Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Tribal Roots of Islam

Anthropologist Philip Carl Salzman analyzes Islam by examining its origin. He shows many of the cultural conditions that influenced the formation of this religious political ideology are still operative today. These include tribalism and its distinctive honor dynamics; conquests, domination, and the need to humiliate; warmongering and seeking validation in military victory. For example:

“Only the victorious have honor. The more vanquished are the defeated, the greater is the victor's honor. As Ajami observes, in the Arab world, ‘triumph rarely comes with mercy or moderation.’Arabs are taught, and many have taken to heart, that honor is more important than wealth, fame, love, or even death. Imbued with such a sense, today's Arab finds himself in an untenable situation: Juxtaposing their recent history to the years of glory under Muhammad, Arabs can see only defeat visited upon defeat.” …

“[T]he Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche, asked Al-Jazeera editor-in-chief Ahmed Sheikh whether enmity toward Israel is motivated by self-esteem. Sheikh explained, "Exactly. It's because we always lose to Israel. It gnaws at the people in the Middle East that such a small country as Israel, with only about 7 million inhabitants, can defeat the Arab nation with its 350 million. That hurts our collective ego.”

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Which Country Is This?

Today, the President proposed that the government nullified contractual agreements, an action that obliterates the rule of law. The measure he introduced relieves home owners from paying interest on adjustable mortgages upon rate-reset as required by the mortgage contract.

Why stop there? If he wants to be popular why not exempt borrowers from any interest payment? Why not exempt them from principal payment, too? Why not just take rich people’s money and help bad-credit owners build larger houses? Why not become Hugo Chavez?

Update: The ASF claims that no contracts will be violated. It says that “existing subprime securitization operative documents generally authorize the servicer to modify the loans for which default is reasonably foreseeable” (page 9) and “agreements should be interpreted, to the maximum extent possible, to authorize the servicer to take the actions” including equating the standards “default is imminent” and “default is reasonably foreseeable.” Some lawyers are going to have fun.

Update2: In the above, I condemned Bush’s housing bailout in moral terms: it’s a violation of contracts, the rule of law, and a cheep populist ploy to give away another’s wealth to those who haven’t earned it. I decided to read the conservative blogs to see if contracts, law, rightful ownership, and expropriation were among the terms employed to criticize these measures.

On National Review Online I found a discussion of the economic impact and comments about ‘who it helps’. It gets better when Michelle Malkin asks about whether we are punishing the rest of us (expropriation) and equates Bush to Hillary here. But it sinks to a low when Kudlow, while properly rejecting the alleged economic benefits, supports it as politically necessary.

Red State has several articles along utilitarian/consequentialist lines but little from a moral perspective. Patrick talks about moral hazard. Cornwall talks about allowing the free market to work on the “LockeSmith Blog”. Glen Reynolds could only dig up this link. Berlau of the CEI wisely points out that if the “plan is truly voluntary, it’s unnecessary” but mostly talks about contract violation in Hayekian terms of spontaneous order.

The above writers make important points. However, few address the moral issue directly. Some hint at the moral issue; others mention it in passing. Few make it the central point of their criticism. The simple truth is that a mortgage is a contract, there are laws, and the individuals involved have rights which aren’t trumped by the needs of others. Perhaps it’s early but I don’t see conservatives taking a principled moral stance against what is intended to be a violation of the rule of law and a violation of rights.

Update3: Epstein is an exception. Note his reliance on self-responsibility and rights vs. the evil of expropriation and punishing the innocent. Compare that with the "free market" TechCentral article by Kling which purports to be about responsibility but is really about Kling's view on who deserves to be punished including real estate agents with Rolexes!

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Right's Response and the Right Response

NRO symposium on the Teddy-bear Intifada has some modest proposals but they don’t go far enough. In response to the alleged insult, we should deliberately and emphatically insult Islam: it is a vicious supremacist ideology that has brought 14 centuries of oppression. As I once explained, what we need and what is missing is a moral condemnation. We should not be intimidated into silence; we should speak the truth, loud and clear.