The Charleston Shooter & the Confederate Flag

Ah, here we are again. Another mass shooting by an angry young white male. What will it be this time? What will we blame for this senseless violence? Gun control? Racial hatred? Mental illness? Violent video games? Sexual promiscuity? The Chinese? Lesula monkeys?1 Those weird looking motherfuckers. On and on the merry-go-round we go. Aren’t you tired of it? I know I am. So let’s do what white people do so often and dismiss the Charleston Shooting as nothing more than an isolated incident. All the while convincing ourselves that the ubiquitously pervasive negative attitude many Americans possess towards people of color is nothing more than a liberal-conceived tactic used to deflect blame away from black people’s own cultural shortcomings. There, don’t you feel better now?

*If you don’t know what I’m talking about. I am referring to the Dylann Roof shooting in which a young, white supremacist went into the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC and opened fire, killing 9 black worshipers. According to a survivor of the shooting, Roof was quoted as saying “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”* 

This time around, we’ve decided to focus on the Confederate flag. The Confederate flag is an antiquated relic of a time in America’s history when a divided nation of white men fought and killed each other to decide if black men should be kept in chains as property or be considered human beings. For Northerners, taking down the flag and removing it from public grounds is a no-brainer. However, it isn’t so simple for many people living in the South. For many white Southerners, the Confederate flag isn’t so much about racial discrimination as it is an iconic piece of history that represents Southern heritage and pride. The South rebelled against the North because the North was trying to impose their own values on them and so the flag is viewed as a symbol of independence and rebellion against an overreaching federal government. This idea is central to Southern identity. It is why so many Southerners are gun-owners, why they are in favor of state right’s, and why so many want a “smaller government”. Even the forced removal of the Confederate flag feeds into the notion of the North constantly imposing its will on the South.

That all said, the idea that the Confederate flag or any Confederate memorabilia have nothing to do with race is just ridiculous. Anyone who doubts the racially-charged historical connotation attached to the Confederacy and its flag is just woefully and/or willfully ignorant. The original purpose of the flag may have been to commemorate those who died during the war and serve as a reminder of our country’s history. Nevertheless, this was the same flag flown by Southern slave owners in 1860, it was the same flag flown by the KKK in 1920’s and it was the same flag flown by opponents of the Civil Rights movement in the 1940’s, 50’s and the 60’s. It is the same flag used by people to doltishly propagate their racist beliefs. This isn’t just a case of “a few bad apples ruining something for everybody”. The Confederate flag is unequivocally representative of racial hatred and discrimination. It is emblematic of slavery and segregation. It represents racial inequality, injustice, and ignorance. Of course, it should be removed from the State Capitol. But will removing the flag from the South Carolina Capitol building or from Walmart storeshave any real effect on racial relations in the United States? No.

confederate white black march 60s

This current controversy over the Confederate flag/memorabilia is just an example of how racial discussion in America is often relegated to sporadic, non-sequitur issues that have minuscule effect in tackling the real problem. Whether it’s gun control, or torture, or immigration reform, or the NSA spy-program (which was recently ruled illegal by the Supreme Court), we dismiss these topics because they are difficult to talk about. Instead, we choose an easier topic to tackle, something that we can all clearly pinpoint and address with minimal effort. That’s not to say that the Confederate flag isn’t a controversial subject that doesn’t need to be debated, it’s just that it deflects from the real problem of race. Forcibly removing Confederate memorabilia from the marketplace is similar to how we punished Donald Sterling. Nothing was actually done to change why/how he felt about minorities, we simply punished him for feeling that way without teaching him why he was wrong. It is a perverted form of social justice. Silencing/bullying those with opposing viewpoints is a terrible way to enact cultural change.3 Instead of dealing with ancillary issues that only mask the deep-seated problems or bullying those who disagree into silent dereliction, let’s stay focused on what’s important. America will never solve it’s race problem unless we all gain the courage to talk about it honestly and openly. Real change comes from authentic action.

PS: In my opinion, individuals should have the right to show the Confederate flag as is their right via the First Amendment. Just as it is our right to ostracize them for being ignorant bigots.

PPS: South Carolina has a dark history with racism. Strom Thurmond was a South Carolina Senator who was a proud segregationist and opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1957. He even conducted the longest filibuster ever by a lone senator, at 24 hours and 18 minutes in length, nonstop, to try and stop it (NPR). What’s even crazier is that he proudly served his state from 1956 to 2003. TWO THOUSAND AND THREE! South Carolinian’s proudly re-elected a racist over and over and over and over.



This is a Lesula monkey. Look at this motherfucker. What even is this??! I'm honestly repulsed. Uncanny Valley status.This is a Lesula monkey. Look at this thing. What even is this??! I’m honestly repulsed. Uncanny Valley status.
And look at this howler monkeys, look at his balls. Like, how can I compete with that?!?! And look at this howler monkey, look at his balls. Like, how can any guy compete with that?!?

2. Ebay, Amazon, Walmart, and other companies have banned Confederate memorabilia from their stores. It’s always interesting to see how business and politics interact. I actually think this will hurt Walmart the most, because of the socio-economic makeup of their consumer base.

3. Social Justice Warriors

The Implications of the (Potential) US-Iran Nuclear Deal

Over the past year, President Obama and the US State Dept have been negotiating with Iran on a nuclear-disarmament treaty. This deal would relieve Iran from many US sanctions in exchange for placing additional safeguards against nuclear weaponization in addition to those already required by the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). In layman’s terms, this deal, at least temporarily, will degrade Iran’s ability to build a nuclear weapon. As of now, prior to any deal, Iran does have the capability and the know-how to build a nuclear weapon if they choose to do so. However, Iran has maintained that their numerous nuclear facilities are for peaceful purposes only, as in accordance with the NPT. Regardless of whether Iran intends to build a nuclear weapon or not, the mere fear of this possibility provides the Iranians with incredible leverage in negotiations with the West. Nuclear armament is a bargaining chip for Iran to bring the US (and P1+5) to the negotiating table. Why does Iran want/need this leverage? Well, let me give you a very brief historical lesson on US-Iranian diplomacy.

That is a picture of the first Ayatollah Khomeini

Picture of the Iranian Revolution circa 1978/79

Relations first soured in 1953, when US and British intelligence agencies successfully orchestrated a coup to oust Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister, Mohammad Mossadeq because the secular leader wanted to nationalize Iran’s oil industry. However, most of the animosity between these nations traces back to the Iranian Revolution of 1979 (and subsequent Iranian Hostage Crisis), when US-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was ousted and the present-day Islamic Republic of Iran was established. The revolution placed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as the Supreme Leader of Iran, who had originally been exiled in 1965 by the previous government. While in exile, Khomeini declared the US as “the Great Satan” and an “enemy of Islam”. Although, it’s important to remember that these oft-heard claims serve a practical purpose. Muslim leaders often blame the US because “a clear external enemy can serve as a useful diversion from internal problems” (New York Times). This message has been championed by current-day Ayatollah Ali Khameini (no relation) and past Iranian Presidents (see Mahmoud Ahmadinejad). Not to mention that we accidentally shot down a passenger plane in 1988, killing 290 Iranians on their way to Mecca. See, take that Malaysia, we can down planes too! You don’t own the monopoly on plane crashes! (too soon?)

So, it’s understandable why the Iranian government has disdain for the US and her allies, as well as why the West fears a nuclear Iran (we can take a guess as to who their target would be).  A nuclear-capable Iran would certainly not be beneficial to the stability of the Middle East, but it would not signal the end of days. Let’s remember that during the height of the Cold War in 1985, Russia had over 38,000 nukes while the US had over 20,000. There are still around 10,000 reported nuclear weapons worldwide, but the actual number is sure to be much higher.

Iranian Nuclear Facilities (2015)

Iranian Nuclear Facilities (2015)

Understandably, many US/western citizens, as well as President Netanyahu are unhappy about a potential treaty and the easing of sanctions. Israel refuses to negotiate with Iran due to decades of animosity, as well as the fact that the Iranian gov’t refuses to even acknowledge Israel as a legitimate state and has continuously tried to undermine its legitimacy. Iran has armed and funded Islamic jihad through Hezbollah and other jihadist groups, that are responsible for a number of terrorist acts within Israel and from Gaza since the 1980s. Clearly, Israel has a vested interest in this deal. The fear of a nuclear Iran prompted the Israeli leader to give a speech to the US congress, without consulting President Obama. This isn’t the first time Netanyahu addressed our congress to warn about the dangers of Iran. He did the same in 1996, when he exclaimed that a nuclear Iran was imminent, and again in 2002, when he advocated for the US-led invasion of Iraq, and again on March 3rd, 2015. Honestly, how dare Netanyahu try to influence foreign-policy in the Middle-East?! Doesn’t he know by now that meddling in Middle-Eastern affairs is an American pastime. It’s like when you have a great vacation spot, but as time passes, more and more people hear about it, and now it’s just like, too touristy. That’s the Middle-East. It used to be our exclusive spot, our little secret, but alas, no more. Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) was so moved by Netanyahu’s speech, that he and 47 other Republican Senators sent an open letter to the Iranian government in which they exclaimed that Iran  “may not fully understand our constitutional system” and “that any nuclear deal they sign with President Barack Obama’s administration won’t last after Obama leaves office.” The Senators, along with Netanyahu (who is facing re-election on March 17th), are using Iran for political pandering, a move which is as shallow and near-sighted as when I try to pick up woman on Tinder (please swipe right, I like puppies).

Netanyahu teaching a Kindergarten class (This is at the UN...this is real)

Netanyahu teaching a Kindergarten class (This is at the UN…this is real)

As I previously discussed, subjective narratives lead to fallacious viewpoints. The American narrative is that Iran wants to destroy Israel (true, at least in regards to the Iranian government), they want to destroy the West and they want establish a new Islamic socio-political world order. The problem with this narrative is that it unfairly amalgamates Iran’s people and their government into one entity. There is a reason why President Routhini, who promises moderation, rationality and more engagement with the outside world, won his election with more than 50% of the vote. That is because “six out of 10 Iranians actually favor the restoration of diplomatic relations between their country and the United States, a stance that is directly at odds with the position the Iranian government has held for nearly three decades.” Furthermore, the population of Iran (77 million) is extraordinarily young and very well-educated.  More than two-thirds of Iranians are under the age of 30, have attended college and are very well-informed. The literacy rate stands above 82%. Right now, most of the government is comprised of people who were involved in the 1979 revolution. There is a major generational and ideological gap between Iran’s government and its people. The youth of Iran are forced into double lives. Out in the open, they adhere to the Islamic rules/customs enforced by the government (such as men and women not shaking hands in public) while at home they browse the internet and express themselves on Facebook and Instagram. Let’s hope they don’t discover the self-indulgent pleasure of the selfie. Young Iranians have even begun to openly challenge the strict Islamic lifestyle forced upon them. Iranian students and other supporters protested in 2009 (Iranian Green movement) after Ahmadinejad was elected to a second term and again in 2011. This is not to say that Iranians only want to establish better relations with the West because of their supposed openness to Western culture and technology. Youth unemployment is up to 27% and Iran’s GDP has been crippled by Western sanctions over the years. Iran has an economic incentive to work with US government.

This leads us to this potential Iranian-US Nuclear Treaty. Iran is at a turning point. If we fail to establish a better relationship with Iran and its people, Iran will elect a new hardliner like Ahmadinejad. This is a man who refused to acknowledge the Holocaust.  This isn’t just some assumption either. The Assembly of Experts, the clerics who appoint and can dismiss the country’s supreme leader, are eager to replace Routhini with a hardliner. That is why they picked Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, an ultraconservative as their new chairman, instead of one of the other four, more reform candidates. The US as an enemy only strengthens the conservative party, providing them with political ammo to use in upcoming elections. Sanctioning Iran has been working to some degree. It has stagnated their economy and limited their ability to fund Hezbollah. However, in terms of nuclear disarmament, sanctions have failed. Iran has actually increased its nuclear program under sanctions for the last two decades, not decreased. If we allow Iran to continue building towards a nuclear weapon, we will most likely go to war. Israel certainly will, as they’ve already bombed centrifuges in foreign nations before without consulting any other government (See Syrian strike and Iranian strike). Even if we could just militarily destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities, it would most likely just strengthen the Islamic regime. As Fareed Zakara states in his Washington Post Op-Ed, “When any country is bombed by foreigners, its people tend to rally around the regime. The Islamic Republic would likely gain domestic support. It would also respond in various ways, through its allies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere. The attacks might be directed at U.S. troops or allies.”

Do we want to continue on the current path of hostility, or do we want to form a more peaceful understanding with each other? A working relationship with Iran provides stability in the Middle East and security for Israel. It establishes a path for reform and modernity for Iran. It provides the US with a new trading partner, instead of just trading (oil for cash) with Saudi Arabia, a nation which sentences rape victims with death and doesn’t allow their women to go anywhere without a male companion. Iran may be taking the long view, but so are we. This isn’t some naive, liberal hippie talk. This is serious. The old guard will all be dead within the next couple of decades. The youth are the future of Iran.

If you don’t want to take it from me, take it from the people of Iran:

*When you have time, you should check out this fabulous PBS documentary on Iran. It might just change your perspective*.

PS: I understand why many would not want this deal to get done. I can see both sides of the argument and no one knows how exactly all of this will play out, The reason I want this deal is the same reason you may not want it. We all strive for the same outcome (a non-nuclear Iran), it’s just how we get there that we may disagree with.

Charlie Hedbo/Terrorism Explanation

The deadly attack on the French satirical magazine’s headquarters that killed 12 people and later resulted in the deaths of several others who were taken hostage by one of the gunmen and an accomplice, is a horrific tragedy. Whether or not Charlie Hedbo magazine was overly offensive towards religious practices/customs is an irrelevant argument, because comedic satire should never result in death. The argument now is what should America, France, and the rest of the world should do about this growing threat, and yes, it is growing.

There is no doubt that this was a horrible act of terrorism. However, the definition of terrorism is subjective and has undergone vast semantic change over the past decade. In the dictionary, terrorism is still defined as “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.” In the United States, terrorism has come to mean “violence carried out by a Muslim(s) for a religious cause.” Terrorism is associated solely with Islam. It is a word that is used to promulgate anger and used as an excuse for enacting harsh policies against “them”. Many other nations and people have a very different concept of terrorism. Israel has been called a terrorist state. Cuba is on the United State’s State Sponsors of Terrorism list. When was the last time Cuba committed a terrorist act? So even trying to define what terrorism is tends to result in a lot of misunderstanding and miscommunication. For better clarity, when I use the word terrorism, I will be referring to radical Islamic extremism. The Dirka Dirka, Muhammad jihad kind of terrorism. *Yes, this is racist. I’m aware. This is a satirical blog post and it’s a quote from a movie, as seen below* 

After an attack like this, in which Islamic terrorists are responsible, many people ask: “Why don’t non-radical Muslims speak up and condemn this extremism?”. Well actually, a lot of them have, including the Union of Islamic Organizations of France (UOIF) and the French Muslim Council (CFCM), we just don’t listen/report on it because it doesn’t fit the narrative. You know, the narrative that Islam is a deadly religion and that all Muslims want to destroy America, i.e. Islam vs America. No Muslim should be obligated to apologize, every time there is a terrorist attack.  Certainly, there is merit to the notion that condemnation from within the Muslim community can stamp out radical extremism from taking hold in the youth. There is value in preaching the right way to live within a community. That’s not what my argument is. What I ask is, how and why is every Muslim/Islamic citizen responsible for the acts of a few deranged individuals? Are all Jews responsible for Baruch Goldstein, who in 1994 killed 29 and injured 125 Muslim worshipers at the Cave of the Patriarchs? Are all Christians responsible for Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 and injured over 300 people at the Workers’ Youth League (AUF) camp in Norway? Are all Christians responsible for the Oklahoma City Bombing that killed 168 people? Are all Catholics responsible for the 1 in 50 Catholic priests that have sexually assaulted little boys? Are all Christian’s to blame for Creed, aka the greatest band of all time? Of course not, this is a bigoted and discriminatory way of thinking. As Max Fisher, on wrote: “This denunciation is a form of apology: an apology for Islam. The implication is that every Muslim is under suspicion of being sympathetic to terrorism unless he or she explicitly says otherwise. The implication is also that any crime committed by a Muslim is the responsibility of all Muslims simply by virtue of their shared religion.”

Adhering to this narrative is a dangerous line of thinking, as it exacerbates the “Us vs Them” mentality. Just like we here in the US perpetuate this narrative, so do radical Islamic groups. Extremists use this ideology for recruiting, as they want people to believe that this is truly a war between America and Islam. The narrative from their perspective is that America is an evil empire that wishes to rid the world of Islam and impose secular, capitalist democracy unwillingly onto nations with Islamic majority. This is why they wish to establish a global Islamic caliphate. They believe and maintain that Muslims will never be safe/happy in a world run by the West (and America/Israel). Their goals are as much political as they are religious. Their end-goal is an all-out war between the Islamic Caliphate and the West. The unfortunate twist is that by responding aggressively against Islam and Muslim extremism, we are adhering to the very same narrative that the terrorists use to expand/recruit, thus actually hindering our progress to rid the world of Islamic extremism.

So what should we do? Well, I don’t know. I’m just some guy who enjoys eating mint chocolate chip ice cream and writing shitty blog posts. Oh, and if you don’t like mint chocolate chip ice cream, you’re clearly a fucking terrorist. What I do know, is the notion that we can win the “War against Islam” by shooting/bombing Islamic jihadism to death is, quite simply, moronic. I also know that pretending that Islamic extremism isn’t actually a threat to the West and that we shouldn’t do anything is equally as stupid. We cannot afford to let extremists say, do and live whatever they want with complete immunity like they have been doing in nations like Pakistan. Although, after the Peshawar school attack, maybe that may change. Either way, we need to show solidarity. By we, I mean people of all religions and all countries, not just by world leaders staging an ostentatious photo-op for political points. When 1.6 million Parisians marched through Paris this week to support Charlie Hedbo, it was an impressive sign of unity. I just hope that it lasts. The US, in conjunction with other nations, needs to establish a more pragmatic plan for combating Islamic extremism. We need to defeat the narrative. Instead of trying to simply kill the messengers (Jihadists) whenever they pop up, we should be trying to kill the message (Islamic Jihadism).

As Commander Steven R. Thompson of the United States Navy has stated: “Countering the ideology of [this] narrative is the single most important objective to defeat violent Islamic extremism. Unfortunately, [this] narrative now enjoys a pervasive foothold in Islamic society” and Western society, I may add. He continues by stating that: “While eliminating key individual targets of strategic importance still holds merit, simply using kinetic means to destroy the various messengers will continue to prove difficult and costly. As a long term approach, several measures should be considered in a coalition strategy which leverages soft power. These measures include exposing the practice of takfir, improving public diplomacy efforts, and partnering with de-radicalized extremists to counter the Narrative.” The United States has been solely focused on gathering intelligence in order to conduct drone strikes. These strikes remain an important tactic in defeating extremism, but they only serve as a short-term solution. Other extremist leaders will take the deceased’s place. We need to stop radicalization before it ever occurs. Exposing the practice of Takfir is an important step in accomplishing this. Takfir is a Muslim who accuses another Muslim of apostasy. It’s the idea that any Muslim that does not partake in this Islamic caliphate is betraying his faith and deserves to be killed. This is something that extremist groups use to recruit. It’s similar to the method that Jewish grandmothers use to guilt their grandson’s into only marrying other Jews: “Ok, you don’t have to marry a nice Jewish girl, it’s just a thousand year old tradition. It’s fine, we’re just family, what do I know? I’ll just sit here in this sofa chair until I die. As long as you’re happy.” Now, the Quran does actually talk about apostates and states that they should be punished, but it does not explicitly say to kill them. Either way, those are just words, and its something that the vast majority of Muslims do not believe nor partake in. It’s not like the Bible or the Torah doesn’t say some questionable things.

There is no easy answer in defeating terrorism. There will always be violent, insane individuals that will kill people. All we can do is hope to limit it. However, we cannot let our fear alter our morality. In addition to fighting future terrorism, we need to reflect on the mistakes we made so that we and the rest of the West don’t repeat them. For instance, the War on Iraq. We went to war with a country that had nothing to do with Al Qaeda, which wasted billions of dollars while countless US and Iraqi lives were lost (although no one would argue that Sadaam didn’t deserve to die). We destroyed the stability of Iraq, which provided a viable breeding ground for terrorist groups and destabilized the entire Middle East. Out of fear, we put hundreds into Guantanamo Bay and other black cell prisons for simply being suspected of terrorism while never giving them a trial. Not to mention the fact that these prisoners were tortured for months on end, which has proven to be an ineffective method. We have bombed homes and sent drone strikes across the world into countries that do not want us there (such as Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, etc…). We have allowed our government to warrantlessly spy on every and any individual without restraint nor accountability. Because of all of this, in the eyes of many foreign nations, we have lost our moral authority on human rights. We have allowed the fear of terrorism to distort our ideals. It is a dangerous path we are on, as we are conforming to a narrative that was entirely false to begin with. America is not at war with Islam. If we defeat this narrative, and we expose it for what it is, we have a chance of creating a more peaceful world.


PS: I want to give a little context as to why, in the Islamic faith, depictions of Muhammad are so offensive. Quite simply, paintings or portraits of Muhammad are prohibited by Islam because it is a form of idol worship. “A central tenet of Islam is that Mohammed was a man, not God, and that portraying him could lead to revering a human in lieu of Allah” (CNN), like Jesus in Christianity. Most mosques do not feature paintings or portraits, but quotes, for this very same reason. That being said, even if depicting Muhammad is considered blasphemy, murder should not and is not the appropriate response.