Osama & me & we

Osama_bin_Laden_portrait.jpgI began blogging because of Osama Bin Laden. This was not a necessary condition, but it was a sufficient one. I make that qualification because there are various aspects of my personality which indicate to me that I’d have started blogging when blogging became popular, no matter the details of the world around us. And, I suspect that blogging would have taken off, 9/11 or no 9/11. But in our world the path dependency played out so that political blogging and 9/11 have a strong relationship, with the latter leading to an explosion of the former.

And so I began my online adventure in April of 2002 in the wake of the rise of the “warblog.” My main interests were the War on Terror, web application programming (JSP/Servlets especially), and genetic engineering (in favor!). 9/11 had perturbed me from my default milquetoast libertarian isolationism, though I will admit that my initial starting position probably helped me be only mildly pro-war at the peak of the fever in March of 2003 (I recall throwing out 60 out of 100 in terms of how “warm” I was to the idea of invading Iraq, with 50 being neutral). As the years have passed I’ve rapidly retreated from the position of what I like to think of as my “neocon years.” One gauge of this may be that I used to check out Libertarian Samizdata every day in 2003, but drop in once a year to see if it’s still around now.Lightmatter_chimp.jpgWhat I really learned from those early years of blogging is that I don’t generally have any opinions which add any value in international affairs beyond what a chimp throwing darts on a board with a finite set of options would add. I also came to the conclusion that that was also the case with most international affairs experts. And don’t even get me going on the blogosphere. With all that I naturally retreated back to my “comparative advantage” in science, and have generally avoided talking about the Middle East except in cases where my interest in ethnography can shed light on particular local dynamics (e.g., the transformation of Syrian Alawites into conventional Twelver Shias in name if not fact in the 1970s for reasons of geopolitical necessity).

Which brings me to the personal. Unlike some American South Asians who are Muslim I didn’t have to wrestle with how I should approach my faith after 9/11. I don’t have a faith, and don’t particularly respect faith. Unlike some American South Asians who are Indian American I didn’t see any strong analogy between what India regularly experienced at the hands of Islamic terrorists and what Al Qaeda wrought upon us. That’s because I just don’t know the Indian geopolitical landscape. It has no strong emotional valence for me. As an isolationist my stance was that America should keep to itself and leave other nations to manage their own business. Even during my neocon phase this meant that I tended to take an Americo-centric view on the War on Terror and its global context in practice (e.g., I remained, and still remain, an Israel-skeptic by American standards, though I’m not too worked up over the issue).

But I’m brown. In fact I’m not that different in shade from Osama Bin Laden. On the day of 9/11 some friends from college called me out of the blue, and asked if I was “OK.” Their concern was clearly the issue of racially motivated attacks. It certainly happened in the wake of those events in New York in September of 2002, but to my knowledge I was never targeted, nor did I feel any fear or unease. Some of it probably has to do with a certain natural egotism in my personality. And some of it probably has to do with the fact that unlike some devout Muslims and Sikhs I don’t dress in a particularly distinctive manner. I haven’t even experienced “flying while brown” in the United States, though I have in Germany. My near family members report the same lack of repercussion. The only racially motivated incident since 9/11 which a family member has been the target of was when my brother was taunted as a “beaner” when he was younger. On the other hand, my family’s Sikh friends and acquaintances have experienced a great deal naked of bigotry.

So where are we at this point as a nation, a people as a whole? I have pointed clearly to my own normative framework, so no surprise. I assess that we are an overstretched empire. We may not officially be at war with the Muslim world, but we sure are entangled in a host of nations where Muslims live! Our debt is now an international concern, and much of it is to the heir apparent to the title of “global hyperpower.” The death of Osama Bin Laden does not necessarily mean much substantively. But the symbolic can be the substantive. Perhaps it can be the small push that allows to move on, and returns us to a level of national normalcy in terms of the civil liberties we expect and the foreign policy entanglements we invite.

We have an exciting century before us in the United States. I’m glad to have the coda on the first chapter complete at least!

Image credit: Hamid Mir, Aaron Logan.

21 thoughts on “Osama & me & we

  1. I also started blogging around summer 02 because of the War on Terror and Islamic civilisation (& how it meshes with the west).

    With the Arab Spring, OBL’s death and rumors of a Palestinian state to be announced in September; President Obama could be winding down the story of the Decade WoT.

    I wonder if the world needs an “other”, the baddie. In that case who could it be (China?), the threat of terrorism receding as it is from the collective subconscious. Perhaps the world evolved enough now that this networked generation doesn’t need to thrive on the old dichotomies (West vs. the Rest).

    • China is certainly a dangerous hypocritical baddie. We don’t need it but it is there. For prognostications, the subcontinent will be the most dangerous place on the planet, China will be the local super tyrant — the rest of the world, including the Arab world will move on and have a lot of fun at our expense–they’ll watch the desi version of Palestine unfold on their TV sets and shake their heads. It will be Indians who will bear the full brunt of the evil empire. Interesting times ahead.

      • i disagree on the china “threat” in magnitude fwiw. the chinese are still trying to get rich and deal with their impending demographic crisis (they hit “peak labor force” in this decade). they’ll throw their weight around, and perhaps try and resurrect the old chinese diplomatic model which denies the relevance of balance of powers and equivalence between nation-states in a westphalian context, but china doesn’t present an existential threat due to ideology as soviet communism did. the chinese threat is purely a malthusian one IMO, the supply constraint of resources means that it will throw its weight around the world in the quest for more materials for its industry.

  2. Both of you self-identify a little too proudly with Western imperialism and hegemony, with the British Empire (Zachary) and the American Empire (Razib when he was a neocon).

    How about thinking of yourself as a human being first? An earthling? What was good for the British Empire was not so good for its brown and black colonized populations, and whats good for America is not always good for the world. How can you not see that?

  3. i didn’t know you were an omniscient god who could evaluate all utility calculations by fiat for everyone else vivek! don’t presume that your calculus of the facts on the ground are those of others. not being able look at things from other people’s perspectives is something that “open minded” lefties often criticize conservatives for, rightly so. but you people are often just as guilty of the same in your own ditto-circles where everyone self-congratulates how progressive and conscious they are. since what i think is true is not what you think is true i naturally come to different conclusions even if the normative frameworks may not differ (they do differ somewhat, but not enough to warrant the difference in outcome). also, don’t stuff words into my mouth to frame your argument. fun, but not productive.

    and why are you an anon? just login to your SM account.

  4. “but china doesn’t present an existential threat due to ideology as soviet communism did. “

    Agree. China doesn’t stand for anything except its own self-interest. Whatever happens, it will be interesting. South Asia is a very very interesting place and this is really an opportunity for desi bloggers.

  5. It’s good to see a diversity of ideologies in the south asian community.Not everyone has to be a Dinesh D Souza extreme or a left wing equivalent. oThere are a lot of common sense libertarians, and quite a few are thoughtful too. I am glad you no longer associate as a neocon because quite frankly, I feel the neocons have caused the country a great deal of damage with the expensive wars they advocated.

    I personally have a hodgepodge of ideologies. The majority of my ideas are progressive(liberal goals but the methods to achieve them are not shared by other liberals, so I stick with the term progressive), I tend to be very non-PC. I got quite a few libertarian views. And my views on punishment of criminals are very conservative.

  6. I tend to be very non-PC. I got quite a few libertarian views. And my views on punishment of criminals are very conservative.

    Same! :)

    I like that Asians are very diverse in our political views – I think it’ll be interesting to see how we’re treated by politicians as our population grows in this country over the next century. Hispanics and Blacks overwhelmingly vote Democrat, and those are the 2 minority groups politicians sometimes go out of their way to court. With Asians, I wouldn’t be surprised if most of us vote Democrat, but as far as ideology goes I think we’re a more mixed bunch than Hispanics/Black voters.

  7. I am glad you no longer associate as a neocon because quite frankly, I feel the neocons have caused the country a great deal of damage with the expensive wars they advocated.

    just to be clear, i used quotations for a reason. by my standards i was a neocon. i was probably somewhere in the same range as pro-war liberals like kevin drum and matt yglesias. also, i don’t associate with libertarianism as a label anymore, though i’m relatively libertarian in inclination. but, i’m definitely not a left liberal. i’m probably accurately described as a heterodox right-winger, but that’s almost a useless term in a positive sense.

    With Asians, I wouldn’t be surprised if most of us vote Democrat, but as far as ideology goes I think we’re a more mixed bunch than Hispanics/Black voters.

    depends on community. vietnamese tend to be republican. as well as koreans. but indian americans, chinese americans, and japanese americans tend to be overwhelmingly dem. communism and christianity seem the primary variates:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2008/10/asian-american-republicans-its-a-christian-thing/

  8. 2008 election exit poll by race, obama/mccain/other

    White 43% 55% 2%

    African-American 95% 4% 1%

    Latino 67% 31% 2%

    Asian 62% 35% 3%

  9. Razib , interesting link on Discover. I do think there is another factor too. If one includes first generation immigrants to the category of Indian Americans , I noticed that the immigrant segment tends to judge the parties by how they treat India vs Pakistan. Or even something as trivial as H1 visas. I did hear a lot of hate towards Obama because supposedly his administration had plans to make it tougher for Indians to get those visas. (I have no idea where they got such an idea from).

    There is also the pattern of immigration factor. More Indians are immigrating to red belt states in recent years. I wonder if there is any difference in loyalties based on that. Also, most South Asians tend not to be blue collar workers in manufacturing industries and be part of the “have a beer with us, President” crowd.

  10. most South Asians tend not to be blue collar workers in manufacturing industries and be part of the “have a beer with us, President” crowd.

    It is less about economic class and more and more about race and ethnicity in American politics. And about religion.

    1. Jews, the wealthiest and most successful ethnicity in the US, voted for Obama by a landslide.

    2. Silicon Valley voted by a landslide for Obama.

    3. Asians voted for Obama by a landslide.

    4. Republicans are a small minority in the best colleges and universities.

    5. The Republican Red States are poorer, less educated and more fundamentalist christian than the liberal Blue States.

    6. Whites were the only major group that voted heavily against Obama, and if you exclude ethnic whites and off-whites, Obama probably lost by a landslide among lily-white white Anglos.

  11. Viviek, you don’t’ make the case. For #1 and #3 you didn’t control for class. I’m not sure why # 4 is relevant.

    2 is but it sounds like an outlier, and could be attributable to Obama subsidizing silicon valley via cleantech grants and more money for biotech companies. At the end of the day, here is Krugman on the subject (reference the massive data crunching of Larry Bartels):

    “Contrary to what you may have read, the old-fashioned notion that rich people vote Republican, while poorer people vote Democratic, is as true as ever – in fact, more true than it was a generation ago.”

    Regarding #5: “The Republican Red States are poorer, less educated and more fundamentalist christian than the liberal Blue States.” Here is Krugman summarizing Bartels again:

    In fact, if you look at voting behavior, low-income whites in the South are not very different from low-income whites in the rest of the country. You can see this both in Larry Bartels’s “What’s the matter with What’s the Matter With Kansas?” (pdf), Figure 3, and in a comprehensive study of red state-blue state differences by Gelman et al (pdf).

    This is an interesting nuance. The difference between the south and the rest of the country (post Jim Crow, of course) are their affluent voters, who vote overwhelmingly republican. In contrast, nono-southern affluent voters just lean repub. Democrats have for years focused on the working class due to their “whats the matter with Kansas” belief that poor whites are convinced to vote repub due to racism and other social issues, but ironically the real issue is rich southern whites.

  12. Re #6. “Whites were the only major group that voted heavily against Obama, and if you exclude ethnic whites and off-whites, Obama probably lost by a landslide among lily-white white Anglos.”

    This is also not controlled for class and also deceptive without controlling for Party. You have to compare Obama to other Democrats.

    Starting from 68…to give us space from Jim Crow, which artificially and dramatically inflates white vote totals for Dems, Obama has beaten every democrat who ran for office, though the 2 southerners beat him in 2 of their 4 races.

    Humphrey: 38 McGovern: 31 Carter: 48 Carter: 36 Mondale: 34 Dukakis 40 Clinton : 39 Clinton : 44 Gore: 42 Kerry : 41

    Obama got 43, leaving only Clinton and Carter in 2 of their 4 races who can claim to have bettered him among whites. Carter dominated the south and was endorsed by virtually every segregationist who filibustered the 64cra. So that skews his numbers. Clinton was able to pluck off many southern states due some clever southern strategizing.

  13. re #6 again, To be fair, there was a Dixiecrat run in 68, but I doubt there are many who voted for a segregationist who would’ve voted for Humphrey. But Clinton totals are likely diminished in his first run b/c of Ross Perot. Conventional wisdom has it that Bush lost more to Perot. Since Clinton got 44 in his 2nd run during hugely prosperous times, I think 43 sounds like a good number if we erase Perot.

    But at the end of the Day, no democrat since the fall of Jim Crow has gotten more than 50% of the white vote. So I don’t see how Obama failing to get there means too much.

  14. you don’t’ make the case. For #1 and #3 you didn’t control for class. I’m not sure why # 4 is relevant.

    What economic class do Jews, Silicon Valley and the alumni of the elite schools represent???

  15. What economic class do Jews, Silicon Valley and the alumni of the elite schools represent???

    Upper. So jews i would susbstatiate your thesis i’m sure

    But silicon valley and elite school graduates are generally white. I have no idea how their vote breaksdown but assumng they lean dem why would race, ethnicity, and religion be the salient factor?

    The data from andrew gelman (that krugman references) shows that (outside the south) the correlation between the rich and republicans is weak, but it is there. I’m going on memory but I think gelman concludes that the salient factor is being socially liberal.

    So, ironically, it is the upper classes in the north that are most likely to vote on social values (abortion, etc) not the working clases as has been assumed by dems (thomas frank). perhaps silicon valley and ivy leagers fall in that category.

    or perhaps they see the dems in their economic interest (clean energy subisides for silicon valley). goldman sachs gives more money to dems.

  16. But silicon valley and elite school graduates are generally white. I have no idea how their vote breaksdown

    The intellectual elite: silicon valley, professors and students at the elite schools, Nobel laureates, scientists and engineers overwhelmingly vote Democrat. These elite are much less white anglo and much, much less evangelical christian than the rank and file of the Republican Party. A disproportional number are jews and asians. The lily white anglo Tea Party base of the Republicans is seen by such self-made meritocratic elites as racists, retards, losers and crackpots.

  17. 2008 ANES Time Series. lots of data. please post some cross-tabs in this argument from there. the repetition of verbal talking points is pointless. e.g., an assertion like this:

    It is less about economic class and more and more about race and ethnicity in American politics. And about religion.

    is pointless without a beta. but even then you need to take into account that race and ethnicity are categorical, while economic class is more straightforwardly converted into quantitative metrics.

    i expect follow up comments to utilize the simple ANES interface data. if not, keep your mouth shut. if i want to read an argument between franks vs. bartels/gelman, i’ll read them. they do a better job than you lot.

  18. though u did give me a post idea. i guess some of the quantitative data and interaction factors are still not totally familiar.