greatly accelerated — two in five Muslim immigrants have come since 1990.

Around 3.3 million or 1% of the US population is Muslim today.  About 40% are white, 30% African-American and 30% Asian.   About half the native-born US Muslims are African-American, many of them converts, and 16% belong to what used to be the Nation of Islam aka the Black Muslims.

Muslim American Demographics

The first US mosque was founded in 1915, the first built specifically as a mosque in 1934.   Of 2,000+ mosques in the U.S. now, almost 90% were founded in the last three decades.  Around 400 are associated with The American Society of Muslims, the successor to the Nation of Islam.

During the first half of the 20th century, a small number of African Americans had established groups based on Islamic teachings.  Then in 1930 the Nation of Islam (NOI) was created.  Christianity, its founder declared, was the white man’s religion, forced on African Americans during the slave experience.  He said Islam was their identity.

The message resonated even though most slaves had come from West Central Africa where there were relatively few Muslims.  Slavery had been outlawed since 1865 but seventy years later in the 1930s, African Americans were still oppressed.  It felt long past time to bring that to an end.

In the 1950s Malcolm X, whose house was burned by Ku Klux Klan terrorists when he was a child, became the charismatic face of the NOI advocating complete separation of blacks and whites.

That Islam was brought to the US by relatively recent immigrants and embraced by black separatists colors our attitudes today.  And there is a much longer and broader history that labels Westerners and Muslims in each others eyes.

Pew Research studied traits each sees in the other in a cross-section of Western and Middle East and Asian Muslim nations.  No surprise; Westerners and Muslims see each other as violent and fanatical.

Westerners consider Muslims to be above all fanatical and lacking respect for women.  Muslims consider Westerners to be above all selfish and not generous.

Muslims also see Westerners as violent, greedy, immoral, arrogant, fanatical, neither honest nor tolerant, and not very respectful of women.

But perhaps surprisingly, although Westerners see Muslims as violent and intolerant, they also see them as honest, quite generous, and not selfish, immoral or greedy.

Muslim vs Western Perceived Characteristics

The perception Muslims have of Westerners was formed centuries ago in the Crusades, confirmed by Britain and France’s more recent colonial domination, and compounded by US-led regime change and warfare in the Middle East now as well as Islamophobia whipped up by our politicians and media.

Westerners and Muslims have a long history of prejudice and violence toward each other, but that can change.  It is encouraging that, along with the negatives, Pew Research found Westerners attributing positive traits to Muslims, especially in Europe where there are many more Muslims .

The more we interact the more accepting of differences most of us will become and the safer we all will be.

Sunni vs Shia in Context

Muslims split into two camps, Sunni and Shia, soon after Muhammad died in 632, they have battled ever since, and their violence has spread here.  Is that true?  Should we be afraid?

The Sunni-Shia divide over the succession to Muhammad obscures both what all Muslims accept and significant differences between five Sunni and three Shia schools of law as well as many schools of theology, some of which are accepted by both Sunni and Shia sects.

The seed that grew into today’s conflict was sown in the early 1500s when the Safavids, a Kurdish Sufi mystic order that turned militant, gained control of Iran and established a Shia sect as their empire’s religion to differentiate it from the previous regime, the Sunni Ottoman Empire based in Turkey (see this excellent article for a comprehensive geographic history of the Islamic states.)

Islamic States 1550

Today’s battles do reflect sectarian differences but they are primarily about worldly power.  I’ll say more about those differences and what every Muslim accepts, then review events in the recent past that made the early 1500s split newly relevant.

The Quran, Allah’s words to Muhammad, is the foundation for all Muslims.  There are also Hadiths, reports on Muhammad’s words and actions that correspond to the gospels about Christ’s words and actions.  Some Hadiths are followed by both Sunni and Shia, others only by one or the other.  The major Hadiths happen to have been collected by a Persian Muslim.

The Hadith of Gabriel is the most important and is accepted by both Sunni and Shia.  It includes the mandatory Five Pillars for all Muslims — faith in Allah and Muhammad, five daily prayers performed in a prescribed way, charity (because all things belong to God), fasting (to purify worldly desire), and pilgrimage to Mecca.

The mode of prayer is essentially the same for all Muslims and although the prayer leader in any mosque belongs to one of the Sunni or Shia schools, unlike Catholic or Protestant churches where the fundamentals of practice are different, Muslims of any school can pray in any mosque.

The main Sunni schools of law are Hanafi, Hanbali, Maliki and Shaf”i.  They are associated with different territories as with any organized religion:

  • Hanafi has the largest number of followers and is dominant in Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt, parts of Iraq, India and Bangladesh, and a vast area to the east and north that includes most Russian Muslims
  • Hanbali is strictly traditionalist and is dominant in Saudi Arabia and Qatar.  The Saudi regime enforces a harsh, fundamentalist form of Hanbali known as Wahhabism
  • Maliki is in Kuwait, Bahrain, Dubai and NE Saudi Arabia
  • Shafi’i was the most popular school but was superseded by Hanafi under the Ottoman Empire

The major Shia traditions are the Fivers, Seveners, and Twelvers who differ on which of Muhammad’s successors are legitimate.  The Twelvers’ Jaʿfarī is the school of law for most Shia Muslims because Twelvers are a majority in Iran and among the Shia Muslims in Bahrain and Iraq.  They are also a significant minority in Lebanon.

Overall, around 85-90% of Muslims are Sunni, 10-15% Shia.

Sunni Shia Map

Now the events beginning in 1979 that made the Sunni-Shia split newly relevant.

The leading political movement in the Middle East in the 1950s and ’60s was Arab nationalism.  Sunni-Shia distinctions were almost irrelevant then.  The important issues were shared Arab ethnicity, which is different from Turks and Persians, and their long suffering under colonial powers who divided them.

What changed all that was Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution overthrowing the pro-Western shah.  Iran’s theocratic revolution was both popular and anti-monarchist, and the new regime encouraged uprisings in other Middle Eastern nations.  That threatened Saudi influence and their monarchy itself.

Then came the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.  The Saudi regime supported Iraq’s 1980s war against Iran to preempt revolution by Iraq’s Shias, but Saddam Hussein considered both Saudi Arabia and Iran enemies.  Removing him disrupted the balance between the powers and left a power vacuum in Iraq.

Next the Arab Spring, starting in Tunisia in 2010, spread to Syria and other Middle East nations.   Saudi Arabia and Iran, in rivalry for influence, amped up Sunni-Shia sectarianism.  Their power plays, the Saudis’ heavily supported by the US and Israel, greatly increased the violence.

In Syria protests grew into rebellion then civil war.  Rebels, encouraged by US policy to oust President Bashar al-Assad, were armed by the Saudi regime and Qatar.  The Saudi regime wants Assad replaced by a Sunni government because Assad is Alawite, a Shia sect.  They fear a potential “Shiite crescent” from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon.  Seeing the civil war recast as anti-Shia, Iran’s regime encouraged Shia militias from Iraq and Lebanon to battle the Sunni rebels.

Those rebels include Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham (funded chiefly by Kuwait), and Al Qaeda’s spinoff, the Islamic State.

Israel shares the Saudis’ fear of Iran.  Shia group Hezbollah in Lebanon, one of whose chief goals is the elimination of Israel, gets substantial support from Iran.  Sunni group Hamas, an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, also seeks to establish an Islamic State in what is now Israel.

Meanwhile in Yemen, where civil war also rages, Saudi bombing, justified by greatly exaggerating Iran’s support for Houthi Shia rebels, has greatly worsened the humanitarian disaster.

And meanwhile in Iraq, changes there illustrate how Sunni-Shia strife is not the norm.  Iraq’s population is 75%-80% Arab and almost all Muslim, half to two thirds Shia.  Saddam’s regime was Ba’athist, a movement aiming for a single Arab state that would be Muslim by tradition but more importantly, socialist (see comment.)  Most of Saddam’s government were Sunni.  Shia were oppressed by them, but there was little conflict between Sunni and Shia people until we made Iraq essentially lawless.

Sunni and Shia lived side by side in much of Baghdad, even in 2005.  But as chaos grew, Sunni and Shia began to form self-defense militias, then saw each other as threats.  Neighborhoods in Baghdad that had been mixed were starkly divided two years later.

Baghdad Shia-Sunni Map

The Sunni-Shia split is real enough to excite support for political leaders, but it is their contests for power that are the root of today’s Middle East violence.  Our military interventions to prop up or topple these autocrats are counter-productive and greatly increase the suffering of the people.

Middle East conflict has spread to the USA only in the sense that we replaced the 20th century British and French Empires as the power whose actions aim to dominate the Middle East.

Should we be afraid of the variously named ISIL, ISIS or Islamic State?  It is famous for beheading opponents and now controls most of Syria, but we do not condemn the Saudi regime for beheadings.  Should we then support Syria being ruled by ISIL, a regime similar to Saudi Arabia’s?

No, we should stop being afraid, and we should stop compounding violence.

The Pathetic Fallacy – Race and Religion

Bad results come when concepts obscure reality.  It is individuals who decide what corporations and nations will do, and it is not Arab, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim or other aggregate entities but individuals who act in the name of race and religion.

Power-seeking leaders use our delusion that religious and other institutions make decisions to trigger our fears about “other” groups.  It is all too easy to persuade us to fear people we do not know, and fear sparks hatred.  The massacre when India was partitioned is a chilling illustration.

When its ownership changed in 1947, what had been British India was reconfigured into three territories operating as two nations, (1) India, (2) East Pakistan which later became today’s Pakistan, and (3) West Pakistan, which became today’s Bangladesh.

British India was a collection of 565 semi-sovereign principalities.  Those directly governed by the British are shaded pink in the map below.  The yellow shaded ones were subject only to British control over their relations with each other.  You’ll notice the British considered Nepal part of their empire.  Nepal’s kings did not.  They kept Nepal closed even after India became independent.

Indian Empire 1909

Arab and Persian Muslims began coming to the Indian subcontinent almost immediately after Mohammed’s death in 632.  There were military expeditions and trading, and some soldiers and traders married local women, but it was not until the 13th-14th centuries that Islam became an important force in India.

Many principalities became tributary to Islamic sultanates and then, from the early 16th to the mid-18th centuries, almost the whole subcontinent was ruled in prosperity and religious harmony by a Muslim administration, the Turco-Mongol Mughal Empire.

Next came a Hindu warrior regime, the Maratha Empire from southern India.  At that time, Hindu just meant people in India who were not Turks or Muslims.

The mix of Hindus and Muslims varied.  The highest concentration of Muslims was in the West close to Persia and the Ocean route to Arabia, and in the East close to Calcutta, Britain’s primary ocean port.

You might expect a Shia Muslim majority since the greatest number of Muslims is closest to Persia, but 70% – 75% of Muslims in India and 80% – 90% in Pakistan are Sunni.  That’s because the Mughal emperors happened to be from the Sunni tradition.

India Muslim Population 1909

In the late 19th century, many people on the Indian subcontinent were starting to think of themselves more as Indian than as members of one of the local kingdoms.  The British, who followed the Marathas, had begun allowing them into the administration of the continent as a whole.

The 565 semi-sovereign kingdoms still existed when British rule ended in 1947 and there were starkly different views about whether they should be unified into one or two nations.  Gandhi, who was assassinated by a Hindu nationalist the following year, was relentlessly against violence and for a single nation with Hindus, Muslims, and Christians in unity.

But Hindu leader Savarkar had written in 1923: “We Hindus are … a nation” and by 1937 he was saying: “Indian Hindus and Muslims are two distinct nations, regardless of ethnic or other commonalities.”  Then in 1940, Muslim leader Jinnah told cheering crowds: “[We Muslims] are not a minority (but) a nation.”

So, driven by their leaders’ quest for power, India and Pakistan became separate nations.  Appalling riots broke out.  As many as two million people were killed and over fourteen million fled for their lives, half of them Muslims from India to Pakistan, the others Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan to India.

The Indian subcontinent’s highly diverse population — the 2001 census found 122 major languages and 1599 other languages in India alone — had suddenly been conceptualized as two nations, India with a secular government, Pakistan as an Islamic Republic.

Individuals pursuing power had aligned race and religion with nationalism.  Tellingly, Hindu leader Savarkar was an atheist and Muslim leader Jinnah did no Muslim practice.  It was too late when in 1947, Jinnah called for a secular and inclusive Pakistan.  He had gotten himself a nation by inflaming religious hatred.  Then he could not bring the hatred to an end.

Power-seeking individuals are using the same dark tactics today.  Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi melded the ideas of nation and religion into the Islamic State.  In response, US Presidential candidates Trump, Cruz and others exhort us to condemn every Muslim as a potential terrorist.

We don’t have to fall for these spurious calls for mass hatred.