Category Archives: Political Science

Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problem: The Profit Motive and Media Consolidation in the US

St. Thomas University

8 April 2009

Media ownership, like wealth, tends to accumulate into fewer and fewer hands in a capitalist economy. This leads to an increase in the importance of profit over content, a homogenization of opinion and a lack diverse programming. Since the 80s, the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has consistently revoked regulations meant to prevent a concentration of media ownership and create a diversity of programming and opinion. It has gotten to the point where almost all media is owned by only a handful of companies, where the homogenization of ownership and ideas are greatly damaging society. This homogenization leads to less informed citizens, which leads to the breakdown of democratic society. Media consolidation must be stopped, and reversed. It can be done, but only if regulatory bodies like the FCC put their citizens ahead of the economic gains of corporations.

Marshall McLuhan would say media has always existed. But media in its current form, easily accessible newspapers, radio, and television, has only been around for about sixty or seventy years. The newest media, the internet, is still only a child, accessed by most of the world for just a little over a decade. Because of these four major forms of media, and especially the massively unregulated internet, many people would think there is a far greater diversity of ideas than ever before. But this is not the case. For the vast majority of Americans, ideas are coming from fewer and fewer sources. This trend has a long history, dating back to the founding of the FCC.

The first comprehensive legislation to regulate broadcasting in the US was the Federal Radio Act, which came into existence in 1927. This created the Federal Radio Commission, the first regulatory broadcast body in the US. The Federal Communications Commission came into existence with the Communications Act of 1934. Its purpose was to regulate the limited public radio band and international communications (US Government Title 1). It is not an elected body, rather its commissioners are appointed by the US president. Its mandate, according to the communications act of 1934 (amended in 1996), is to,

make available so far as possible, to all the people of the United States, without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex, rapid, efficient, Nation-wide, and world-wide wire and radio communication services with adequate facilities at reasonable charges (US Government Title 1).

From its inception the FCC was able to regulate and give licenses to broadcasters. Originally there was no charge for licenses. Once a charge was instituted, many independent radio operators were driven out of business by larger corporations. But the FCC was not always close with large corporations. The report on chain broadcasting, released in 1940, was , “one of the FCC’s earliest efforts to preserve and promote localism, via their efforts to limit the influence that broadcast networks could have over the programming decisions of their affiliates,” (Social Science Research Council). The report required NBC to break up, leading to the creation of ABC, and also limited the amount of air time companies (mainly CBS) could require from its local affiliates. In 1941 regulations were padded to prevent broadcasters from owning, “television stations that reach more than 35% of the nation’s homes,” (Bill Moyers). In 1946 the Dual Television Network Rule was enacted. It prevented any major network from buying another one. In 1964 the FCC created a rule preventing broadcasters from owning more than one television station in a single market (with the exception of very large markets).  The 70s saw cross ownership rules come into existence, preventing broadcasters from owning media in more than one form in a single market (such as a television station and a newspaper) (Bill Moyers).

The FCC was supportive of competition for a brief period in the 80s. Before and during this decade it stopped treating telephone services as a monopoly. In 1982 it helped to split up the American Telephone and Telegraph Company. However, things changed drastically once President Ronald Reagan came to power. Reagan was known for massive deregulation. Under pressure from his corporate buddies and backers, he not only deregulated media, but also banking, business and the economy. This was because of his conservative ideals and pressures from other conservatives who believed in a supply-oriented economy. Essentially this means the government supporting entrepreneurs and business instead of helping workers with purchasing power. The idea was that by allowing the owners of business to generate more wealth by providing a so-called “free marketplace” (which simply means a deregulated marketplace where corporations have all the power), massive amounts of money would  be generated and then trickle down to poorer people. The result of deregulation and trickle-down economics was the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer, and the media slowly dying. These results are being felt today in both the media and economic crisis.

Under Reagan, the FCC, with the guise of increasing competition, began to roll back its regulations on monopoly and content (Now with Bill Moyers). In 1987, the fairness doctrine was removed. The doctrine was, “an attempt to ensure that all coverage of controversial issues by a broadcast station be balanced and fair,” (The Museam of Broadcast Communications). It stated that stations were public trustees with, “an obligation to afford reasonable opportunity for discussion of contrasting points of view on controversial issues of public importance” (The Museam of Broadcast Communications). The idea was that, with a limited band, multiple viewpoints were needed on the stations available to people. However, some people argued that this prevented some important issues from being covered, as journalists may not want to provide both points of view (The Museam of Broadcast Communications). Although this is a line frequently touted by members of the FCC today, they rarely quote any research showing that the fairness doctrine had such a negative effect. In any case, by 1987, the much more diverse amount of programming available made it seem that this doctrine was no longer needed, and it was removed.

The removal of the fairness doctrine may have been legitimate in keeping with the first amendment, although its removal certainly came with problems (which will be discussed later in the essay) However, the eighties saw other, more harmful deregulation. In 1981 television licenses were extended from three to five years (Now with Bill Moyers). In ’85 the requirement for a minimum amount of information programming was abolished, as were limits on the amount of advertising. More deregulation was to follow.

In 1996 President Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act. It lifted the cap on radio station ownership, which was set at 40 stations nationally. As a result, Clear Channel Communications is now able to and does own over 1200 radio stations (Now with Bill Moyers) across the US. This has led to almost total homogenization of radio programming across the United States.

The trend of deregulation and concentration of ownership came to a head in 2002, when the FCC declared a massive rollback of its regulations on media ownership. It would have increased allowable market shares from 35% to 45%, and eliminated the newspaper/broadcast cross ownership rule. This would mean that newspapers could own and be owned by companies with television and radio stations in the same market. The vast majority of the FCC commissioners voted for the de-regulation. One of only two dissenting commissioners was Jonathan Adelstein. He said, “this approach shatters most of the last vestiges of the consumer protections that weren’t eliminated in the 1980’s. This decision pulls the teeth out of the remaining rules, leaving the FCC a toothless tiger” (1).

The reforms over the decades have been sweeping and have led to a state of incredible concentration of media ownership. Thankfully, the proposed changes of 2002 have been blocked by the Supreme Court, but the FCC still supports them. And more deregulation may be coming. Newspapers are dying, and the US attorney general is considering loosening the pathetic anti-trust laws currently in place to try and bolster them (Craig Aaron). But even without these changes homogenization of content is incredible, with only a handful of companies owning all of the major media outlets in every market in the United States.

The concentration of media ownership is frightening nationally in the United States, and worse in many local areas. Almost every national television network is owned by AOL Time Warner, Viacom, Disney, General Electric or News Corp. These include HBO, the WB, Fox, CBS, ABC, MSNB, and dozens of others (Bill Moyers, Who Owns What). These same companies own the 13 largest film companies in the US, from 20th Century Fox to Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone, Miramax and others. They own Time Magazine, People, Sports Illustrated, the NY Post and several other major national magazines. Just three, Disney, AOL Time Warner and Vivendi Universal, own almost every major musical production company (a total of 18 labels between the three companies), including Island, Decca, Atlantic, Warner Brothers, MCA and others. They also own major stakes in the internet, theme parks, radio and in the case of News Corp, sports teams (like the New York Knicks and Rangers and the Los Angeles Dodgers) (Bill Moyers). There are “287 (radio) markets in the United States,” (Think and Ask), and Clear Channel Communications Inc. has radio stations in 201 of them. The company owns 1,207 radio stations. Its closest competitor, Cumulus Media, has 250 stations (Think and Ask). This means that, with the exception of the internet, almost all television, radio, music, and movies in the United States are produced by only 7 companies. There is some diversity created as they attempt to carve out a niche market, but with so few hands in the pot, almost every company can have a position in every niche market. With all of them placing a primary emphasis on profit, this means there is a massive homogenization of ideas and a huge lack of diversity.

The concentration of big media owners on generating capital has had a distinct, quantifiable impact on programming. Research into studies conducted before, during and after regulation (in the 1970s, 80s and 90s) reveals interesting findings. Ronald Bishop and Ernest A. Hakanen report that there is a,

pressing need for broadcasters to offer public affairs programming, a need based on the notion that stations not only continue to serve specific geographic areas but also fulfill their role as public trustees, which demands diversity in programming, political programming, and localism (261).

The important thing to take from this statement is the idea of broadcasters as public trustees. They are called to provide citizens in a democracy with the information they need to make informed choices, through diversity of programming. Public trusteeship, acting as if the broadcasters are owned by the public, is the method the US government had chosen to regulate media content. It chose this because it allows for flexible rules that protect both free speech, the idea of an informed public, and a free marketplace of ideas (262). It is an attempt to, “reconcile the competitive commercial pressures of broadcasting with the needs of a democracy,” (262). Unfortunately, after deregulation commercial pressures are crushing the needs of democracy.

The study these authors conducted reveals that once media was deregulated by the FCC, the amount and quality of local, non news, public affairs programming greatly declined (261), suggesting that, “that stations have not maintained their commitment to local public affairs programming” (261). According to Hakanen and Bishop there are three realms in broadcasting which are important for maintaining free speech and a marketplace of ideas. These are, “diversity of programming, political discourse, and localism,” (263). According to the authors, local non-news public affairs programming is a great litmus test of all three of these realms. The symptom of the failure of that programming is indicative of a larger sickness in broadcasting. Their essay goes further, saying localism is the most important aspect. It adds that in the past the FCC required that, “station officials … talk to community leaders of all stripes to learn about problems facing residents and then create programming that dealt with these issues,” (263), a practice which has largely died since deregulation in the 80s.

Deregulation itself is the cause of the problems (264). Where in the 70s the FCC required detailed reports on community contacts and time dedicated to local issues programming, in the 80s these reports became less important (264). The FCC eliminated the strict 10 percent non-entertainment programming requirement and 5 percent public affairs requirement (264). It replaced this with an overbroad and almost unenforceable requirement to air, “‘some’ programming that meets the community’s needs,” (264). To meet this standard, most broadcasters have opted to create more local television news (264). Unfortunately, this often comes in the form of facts without analysis or context, with “sensationalism … at the expense of coverage of local government and politics” (265). Hakanen and Bishop criticize this type of news for not giving enough information to citizens. Once again, profit is shown to be more important than content as broadcasters choose, or create, stories that draw audiences instead of ones that inform the public (265). And just as sinister, broadcasters have created a, “ghetto,” (265) for what little public affairs programming they are required to produce. This means they place public affairs and local programming during the early morning and weekends. These are timeslots where ratings won’t be lost. As such, broadcasters won’t lose advertising money.

Hakanen and Bishop also address the broadcasters’, and the FCC’s, argument that more channels lead to more voices, and as such each broadcaster needs less public affairs programming. They say, “while the range of programs may grow, their relevance to the communities served by broadcasters may not,” (266). In other words, there are more voices, they just are not saying anything worthwhile.

So what does all this information mean? The best way to look at it is in the context of the idea of the free marketplace of ideas suggested by John Milton and advocated by John Stuart Mill. Mill advocates a system where there can be a free exchange of ideas and opinions, and believes that the best ideas will win out. In a modern context some limits, such as hate speech legislation, must be placed on this marketplace. In the past limits on content and ownership were meant to, and did, serve the idea of a free exchange of diverse opinions and ideas. The lack of regulation has allowed companies to regulate their own content, but for profit instead of for actual quality programming. There must be no mistake; there is not a free press, or a free marketplace, in the United States. Unregulated does not equal free, unregulated equals corporate control, the opposite of free. Government regulation is far preferable, as it can at least be restrained by the democracy and a constitution. There is nothing to limit the limits corporations can put on content as they search out more and more profit.  The homogenization of ownership of important media is causing local, diverse, and public affairs programming, to be drowned out by safe fluff that boosts ratings.

This fluff means that content is losing in a battle against profit. In his book, On Liberty, Mill riles against government interference and against people who prefer to have, “peace in the intellectual world,” (On Liberty Ch. 2) over “free and daring speculation on the highest subjects” (Ch 2). He warns that such people narrow, “their thoughts and interests to things which can be spoken of without venturing within the region of principles, that is, to small practical matters” (Ch 2). This is exactly what is happening thanks to a concentration in media ownership. In the past government regulation actually helped to create these controversial conversations Mill advocated. Now, newspapers and broadcasters are choosing these polite conversations, and are doing so at the price of real, important discussion.

Mill says that opinions must be, “fully, frequently, and fearlessly discussed” (Ch 2), or else they “will be held as a dead dogma, not a living truth,” (Ch 2). Opinions are not being fully, frequently and fearlessly discussed, especially controversial opinions. There is an interesting case study which supports this idea. The concentration of media ownership has, in the recent past, had a quantifiable impact on the United States. This is best shown in the case of the Iraq war. After September 11th, many, probably most, journalists in the US were caught up in a kind of patriotic zeal. They often unquestioningly supported the Bush administration. This led to reporters towing the “company line,” and providing the American public with lies from the Bush administration. There was a massive failure in the American media to investigate US intelligence and report accurate news, and the media is largely to blame for the illegal, difficult and costly war that is now ongoing.

It could be said that the poor reporting following 9/11 has little to do with the owners of media, that it was the fault of the patriotic surge at the time and the fault of reporters for going along with it. Although individual reporters are certainly at fault and the zeitgeist was a powerful force to overcome, it is the situation set up by media concentration and deregulation that allowed such poor reporting to happen. This is demonstrated in several cases.

The most interesting case is that of Phil Donahue. He was the host of Donahue, MSNBCs highest rated show during the post 9/11 years. His show was one of very few that allowed anti-war voices on the air (Democracy Now). He was fired in 2003 for the thinly veiled excuse of low ratings (again while having NBCs highest rated show). The real reason, as outlined in a memo from NBC, was that the network,

didn’t want to have their flagship show, no matter how successful it was, the most popular show on MSNBC, being one that provided a forum for anti-war voices. They didn’t want an anti-war face when the other networks were waving the American flag. (Democracy Now)

Donahue was only trying to host, “a place where dissent could be heard” (Democracy Now). He recognizes that, “today, that collective middle is occupied not by a whole lot of people, but by fewer and fewer corporations, larger and larger in size, much more concerned about the bottom line than they are about sticking their nose under the tent” (Democracy Now). As Donahue puts it, “everybody is under pressure to shut up and sing” (Democracy Now).

As Donahue suggests, the real problem is that, when media ownership becomes centralized and content becomes deregulated, profit is emphasized over content. NBC was afraid of losing viewers when the zeitgeist was so pro-war, so they cut off the man who was one of the only responsible mainstream journalists in the United States at the time. They chose polite conversation over free and fearless discussion. This reveals a culture where rational dissent was silenced for profit.

The mindset present in media today, the one that got Phil Donahue fired, has a serious consequence. It is that many journalists will now not only censor themselves for fear of losing their jobs, but that the owners of media are hiring people who they do not need to intimidate. These are journalists and editors who willingly choose fluff stories, know not to dig to deep, know to tow the company line, and know to give Americans what they want to hear instead of what they need. Phil Donahue stepped outside of these bounds, and was made an example as a result. This is the real cause of the poor reporting following 9/11. To further illustrate that point, this essay will examine a great example of the type of reporters and reporting that flourishes in such an atmosphere.

Judith Miller was an investigative reporter at the New York Times, and also worked as an embedded reporter once the war on Iraq began. She had seemingly incredible access to Bush administration insiders, and was great at getting early scoops. She was one of the first journalists in America to report that Saddam Hussein, “embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb” (Miller 1) and co-wrote the notorious aluminum tubes line, “Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium” (1). Her smoking gun article only mentions, “Bush administration officials” (1), and “a senior administration official” (1), and does not give names for sources.

Miller’s reporting was incorrect. The Bush administration fed her, and others, false information about the WMDs, even though the administration had hard intelligence saying there were none (The Huffington Post). This reveals a horrible situation in the United States. Journalists were no longer a check on the government, instead they were pawns used to mislead a country into a costly and illegal war. Miller was not alone, many other journalists (such as her co-author Michael Gordon) reported information from anonymous sources in the Bush administration, and fuelled a cycle of speculation about WMDs in Iraq that helped lead to the war.

Miller was apologetic about her coverage of the war. She is quoted as saying, “I got it totally wrong. … If your sources are wrong, you are wrong. I did the best job that I could” (Don Van Natta Jr. 2). Unfortunately this apology seems to place the blame on the people who lied to Miller. She ignores the fact that, as a journalist, she is responsible to delve deep and to not take her sources words as gospel. Although she has an incredible body of work behind her, her reliance on and ties to administration officials are inexcusable when considering the disastorous results of post 9/11 reporting, especially in the context of the concentration of media ownership.Even the editors of the NY Times criticised their own paper for its post 9/11 coverage, labelling the errors of Miller and other reporters as “institutional … failures” (Don Van Natta Jr. 2). It was not just shoddy reporting, it was encouraged by the entire organization. And although the post 9/11 zeitgeist is gone and the apologies have been made, the root cause of this problem still exists.

Miller had already lost much of her credibility as a result of her pre-war reporting. But terrible mistakes continued. She was still being used by Bush officials. In an outright attack against Joseph Wilson, a former diplomat who was critical of the War on Iraq, the Bush administrates leaked that his wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA agent (Don Can Natta Jr. 2). I Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff, was the insider who told Miller and other reporters(Don Can Natta Jr. 2). Miller did not write a story about Plame, but others did, and an investigation into the matter found out she knew about Plame. She refused to testify, wanting to keep her source secret (Don Can Natta Jr. 2), and was imprisoned until she eventually testified.

This entire affair was a circus. Miller did not to write a story about Plame, but she tried to write one; she was told no by her editors (Don Can Natta Jr. 3). She was willing to write a story that could lead to the death of an undercover CIA agent, a story that had no value to the public interest, a story that would probably sell lots of papers, and a story that was really nothing more then an attempt by the Bush administration to silence a critic. Miller was willing to go to prison to protect an official who was committing a serious crime in telling her the information about Plame. He was from an administration that had knowingly lied to and used her in the past. And the worst part is that the New York Times backed Miller. Again, Miller shows the shoddy reporting, and the Times shows the institutional failure, that has stemmed from deregulation and media consolidation.

Miller eventually had to retire from the Times. She was an irresponsible journalist. But her stories followed the Zeitgeist, and they sold papers. She was backed by her organisation right up until the end, when it chose to distance itself from her after her reputation was ruined. Miller is gone, but the biggest problem of the concentration of media ownership remains, the emphasis on profit over content.

This emphasis is still ruining responsible media in the United States. There are few better examples than that of the absence of reporting on the US Senate Select Committee on Intellegence findings about intellegence leading up to the war in Iraq. The report was released in the summer of 2008 and said “the president and his top officials deliberately misrepresented secret intelligence to make the case to invade Iraq” (The Huffington Post). The report was a damning indictment of the Bush administration, one which should have been on the front page of every newspaper and at the top of every newscast in America. But it was not. No major news network covered it, except for a very brief mention on ABC. It was even passed over by most major newspapers. The New York Times ran a story but it was buried deep inside the Washington section. Basically the only media outlets to give the story the attention it deserved were the Huffington post, an online news blog, and Comedy Central. The Daily Show not only covered the story, but called out major news networks for avoiding it (Daily Show 6 June 2009). It is a travesty that the American people should have to rely on comedy programming to inform them on such crucial issues. It represents a failure by journalists, and reveals serious institutional problems in American media.

There was a very similar situation in the United States before deregulation began to allow media ownership to be concentrated. It was in the seventies, during the Vietnam War. Like Iraq, Vietnam was a bloody and unjust war, founded on false pretenses. A study was commissioned by President Nixon’s administration into historical relationships between the US and Vietnam. The results were a top secret 7,000 page report dubbed the Pentagon Papers (Ellsberg). It was photocopied by Daniel Ellsberg who worked at the Pentagon and the RAND corporation, and then leaked to the New York Times and several other papers (Ellsberg). The newspapers published sections of the Papers, which “demonstrated unconstitutional behavior by a succession of presidents, the violation of their oath and the violation of the oath of every one of their subordinates” (Ellsberg). The newspapers did this knowing that legal prosecution would be brought down on them and Ellsberg. The government did get several injunctions to stop publication, but in the end were not very successful. They also brought charges against Ellsberg, which could have put him in prison for life (Ellsberg). His case ended in a mistrial thanks to the discovery of underhanded tactics on the part of the prosecution.

The point of comparing the reporting of the Intelligence Committee’s report and the pentagon papers is to demonstrate the actions of the press before and after deregulation. The press of today is broken. The Times and other papers risked serious consequences to publish classified documents that had the power to ruin an administration in the 70s. Today, at the height of media concentration, a public report that was even more damning was ignored, even though publishing stories on it would come with no legal consequences. This comes after the patriotic journalism of the post 9/11 era has mostly subsided. The press, as it exists today, is impotent. That impotence is not strictly caused by media concentration; but the concentration of media ownership makes it possible. This is because, as Bishop and Hakanen have shown, content has become less important than profit. It is only in a situation such as this that reports as crucial as the one produced by the Senate Select Intelligence Committee could be overlooked.

But of course, not everyone feels the same way about the concentration of media ownership; if they had the FCC would never have allowed deregulation. So to best understand the position of those that support deregulation, and thus indirectly the concentration of media ownership, one should look right into the belly of the beast; FCC chairmen Michael Powell. The following is an analysis of his press statement in support of the deregulatory measures the FCC attempted to bring in 2002.

Powell says that the FCC will be successful if it completes three goals,

(1) Reinstating legally enforceable broadcast ownership limits that promote diversity, localism and competition … (2) Building modern rules that take proper account of the explosion of new media outlets for news, information and entertainment… (3) Striking a careful balance that does not unduly limit transactions that promote the public interest, while ensuring that no company can monopolize the medium (1)

Powell acknowledges the importance of localism and diversity. He says they must be maintained through modern rules that balance public interest and the economic interest of business, while preventing monopoly. He feels that the FCC’s recommendations, which include an increase in allowable media ownership from 35 percent to 45 percent and a rollback on the newspaper/radio cross ownership rule, struck this appropriate balance. He says that they do this despite public concerns over excessive consolidation (1). What he calls public concerns, Adelstein, a dissenting member of the FCC, calls a near unanimous public outcry (Adelstein 3). Powell claims that rules are being modified and not eliminated (Powell 1), implying that if the rules are not modified the way he wants them to be, they must be eliminated. He says that in the past the FCC has refused to modernize, instead leaving rules to stagnate, which he says will eventually lead to the destruction of the American media market (1). He does not seem to realize that change in the other direction is possible. Powell fails to address the fact that thinkers like Adelstein, Bishop and Hakanen feel the rules in existence are already far too lenient and must be strengthened. He also ignores the fact that a ten percent increase in allowable market share will only strengthen monopolies already in existence. He even goes so far as to use fear tactics, saying “the stakes are perilously high” (1). He speaks about a massive examination of media and media standards, but does not mention the simplistic decision the FCC based its new regulations on. This decision is that new media such as the internet has led to more voices, which means there needs to be less regulation for diversity. Again, Adelstein, Bishop and Hakanen have all demonstrated that more voices do not mean quality and diverse programming. Powell sounds very much like a politician, saying that, “I believe that our actions will advance our diversity and localism goals and maintain a vigorously competitive environment” (2). That statement is the opposite of the real consequences of the proposed changes. There has been a sharp decline in diversity and localism since deregulation started; competition still exists, but only for profit, not quality. Competition, in this case, does not mean diversity, quality and localism, it means homogenization and safe national programs that attract broad audiences and grant lots of advertising revenue. Powell is dead wrong, and totally full of it. As Craig Aaron, a reporter for the Guardian says, “media consolidation is the problem, not the answer” (Craig Aaron). Powell simply represents the institutional failure of the FCC and reveals that the organization needs to be cleaned out and overhauled with new people who put the American public ahead of the interests of corporations.

There is an extremely simple solution to improving the media climate in the United States. The answer is to create more variety in ownership and content by bringing back pre 80s regulations. This must come about to decrease the concentration of media ownership, as that concentration is the spring from which crap journalism and media bubble. It also must be done so that once monopolies are broken up, companies will have to emphasize quality programming instead of for-profit programming. Regulation is not difficult to enact, what is necessary is a change in the minds of the FCC. It needs an overhaul; people like Powell have to be kicked out and new people with a more realistic outlook put in their place. There was obviously a serious problem when the Supreme Court blocked the FCCs proposed changes in 2002, and the problems have only gotten worse. Hopefully the Obama administration will see these problems and bring about change.

There are many specific actions the FCC must take to change the landscape of media ownership in America. Firstly, effective anti-trust laws must be established to prevent monopoly nationally and in individual markets (Baker 171), and to break up current monopolies and near-monopolies. Secondly, government approval must be required for mergers so companies can not get around the anti-trust law (172). There also must be regulation in terms of what mergers the government can allow. Specifically “mergers that increase concentration or invlove takeover by nonmedia firms” (176) must be prevented. Also, cross-ownership regulations must be reintroduced, the cap on media ownership must be lowered back below 35%, and the cap on radio ownership must be recreated, to further weaken the concentration of media.

Finally, governments must require special responsibilities from large firms (186) in the form of content regulation. These responsibilities should include the things which Bishop and Hackanen recommend; a large increase in the minimum requirement for diverse, local, political and public affairs programming with specific requirements for concentration on the public interest (such as requiring media companies to  maintain community contacts and report on community issues). These requirements must also ensure that this programming is not relegated to late night and early morning time slots. The fairness doctrine must also be reintroduced, although in a weaker form then the original doctrine. It is needed to increase a diversity of opinion and break up the right- and left-wing dichotomy in US media. But this must be done in updated way which does not force irrationally overbalanced pieces (ie. giving equal time to both non-racists and white supremicists) and which does not steer journalists away from reporting on difficult issues.

It must be remembered that these content regulations are meant to reign in for-profit programming and to increase diversity. They must be limited by the constitution to prevent encroachment on free press. This limit is what makes these regulations much more effective then allowing corporations to govern themselves; the government has to abide by rules, corporations only have to make money. Regulations must be constantly held up to a test that examines their effectiveness in limiting for-profit programming and encouraging a diversity of opinion, localism and public affairs programming. Also, the government must create these regulations while ensuring that editoral freedom remains in the hands of journalists, so as to prevent an undue infringement on free speech. This has worked in the past, and can work again.

Unfortunately, enacting this regulation will not be easy. The fact that the Bush administration was in power for 8 years, despite its unpopularity, constitutional violations and clear incompetence, reveals the incredible power that conservatives and corporations still hold in the United States. Corporations control the media, and deregulation will mean a sharing of capital and a loss of profits. It is difficult to believe that the leaders of industry will support this. But after an unpopular war, an economic crisis, and the revelation of the Bush administration’s crimes, change may be coming. The election of Barrack Obama, a liberal minded democrat and a former human rights lawyer, is certainly a step in the right direction, as is the election of a Democrat majority to both the Senate and Congress. After all, regulation ultimately has to come from the government. But the government will only bring change if it is what the American people want. So change must come from the ground up. It has to come through educated citizens working at grass roots levels. Profit motive makes the corporate controlled media very critical of change in the United States. As such, educated citizens must strike out on their own to find information. The internet is the perfect place for change to start, as it is the form of media most free from the influence of corporate America. Unfortunately it is also full of false information and useless entertainment, so people must be careful what they look for. But a culture of critical thinking will have to develop; hopefully the internet can be the free marketplace that fosters such a culture.  The Obama administration already seems to be moving in the right direction by introducing plans to increase funding for education and possibly reintroducing some media regulation, hopefully these initiatives will also help in developing a culture of critical thinking.

In conclusion, the American media system is broken. It is full of poor programming and irresponsible journalism. People are spoonfed easy stories and shows that bring big ratings and big advertising dollars. Localism, diversity and public affairs and political programming are dying and being replaced with national content that has little public importance. These problems can be traced back to one source, deregulation. Deregulation leads to the concentration of media ownership and a concentration on profit over content. These problems have persisted since the deregulation of media ownership and content control in the eighties and nineties. They have led to Phil Donahue getting fired, to a climate of bad, patriotic journalism that helped lead America into an illegal war, and to the biggest story of 2008 being swept under the rug. Media is showing no signs of recovery on its own, and may in fact be getting worse as more deregulation is proposed. Action must be taken by citizens to put pressure on the US government to re-regulate the industry. The FCC has to return to its roots before more irreversible damage is done to American civil society. This is a very difficult and uphill battle. It has all of corporate and most of conservative America against it. But hopefully, for democracy’s sake, a true and just free marketplace of ideas will win out in the end.

Works Cited

Baker, C. Edwin. Media Concentration and Democracy: Why Ownership Matters. Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Craig Aaron, Joseph Torres. “Consolidation won’t save the media.” The Guardian 26 March


Democracy Now. “Phil Donahue: “We Have an Emergency in the Media and We Have to Fix

It”.” 24 March 2005. Democracy Now. 3 March 2009 <;.

Don Van Natta Jr., Adam Liptak, Clifford J. Levy. “The Miller Case: A Notebook, a Cause, a

Jail Cell and a Deal .” The New York Times 16 October 2005: 1-8.

Ellsberg, Daniel. How the Pentagon Papers Came to be Published by the Beacon Press Amy

Goodman. 2 July 2007.

Hackanen, Ronald Bishop and Ernest A. “In the Public Interest? The State of Local Television

Fifteen Years After Deregulation.” Journal of Communication Inquiry 26.3 (2002): 261-276.

Miller, Michael R. Gordon and Judith. “THREATS AND RESPONSES: THE IRAQIS; U.S.

SAYS HUSSEIN INTENSIFIES QUEST FOR A-BOMB PARTS.” The New York Times 8 September 2002: 1-5.

Now with Bill Moyers. Media Regulation Timeline. 30 January 2004. 26 January 2009


Powell, Michael. “Press Statement of Chairman Michael Powell.” Press Statement. 2002.

Social Science Research Council. Report on Chain Broadcasting. 26 January 2009


The Daily Show 6 June 2009. Perf. Jon Stewart. 2009.

The Huffington Post. “Senate Report: Bush Used Iraq Intel He Knew Was False.” The

Huffington Post 5 June 2008: 1.

The Museam of Broadcast Communications. Fairness Doctrine. 26 January 2009


Think and Ask. “Media Giants: Who Owns What?” July 2004. 9 February

2009 <;.


Filed under Political Science, Research Papers

East and West and Paranoia: The Origins of the Cold War in Germany

East and West and Paranoia: The Origins of the Cold War in Germany

St. Thomas University


The cold war was started by both the United States and Russia. It began because two  countries with very different governments, a lot of power, and expansionist, competing foreign policies, found themselves interfering in each others spheres of influence. The US wanted to spread democracy and capitolism, the USSR wanted to be surrounded by communist nations. Each country was afraid the other would attack, afraid there was no place for it in the others view of the world. This fear was unfounded and born of the US and USSR’s misunderstanding of each other’s foreign policy and dream for the world. Germany was a microcosm for the situation in the world and the division of Eurpe into Soviet and American spheres of influence. It was where the line of the iron curtain was drawn, and where the struggle between the nations first became evident and almost led to war.

Berlin was where Western powers and the USSR met. As the Protocol of the Proceedings of the Berlin Conference Shows, there was to be trouble right from the beginning of Germany’s occupation after World War II. The protocol divided “supreme authority,”[1] between the US, UK, USSR, and France, “each in his own zone of occupation, and also jointly, in matters affecting Germany as a whole.”[2] Dividing power up in this manner set the stage for the cold war. It literally drew a line between the western democratic, capitalist nations and the communist USSR.  The protocol required that Germany, “be treated as a single economic unit,”[3] despite the fact that it was being administered by powers with economies based on different principals. Both the US and USSR wanted to expand their political policies, and their joint administration of a nations economic policy would have to lead to problems. Uniform treatment in Germany was all but impossible with such different countries governing it, and the differences that came out of this led to a lot of international tension.

The line between the USSR and western powers is well illustrated on the Map of Europe after World War on in Discovering the Western Past.  Germany is right in the middle of Europe, between the western countries and Russia. Its location and the tension between the countries occupying it proved to be a microcosm for the cold war internationally. On top of the line dividing Germany, its capitol,  Berlin, is further divided. Not only is it divided, but it is deep within the Russian zone. Governing territory within a rival country’s control area was a big problem, it made Berlin blockade possible.

There were no shots fired in the cold war, but there was an instance when warfare in its true sense almost broke out. The Berlin blockade happened when Soviet forces blocked the western forces from rail and road access to Berlin. This was not seen as an act of war because of Berlin’s location. Being deep in the USSR’s zone, the Soviets only had to block western forces from access through the territory they controlled in order to cut off access to Berlin. They also covered this blockade under the guise of “technical problems,”[4] like unsafe bridges. The fact that Berlin was the site of such an important conflict helps to prove the importance of Germany in the cold war.

The blockade was not viewed as an act of war, but it was seen as very aggressive by American’s. This is evidenced in the personal letter General Clay sent to Under Secretary of the Army William Draper. In the letter Clay calls the soviet move “violent,”[5], in reaction to “programs to restore and build up democracy in Europe.[6] He sees that the Soviets feel threatened by gains in the US government’s spread of influence over Europe, especially because of the US government’s implementation of a new currency in West Germany, without Soviet approval,  and believes they may be willing to risk war over it.

Clay thinks the Soviet’s could only have two motives in blockading Berlin. One possibility is that they are bluffing, and will continue to bluff until their bluff  is called, because “recognizing the rising tide of anti-communistic forces under European recovery, are [sic] determined to exert pressures to retard such recovery to the point of, but short of, war.”[7] This quote shows that even Clay sees the tension of the cold war is a result the posturing for world influence between the west and the USSR.

Clay’s letter dedicates far more space to his concern over USSR’s second possible motive. He is afraid that “the Soviet Government has now made up its mind that European recovery can be stopped only by war,”[8] a quote which shows the American government is afraid of and misunderstands Soviet policy, as the USSR’s government did not actually want to start a war. Clay believes the point of the blockade is to cause the US to commit the first act of war, thereby making the USSR look better internationally. Again, this shows the entire conflict boils down to a competition over world influence and paranoia. Clay feels the Soviet’s bluff must be called, because otherwise they will push the US to back down out of other areas. He thinks his country must respond by moving an armed force through Eastern Germany and into Berlin, with the purpose of either breaking through the blockade or starting a war before the USSR can become more powerful.

Clay’s hasty proposal to get through the blockade shows how paranoid he is. He says diplomatic efforts to solve the conflict are wasting time, and assumes “the Soviet Government, during the same period of time, with its absolute control of the Soviet economy, can be increasing its own efforts to prepare for war at an accelerated rate.”[9] He greatly overestimates the soviet willingness to go to war.

In the end the US decided to fly supplies into Berlin. This was somewhat of a compromise. They did not force the soviet hand by entering their zone on the ground. It revealed that neither side really wanted war, as the Soviets also did not provoke the US by attempting to stop their planes, and stopped the blockade in 1949. This shows the paranoia both countries had was unfounded. The fact that these events happened in Berlin showed just how crucial a location it was during the cold war.

The US and USSR had opposing foreign policy. The US wanted to spread democracy and capitalism, the USSR communism. This desire for international influence was one of the principle factors that started and drove the cold war.

The US and USSR were out of touch with each others foreign policy. Both countries wanted to expand their influence, but neither wanted war. Despite this, both the US and USSR were worried about each other’s intentions. This is demonstrated in the Weekly Summary of the CIA from 6 May 1949. It says there is a “Soviet objective to establish a Germany which will eventually fall under Soviet domination,”[10] despite the USSR’s “agreement to lift the Berlin blockade and enter into four-power discussions on Germany.”[11] The report also says the USSR wants to create more German nationalism, establish a central German government, remove troops on all sides and give control of production in the Ruhr to the Western powers. The report shows American  paranoia, as it claims the Soviets want a “a centralized Germany not wholly western-oriented,”[12] which seems reasonable enough. The problem is that the American’s are afraid, and justifiably so,  that without that western influence, Germany will be “susceptible to eventual Soviet domination.”[13] The Soviets did want to gain more influence over Germany, but not in the aggressive or total way American’s envisioned. This evidence also shows just how important Germany was in the cold war as the country where Soviet and American style governments met.

Kruschev’s Aide-Memoire was handed to President John Kennedy during their meeting in Vienna as a proposal for a new treaty concerning Germany. It also created a second Berlin crisis. It called the US-controlled western Federal Republic of Germany “aggressive,”[14] and claimed it wanted to, “kindle a dangerous bed of conflicts on German soil.”[15] Kruschev asks for the demilitarization of West Berlin, an extremely difficult demand. In the middle of the cold war, the US was terrified of gains in Soviet influence, and would never want to give up west Berlin, especially when east Berlin is still in the hands of the Soviets.

The memoire is full of propaganda-ish sounding statements. It all but says the US wants war if it does not accept the treaty Kruschev is proposing. This illustrates the differences in US and Soviet interests, and shows how the conflict over their attempts to gain influence in the world is especially concentrated in Germany. It also reveals how important propaganda is in this conflict, as both countries want to be seen as the “good guy” on the world stage.

The difference between American and Soviet interests, and the paranoia that fuels the cold war, is brought to bear in the presidents’s addresses to their countries concerning the Aide-memoire. Krushchev’s television address was on 15 July 1961.  He  again uses propaganda to bring people to his side, claiming that the cold war stems from the absence of a peace treaty over Germany, and that western powers want to continue the war because they still refuse to sign. Krushchev makes what can either be taken as a thinly veiled threat or a wish to end what could escalate into something drastic when he asks, “who can say where lies the borderline between a cold war and a war in the full sense of the word?”[16] He claims western countries are aggressive, saying their refusal to sign a peace treaty “is trampling on the most elementary norms in relation between states,”[17] and that it shows a “desire to preserve a state of extreme tension in international relations, and moreover, it is a threat of war.”[18] In this same speech, Krushchev also says that his allies will not go to war unless they have to, and that they will not initiate conflict. Krushchev is trying to look strong in the face of a difficult situation. His threats are qualified by a reluctance to go to war, but they show he is worried about what could happen if American’s encroach on his country’s territory. As such, he says that if no one starts a conflict or encroaches on Soviet territory, there will be no war. This illustrates how paranoid Krushchev is over the possibility of war. He is trying to look strong to prevent the US from starting an attack, while at the same time saying he will not start anything. Unfortunately, his appearance of strength built more tension.  Ten days later, president Kennedy gave his speech about their meeting in Vienna.

Kennedy’s speech on 25 July 1961sounded similar to Krushchev’s. He spoke of soviet aggression and militarization, and said that America will be ready for war if Soviets attempt to encroach on West Germany. He announced a large increase in the US military, and warned of the possibility of nuclear war. These increases and warnings were reasonable given the strength of the Soviet Union, but they also show a fundamental misunderstanding between the two nations. Despite Kennedy and Krushchev’s aggressive appearances, neither side was willing to be an aggressor. Again on Kennedy’s side, his appearance of strength and build up of forces, which were an attempt to prevent the Soviet Union from starting anything,  only led to a build up of tension.

The US and Russia  misunderstood each others intention when it came to going to war. Nikolai Novikov, Soviet ambassador to the US,  illustrates this point in his telegram to foreign minister Viacheslav Molotov.

Novikov had legitimate concerns about US foreign policy. War or no war, the US was competing with his country for influence over the world. The misunderstanding lay in how aggressive Novikov thought US policy was. He calls the US “imperialist,”[19] and said it was “striving for world supremacy.”[20] The fact that the two powers never went to war proves that neither was really interested in world domination, and as such neither had to be beaten out in a race for it. Novikov says the US wanted the Soviet Union, “exhausted or even completely destroyed as a result of [World War I],”[21] wanted to, “infiltrate,”[22] the economies of European nations hurt by the war for, “world domination,”[23] and that the US saw the Soviet Union’s influence in Euorope “as an obstacle in the path of [its] expansionist policy.”[24] Novikov also expressed fears over the United States’ expansion of its peacetime armed forces, and of the bases it had been setting up on Atlantic and Pacific Islands. He claimed those bases indicated “the offensive nature of the strategic concepts of the commands of the US army and navy.”[25] Novikov also outlines other evidence for the US’ aggressive nature. He says it wants disunity among the great powers so it can impose its will on the USSR, supports “reactionary forces,”[26] in order to stop countries from democratizing and stop Soviet influence over them, and wants to stop Germany from democratizing in order to continue its history of imperialism and use it as an ally. Novikov fears the US’ foreign policies are leading up to another war where the US will try to “win world supremacy.”[27] The fact that his letter is addressed to a foreign minister and not the public shows that his opinions are not just propaganda, but real fears he thinks the Soviet government needs to know about. The fact that Novikov criticises the US’ aggressive foreign policy suggests that the USSR was not interested in world supremacy, especially in the way the US intelligence suggests. This means the paranoia US documents expressed was unfounded. Novikov was obviously out of touch about the US’ international intentions, Americans did not want the USSR destroyed in World War II, and although they do want to expand their influence internationally, the US was not interested in world domination, but his fears were prevalent on both sides of the cold war. It was these fears that led to the viscous escalation of the arms race and near war.

Western paranoia is made evident in the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The treaty does not specifically say anything about the USSR, but it links western democratic powers together against any country that would attack them. It says the nations signing onto it are determined to protect democratic values, as opposed to socialist or communist values, and the treaty was created  at a time when the USSR was seen as possibly the greatest threat to western democracies in the world. This evidence  shows that one of the main principles of the treaty is to unite the west so as to protect it from the USSR, a protection wanted because of fears of a Soviet interest to dominate the world.

The paranoia of the US is further outlined in the weekly reports of the CIA during the cold war. Report 60-48 calls the USSR a threat, and says it is “essentially and implacably inimical towards the united states.”[28] It says the Soviet Union will exploit the unwillingness of the US to go to war to spread its influence in Eurasia, will try to build a greater military, will prevent the stabilization of Europe in order to “expand Soviet domination,”[29] and that if the US makes a single mistake or allows the balance of power to slip towards the Soviets, they will start a war. This report shows the American’s feel the same way about the Soviets that the Soviet’s feel toward them. Neither side wants to go to war, but both are afraid that the other does, and that fear heightens tensions. This fear is the reason for the arms race, as each side is afraid to let the other grow too strong and gain a position where war would seem profitable and victory likely.

The cold war was made possible because the Soviet Union and the United States were large powers attempting to expand their influence world wide, and they ended up expanding into each others spheres of influence. However, despite this expansion, tension really escalated because the US and USSR were so afraid the other side was willing to start a war. In truth neither side actually wanted war or was willing to fire the first shot. Symptoms of this tension were the conflicts over Germany,   where a real war was almost started twice; during the Berlin blockade and because of Krushchev’s demands for a peace treaty that would demilitarize West Germany.


Merry E. Wiesner, Julius R. Ruff, William Bruce Wheeler. Discovering the Western Past: A Look at the Evidence. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004.

Source 1 – Protocol Proceedings of the Berlin Conferece

Source 4A – Report 60-48 CIA, Office of Reports and Estimates

Source 4C – CIA Weekly Summary, May 6, 1949

Source 6 – The Berlin Blockade, The Papers of General Lucius D. Clay

Source 8 – Department of State Bulletin 45, Soviet Aide-Memoire of June 4, 1961

Source 9 – Radio and Television Address to the Soviet Union by Nikita S. Khrushchev, July 15, 1961

[1]Chapter 13 Source 1

[2]Chapter 13 Source 1

[3]Chapter 13 Source 1

[4]Chapter 13 Source 6 Footnote 16

[5]Chapter 13 Source 6

[6]Chapter 13 Source 6

[7]Chapter 13 Source 6

[8]Chapter 13 Source 6

[9]Chapter 13 Source 6

[10]Chapter 13 Source 4C

[11]Chapter 13 Source 4C

[12]Chapter 13 Source 4C

[13]Chapter 13 Source 4C

[14]Chapter 13 Source 8

[15]Chapter 13 Source 8

[16]Chapter 13 Source 9

[17]Chapter 13 Source 9

[18]Chapter 13 Source 9

[19]Chapter 13 Source 3

[20]Chapter 13 Source 3

[21]Chapter 13 Source 3

[22]Chapter 13 Source 3

[23]Chapter 13 Source 3

[24]Chapter 13 Source 3

[25]Chapter 13 Source 3

[26]Chapter 13 Source 3

[27]Chapter 13 Source 3

[28]Chapter 13 Source 4A

[29]Chapter 13 Source 4A

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Law According to Bonhoeffer, King, and Socrates

Socrates, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King all believe that human laws are not, in and of themselves, perfect. They argue that laws can not stand alone, but must rest on something much more fundamental, the divine laws, the laws of God. They claim society can not survive without being grounded in God, and humans can not live full lives without following a universal code of morality.  Socrates’ speech in Plato’s Apology is based on the idea that Athens is a city founded on the divine laws, and his criticism is of men that have an “eagerness to possess as much wealth, reputation and honours as possible, while {they} do not care for nor give thought to wisdom or truth”[1], instead of an eagerness to follow those laws.  Bonhoeffer says society is doomed without respect among mankind for human individuality, individuality which finds its roots in God. Finally, Martin Luther King stated that there are two types of laws, just and unjust. He claims the just laws are  in accordance with the divine laws and benefit humanity, the unjust laws are in disharmony with the divine laws and must be fought against in order to save society from self destruction.

In, the Apology, Socrates’ central argument is that, although Athens has great laws, ones which reflect what he perceives as the divine laws, they are of no use until its people begin to implement them in a just way. He says that in order for the people to listen to justice, they must ground themselves in the gods, admitting that “the human wisdom is worth little or nothing”[2], and seeking “truth”[3] and “excellence”[4] instead of “wealth”[5] and other worldly things.  He does

not state the difference between just and unjust laws as clearly as Martin Luther King, but Socrates does draw a difference between his just behaviour and the unjust behaviour of the “dangerous accusers”[6]. He claims his actions are made just because they are rooted in “service to the god”[7], and a great respect for both Athens and the divine principals it was founded on.

Throughout the Apology Socrates’ criticises  men who, without breaking any laws, led others to believe lies, “accused [him] quite falsely”[8], and “spread rumour”[9]. This criticism reveals what is right to ground ones values in, by showing what the Atenians are doing wrong. Socrates accuses Meletus of  “attempting to have a man executed unjustly”[10], because he is grounding his work in “insolence, violence and youthful zeal”[11]. He claims the jurors are only willing to vote for his death because they “are not ashamed of [their] eagerness to possess as much wealth, reputation and honours as possible, while {they} do not care for nor give thought to wisdom or truth”[12]. It can be seen that wisdom in this sense refers to the divine wisdom, as Socrates has already said human wisdom is “worth little or nothing”[13] .  Because Athens is a democracy in which the populous is in charge of making laws, Socrates’ argument also applies to what those laws must be grounded in. He says men must “judge according to law”[14], and must look to divine wisdom, to the divine laws, and to truth in order to do so.

On top of pointing out that his accusers are grounding their values, and thus the laws of Athens, in the wrong things, Socrates also shows how he has grounded his life in the right things. He is in the court to “obey the law and make [his] defence”[15]. The entire reason he is being tried is because his “investigation in the service of the god”[16] caused him to “[become] unpopular”[17], to the point where those he questioned wanted him dead. He had “live[ed] in great poverty because of [his] service to the god”[18] and is not ashamed of dying because he believes a man “should look to this only in his actions, whether what he does is right or wrong”[19]. Socrates even goes so far as to say that he will follow his “course of action, even if [he is] to face death many times”[20], and will wake  people in the city from the sleep of ignorance, even if they “strike out at [him]”[21]. He shows again and again that his life is a just one, and that it is so simply because he is completely dedicated to serving the god.

The purpose of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s letter, After Ten Years, is to prove that humanity must ground it’s values in God in order to prevent self-destruction and create a just society. Bonhoeffer argues that not having a respect for the individuality of humans, an individuality which stems from God, causes  people to be very easily led astray. This can be seen when he says, “Unless we have the courage to fight for a revival of wholesome reserve between man and man, we shall perish in an anarchy of human values”[22]. This argument also applies to law in that,

without this same respect and grounding of values in God, there will be nothing to prevent lawmakers from  writing laws contrary to what is right and just. This is what happened during the Nazi regime, when Bonhoeffer saw people following evil laws and objectifying their fellow man, leading to the murder of millions solely because of race. Unjust laws were written because lawmakers did not ground their values in God and  have the respect for humanity that is required to live justly, and those laws were followed because the populous lacked exactly the same thing. As such, Bonhoeffer believes, like Socrates, that in order for society to function, society must be grounded in the divine and universal laws of God.

Bonhoeffer claims,

The great masquerade of evil has played havoc with all our ethical

concepts. For evil to appear disguised as light, charity, historical

necessity, or social justice is quite bewildering to anyone brought

up on our traditional ethical concepts, while for the Christian who

bases his life on the Bible it merely confirms the fundamental

wickedness of evil[23].

This quote is a great summation of Bonhoeffer’s argument. “The great masquerade of evil”[24], can be taken to mean Facsim, which disguises itself in a manner that “traditional ethical concepts”[25], cannot see through. Bonhoeffer shows the Christian, to whom this “merely confirms the wickedness of evil”[26], as seeing through the disguise. This is because a Christian does not simply rely on “traditional ethical concepts”[27], or even “his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom or his virtue”[28], but “is ready to sacrifice all this when he is called to obedient and responsible action in faith and in exclusive allegiance to God”[29]. In other words, only the man with his faith grounded in God is able to resist evil disguised as good. This reflects Bonhoeffer’s vision of what law must be grounded in. The fundamental reasons these people follow evil is because they, and the writers of the laws they follow, do not have their lives grounded in God.

Bonhoeffer also claims that “In the subordination of all personal wishes and ideas to the tasks to which we have been called, we have seen the meaning and greatness of our lives”[30]. He is saying that, in order for a life to have meaning, a person must submit to a greater power and cease living for themselves. The problem with subordination is that man has, “misjudged the world; he did not realize that his submissiveness and self sacrifice could be exploited for evil ends. When that happened, the exercise of the calling itself became questionable…”[31]. Submissiveness, when it is not to God, can easily be corrupted. In this case, the German people have submitted to Hitler’s evil Nazi regime. It was evident that the calling of Fascism was questionable because it resulted in the deaths of millions. It was obviously fundamentally wrong because it had not been grounded in God and respect for human individuality, which made it extremely easy to justify so many horrible deaths.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s attitude towards justice and what society’s values must be grounded in is very similar to that of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s and Socrates’. In his Letter From Birmingham Jail he responds to a letter, written by fellow clergymen, which says the civil rights

movement he leads is moving to quickly. King’s response is a biting one, in which he reveals the horrors of racism and segregation, and shows that there is no better time to act then the present. He justifies his position by clearly defining just and unjust laws, saying exactly what society needs as a base in order to function properly, and revealing the relationship between time and justice.Unlike Bonhoeffer and Socrates, King is not at all subtle. He comes right out and states that “a just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God.”[32], and that “An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law”[33].  He shows how a law can be recognized as aligning with morality when he states, “Any law that uplifts the human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust”[34]. King applies this rule to the segregation when he says, “All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority”[35]. King is claiming that laws must be rooted in morality for them to be just, and that people have a moral obligation to break unjust laws. This disobedience, King says, “is in reality expressing the highest respect for law”[36]. The reason breaking laws can show the, “highest respect”[37], for law is because the person breaking the unjust law is, in reality, fighting for true law. This is the universal moral law of God, under which all men are free and equal. This true law was written into the American constitution, and is exactly what King is attempting to have implemented in the south.

The fact that, as King sees it, some people in the south are considered inferior and others superior, is objectification. This objectification is something which Dietrich Bonhoeffer also saw in Nazi Germany, and is caused by a lack of respect for the human person. King explains this when he says segregation “substitutes an ‘I-it’ relationship for an ‘I-thou’ relationship, and ends up relegating persons to the status of things”[38].  This, “I-it”[39], relationship can only be changed when people garner a respect for the value every person has, stemming from their individuality, and rooted entirely in God.

When King says that the white moderate are “more devoted to ‘order’ then to justice”[40], he is making a very similar point to that of Socrates. The philosopher criticised the citizens of Athens for their “eagerness to possess as much wealth, reputation and honours as possible, while {they} do not care for nor give thought to wisdom or truth”[41]. Seeking order, while sacrificing justice, is similar to a lust for wealth. This is because order allows for the peaceful enjoyment of possessions and status, while the implementation of justice can threaten both false peace and unjustly achieved status. Those were the very things the white moderate wished to defend.  King continues this argument when he says the white moderate  “paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom”[42]. Because this moderate only cares about order, choosing to ignore the fact that the God given rights of Black persons hardly exist in the southern United States, they are setting up “dams that block the flow of social progress”[43]. They fight against a “substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality”[44], and are using time as an excuse to build these “dams”[45]. King calls time “neutral”[46], saying, “it can be used either destructively or constructively”[47], and that “the time is always ripe to do right”[48]. In his analysis of time and criticism of the white moderate,  King reveals that when it comes to God given rights, there is no bad time for implementation, and friction will never be absent in the fight for equality.

The speech of Socrates in Plato’s Apology, the letter Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote to his friends in response to the complacency of and horrors caused by the people in Nazi Germany, and Martin Luther King’s Letter From Birmingham Jail, all carry the same message. They argue that in order for people, and society, to be successful and just, they must have their values grounded in the divine laws, and thus in God. Socrates believed this meant people must seek truth and the true, just application of law . King and Bonhoeffer, seeing the objectification of persons destroying so many lives, believed that grounding values in God meant moving past racism. It requires forgetting conventional morality, being strengthened in the divine laws , and achieving a respect for all mankind through an appreciation for the individuality in every person.


Bonhoeffer, Dietrich.”After Ten Years,” Letters and Papers from Prison. Ed. Eberhard Bethge. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1967.

King, Martin Luther. Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Why We Can’t Wait. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1963

Plato. “Apology,” The Trial and Death of Socrates. 3rd ed: Translated by G.M.A. Grube. Revised by John M. Cooper. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2000.

[1]Plato, “Apology,” The Trial and Death of Socrates. 3rd ed: Translated by G.M.A. Grube.                 Revised John M. Cooper. (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2000), 32.





















[22]Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison: After Ten Years. (New York: The                 Macmillan Company, 1967), 35.










[32]King, Martin Luther. “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Why We Can’t Wait. (New York:                 Harper & Row Publishers, 1963), 85









[41]Plato, “Apology,” The Trial and Death of Socrates. 3rd ed: Translated by G.M.A. Grube.                 Revised John M. Cooper. (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2000), 32.

[42]King, Martin Luther. “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Why We Can’t Wait. (New York:                 Harper & Row Publishers, 1963), 87.







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Lacking Causation: Putnam and Civic Disengagement

Lacking Causation: Putnam and Civic Disengagement

St. Thomas University

2 March 2006

In his article, Civic Disengagement in Contemporary America, Robert D. Putnam is arguing that there has been a huge disengagement in civic life. He claims that people are not as socially connected as they once were, and that this is having a lot of negative effects.

Putnam’s basic argument is that “social capital…the social norms and networks that enhance people’s ability to collaborate on common endeavours” (125), is drastically decreasing in the United States. He claims this capital “makes individuals-and communities-healthier, wealthier, wiser, happier, more productive and better able to govern themselves peaceably and effectively” (125). This greater ability to self govern is due to social capital bringing people together so they can be more productive through trust for one another and a collective pooling of skills.

Putnam cites several surveys that he believes deal with social capital. An American National Election Studies survey shows that there has been a drastic decline in people’s trust of government, and Putnam claims there has been a similar decline in regards to “the performance of religious institutions and unions and business and universities and so on”(125), and even in relationships with other individuals. Also, Putnam says that membership in bowling leagues, Parent Teacher Associations, fraternal organizations, and other clubs or organizations that promote “civic engagement” has gone down. He goes on, using bowling as an analogy, to explain exactly how meeting in groups promotes this “civic engagement”. Sitting around and talking while waiting for your turn to bowl often leads to the deliberation of important civic matters, matters that might not otherwise be discussed.

Putnam goes on to give more empirical evidence of civic disengagement. He begins to talk about the membership of organizations like 4-H and the Knights of Columbus, saying that it was steadily increasing in the early and mid 20h century, with the exception of the depression years. However, the percentage of eligible members joining these clubs began to decline after the 1960s.

Playing the devils advocate, Putnam says “that evidence in itself does not prove anything. Although suggestive, it is not conclusive insofar as membership data from specific organizations do not necessarily reflect an underlying propensity to join groups in general” (128). He says that it is possible that “this analysis is limited to old fashioned organizations on their way out” (128), and that “maybe Americans are no longer formerly joining groups … but people are still hanging out together, maybe even more then they used to” (128). Because there was no way to test for this, Putnam was up against a wall, until he found datasets from several different surveys asking questions relevant to engagement in many forms  of group and social activities. According to the survey, every aspect of civic and political engagement it tested for has seen a huge decline.

Putnam found that participation in some sorts of activities was not down nearly as much. “The sorts of activities that a citizen can do alone without coordinating with anyone else… are down just 10 to 15 per cent” (129), where as public meetings and activities like picnicking are down forty to fifty percent. Card playing, what Putnam claims was once a very important social activity, is also down.

According to Putnam, the disengagement from social activities has been replaced by engagement in much less social ones. There has been a rise in casino gambling, internet card playing, and uncivil behaviour like giving the finger and cheating on taxes. Putnam also cites the decline in families eating together, claiming it could be a “troubling trend” (131) because it is a tradition stretching back millennia.

Putnam then goes on to explain why civic engagement is down. He claims that it is the same across all demographics, except for the elderly, and this makes it difficult to pin point what is causing the decline. This is because there can be no applicable  analysis of changes within a single group that could have caused a decline in civic engagement. Putnam also claims that because people in their sixties or seventies participate today, but there is no indication that people who will be in there sixties or seventies will participate tomorrow, there will be a further decline in civic engagement. He says “the process of ‘generational replacement’ is the single most important reason for the erosion of social capital and civic participation. It accounts for about half of the overall decline” (132-3) He believes that the rest of civic disengagement is made up in small part by an increase in work hours, urban sprawl (because more time spent in transit means less time spent investing in social capital) and television.  The urban sprawl problem “has fragmented citizens’ sense of community” (133), and Putnam correlates television with a decline in civic participation because it sucks up a lot of free time, and became popular around the same time the decline began. Putnam says television replaces the feeling that social bonds give people, and this “keeps people… in their living rooms” (133)

Putnam cites a study done in Italy which he claims proves that a decline in social capital is a big problem. It was proven that communities with a lot of choral societies were wealthier then communities with fewer of these societies. Putnam claims that because the communities had about the same economic status before developing the choral societies, those societies help to make communities with more of them wealthy. As such, Putnam believes civic engagement leads to prosperity, and thus disengagement leads to decline.

In the early 1900s America had very little social capitol. Putnam believes that the creation of new institutions led to a boom in civic engagement back then, and that the same thing will work today if it is carefully thought out and implicated.

Putnam has written an interesting article. He has managed to show a strong correlation between civic engagement and prosperity, but he has not shown causation. As he himself said, it is difficult to find empirical evidence to support his theories, and it seems that more is needed to prove what he is trying to say. Putnam’s solution to the problems he associates with a decline in civil engagement makes sense, but we live in a very different society from that of one hundred years ago, and creating more, and more appealing, organizations sounds like a quick fix. Also, the article is somewhat unconvincing that there really is a true civic disengagement in the United States. Membership in clubs is down, as is attending PTA meetings and having picnics, but Putnam does not really address new activities that could also generate social capitol. Things like discussions on the internet, relationships at work, hanging out at the mall are all left out of the article. There also does not seem to be a lot of proof that civic disengagement leads to decline in society, the article could use more evidence. Although there is a correlation between the amount of choral societies in a town and the town’s general wealth, Putnam fails to establish causation.


Putnam, Robert D. “Civic Disengagement in Contemporary America.” Braving the New World.  Ed. Thomas Bateman. Canada: Nelson, 2004. 124-137

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The evils of lesser evils: Ignatieff and the statist response to terrorism

The evils of lesser evils: Ignatieff and the statist response to terrorism

St. Thomas University


A statist response to terrorism is ineffective. It regards terrorism as something that it is not, and fights it in a way that does not work in the long run. Michael Ignatieff’s theory of lesser evils requires a statist response to work. His ideas may be necessary in some cases, but using them as official policy can cause more harm then good. The encroachment on rights these responses bring with them can serve to fuel the fires of extremism.

A criminality response to terrorism fights it effectively because of its flexibility and regard for human rights and legality. It betters the international image of western countries fighting terrorism, allowing them to be beacons on a hill and helping to undercut support for extremists. As such, it is better then a statist and lesser evils response to terrorism.

Lesser Evils and the Statist Response

Ignatieff’s idea of lesser evils depends on a statist, as opposed to a criminality, response to terrorism. This means treating terrorism as an act of war, and responding to it forcefully. It sees Governments using their militaries against terrorists and countries that either passively or actively support them. It also defines a war on terror as something that can be won and treats it like a single problem that can be solved with a unified international response.

Ignatieff’s theory goes one step further then war. Lesser evils is a method to, “ balance civil liberties and national security in a war on terror,”(Ignatieff 1).He believes in government policy that holds prisoners for indefinite periods of time, uses coercive interrogation, targeted assassinations, and pre-emptive warfare. Ignatieff thinks that these methods will help to discover and stop terrorist plots before they come to fruition. He also believes those methods can be especially helpful in ticking time bomb situations where the only way to stop an attack is to encroach on the rights of attackers.

The reason Ignatieff feels such extreme methods are needed, and why he calls them lesser evils, is because he thinks another terrorist attack could lead to the American public demanding a national security state. He is afraid that, “American’s will not forgive a second … fatal mistake,”(Ignatieff 1). He says another attack, with something like a nuclear or dirty bomb, “would make 9/11 seem like a pale prelude,” (Ignatieff 1), that would, “mean the death of democracy,”(Ignatieff 1). He wants to use the lesser evils to stop terrorists from taking advantage of the American legal system and prevent the greater evil of an out of control state wielding unlimited power over the rights of its citizens. He claims that small rights abuses in certain situations and under the control of democratic institutions, are justifiable.

The Criminality Response

The criminality response treats terrorism as a crime, not an act of war. It says terrorism violates international law, human rights and/or domestic law. It attempts to use the full power of the legal system to prosecute terrorists, and only in the most extreme and drastic cases will the response allow for the violation of domestic or international law and human rights.

The criminality response defines terrorism as something that will always exist and must always be fought. Unlike a statist response, it attempts to weaken terrorism by dealing with its root causes and appealing to moderates. It is flexible and allows for different responses in different places, according to local situation and law enforcement capabilities.

Problems With the Statist Response and Lesser Evils

Ignatieff assumes that another large terrorist attack will lead to the United States becoming a national security state. He feels that people will be so frightened they will give up liberties to prevent terrorism. There is no way to know whether people will react as strongly as Ignatieff assumes, and it is risky to implement his ideas based on an assumption. He also assumes that lesser evils will be the best way to stop terrorist attacks. In fact they may not be very effective at all, and they look very bad internationally.

One of the principle problems with the statist response to terrorism is that, as Mark Drumbl puts it, “conceptualizing the use of force and the use of courts as mutually exclusive response mechanisms builds somewhat of a false dichotomy,” (335). He is suggesting that force and a criminality response are not incompatible, that when authorized by the justice system, force can be used to track down, capture, and if necessary, kill terrorists. As such, a statist response is not the only response to terrorism which allows governments to use force.

Another problem with the statist response is that it does not give enough weight to the thousands of different problems and situations that lead to terrorism. Terrorism is and was different in Indonesia, Iraq and Ireland. Extremists are present in every country, and are not just Islamic. The very fact that extremism has become such a problem in western European countries proves that a conventional, “war,” on terror is ineffective. It is difficult to fight an enemy at home in any conventional way.

There are benefits to holding terrorist suspects without a trial and using so called “coercive interrogation.” That interrogation, which comes dangerously close to torture, can lead to information that would otherwise have remained undiscovered. Holding suspects without trail makes it easier to arrest terrorists and keep them from planning new attacks. Targeted assassinations, like the execution of al Qaeda operative Hamza Rabia by the US last December, can devastate terrorist leadership and discourage would be terrorists. Pre emptive war can give a government the upper hand, allowing it to strike first and remove vital parts of an opposing military before it has the chance to mobilize.

All of those practices are included in Michael Ignatieff’s idea of lesser evils. Unfortunately, they make the western governments who use them appear hypocritical, except in a few extenuating circumstances, and frequently are not beneficial in the long run. Pre-emptive warfare makes the nation using it an aggressor, and can lead to wars that may not have otherwise started. All of these things mean giving fuel to terrorist rhetoric.

“To claim, as some people do, that coercive interrogation doesn’t work contradicts common sense, as well as the Bush administration’s unqualified insistence that the CIA’s “alternative procedures” have already thwarted terrorist attacks and saved lives,” (1), Jonathan Rauch claims in a National Journal article on coercive interrogation. Coercive interrogation very well may have value, especially in a ticking time bomb situation. There are times when something wrong must be done in order to prevent something worse. If a bomb is about to go off in an office building, and the bomber has been caught but will not say what building the bomb is in, the rights of the possible victims should come first. Rauch says, “surely the rights of potential terrorism victims count no less than the rights of detainees,”(Rauch, 1). Coercive interrogation in that case should be used. But as Rauch also says, “To use coercive interrogation as part of everyday intelligence‑gathering would certainly be unacceptable,” (Rauch., 1), because, “even the occasional and careful use of rough methods risks tarnishing America’s image and diminishing the country’s power to lead by example,”(Rauch, 1). As such, there should be no policy allowing for routine coercive interrogation, except for the allowance of it in ticking time bomb situations.

Targeted assassinations seem effective, but they frequently cause more harm then good and do little in the long run. Al Qaeda leadership was decimated by the Americans, but the New York Times reports that is has been all but re-established. A more in depth example is when Israel assassinated Salah Shehada with a 2,000 pound bomb that obliterated his apartment building. Unfortunately,

Shehada had his daughter with him … and the buildings

surrounding his own were occupied. When the massive bomb

demolished the target, it also damaged several of these other

buildings. Shehada was killed‑‑but so were at least 14 civilians,

including his daughter and eight other children (Byman, Tit for Tat).

There was an outcry. “Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians turned out to mourn the victims. World leaders condemned the attack …,” (Byman, Tit for Tat). Israel managed to kill a terrorist who had caused the deaths of hundreds of innocent civilians, but the fuel they added to the fire of Palestinian extremism may have far outweighed the benefit of his death. “Terrorist groups … retaliate when their leaders are killed,” (Byman, A Bloody Balance Sheet). Byman quotes a senior Palestinian security official who said, “whoever sign[s] off on killing a leader among Hamas or any other leader on the Palestinian side should turn the page and should sign off on killing 16 Israelis,” (Byman, A Bloody Balance Sheet). Terrorist groups react like this in Palestine after Israel strikes. There is no reason to think they will not react similarly in other countries when other western nations use targeted assassinations. The fact that assassinated terrorist leaders can be replaced in a matter of years or months certainly makes the threat of these retribution killings seem too much to justify targeted assassinations. In exceptional cases, such as when it will prevent an attack, an assassination may be necessary. However, assassinations can not be an everyday practice, and must be carried out only when they will do more good then harm.

Like all of Ignatieff’s lesser evils, indefinite detention violates rights and makes the US look bad. It destroys a persons right to freedom, and without a real trial to prove the US is justified in doing so. Jennifer Van Bergen says, “without such protections [as judicial review and habeas corpus] justice does not work and human rights are jeopardized.”(450). In other words, innocent people can be jailed without any one to help them, and this does not benefit anyone in the long run. The excuse that terrorists must be held indefinitely to get information from them is hard to swallow. It is difficult to understand how something relevant and timely could be gained from a suspect after three years of detention that could not be gained after a couple of months. Perhaps it is justified to have a few people jailed, in the name of national security and without trial, for a short period of time. However the usefulness of that tactic seems to decline after years of detention without trial.

Ignatieff’s lesser evils can simply add fuel to the fire. They make the west look bad and give material to extremists looking to criticise them.. In the long run, they may end up helping to create more terrorists then they remove.

The Advantages of the Criminality Response

The criminality response uses the best parts of the statist and lesser evils responses against terrorism without doing as much damage to the image of the country practising it. The criminality response does not treat terrorism as a war that can be won, but as something that will never stop. As such it seeks to undercut terrorism legally and morally, and to do everything possible to reduce it. In this aspect it has a much more realistic view of a world plagued by terrorism.

As stated above, the criminality response seeks to prosecute terrorists under the law, not extra judicially or in military tribunals. Terrorists are seen as criminals, not enemy combatants. Treating them as criminals, because they have violated international law, looks much better internationally then holding terrorists without trial or prosecuting them under semi-legitimate military tribunals.

That being said, the criminality response also leaves room for force. The military can be used to detain criminals or eliminate threats. As Drumbl says, “The criminal law, after all, permits the use of force to track down, capture and neutralize suspected criminals who resist arrest. It also permits the use [of] force in self-defence,” (345-346). When absolutely necessary, in extraordinary cases, Ignatieff’s lesser evils can be used. They should not be used as a matter of policy, but only when properly authorized by the judiciary, executive or legislature. If a bomb is about to go off, the bomber can be tortured, if a terrorist leader can be assassinated with the proper authorization and without the risk of becoming a martyr or invoking international scorn, then the leader can be assassinated. The criminality response acknowledges that lesser evils are too evil to have implemented as policy, but that force can be used when needed.

Aside from actually punishing terrorists, the criminality response has the capacity to undercuts terrorists support. It attempts to appeal to moderates and deals with the root problems of terrorism in order to remove that support. This can be accomplished by doing many things. Most importantly, the criminality response allows the country practising it to appear as a beacon on a hill. The United States could stand to have its international image bolstered. By stopping things that violate its citizens rights, like illegal wiretaps, and curtailing its use of lesser evils, the US would undercut some terrorist rhetoric and help to slow down radicalization.

Dr. Sidney Jones, an expert on Islamic radicalism speaks out against lesser evils in Policy. She says, “it’s precisely ill-treatment and violations of liberties of these kinds that can lead to the further radicalisation of people that you want to draw away from the groups they belong to,” (Rolfe 50). By using the criminality response and stopping its use of lesser evils, the United States could become a much better example of freedom and democracy, and just maybe, give less reason for terrorists to criticise it.

The causes of terrorism are varied, from economic and social reasons to indoctrination by parents, and a sweeping approach to eradicating it is ineffective (Rolfe 51). This is one of the reasons why the criminality response is better then the statist and lesser evils responses. It can allow for different measures in different places according to the legal systems and law enforcement capabilities of the nations and regions involved.

Jones calls a military response to terrorism, “dangerous,”(Rolfe, 51), except when terrorism “blends into insurgency like you had with the IRA,”(Rolfe 51). Jones says improving education and building economies will help to slow radicalisation in certain places, although not in others. Radicalisation of immigrants and their children is a big problem in Europe. Better programs to bring about integration and stop racism are needed to help stop this radicalisation. The Middle East has a variety of problems in all of its countries. However, economic help, ending government corruption, better law enforcement, prosecution under the law with assistance from the military, and giving terrorists less reason to hate the United States and Western countries will help stop radicalisation while eliminating immediate terrorist threats. Jones says East Asian countries like Indonesia need a combination of improved law enforcement, education and economic programs to combat terrorism. The approach to curtailing terrorism must be flexible, and never calls for an all out war. The criminality response has the force and flexibility needed to work.

The statist response views terrorism as something that can be defeated militarily, a bad and too rigid idea. Some of Ignatieff’s lesser evils serve a purpose in certain situations, but when implemented as a matter of everyday policy, only serve to radicalise people susceptible to extremist doctrine. The criminality response realises terrorism cannot be stopped. As such, it works to slow terrorism down. It allows for the flexibility needed to address terrorism in every corner of the world, while still using military force when necessary. As such, a criminality response, which only uses lesser evils in extraordinary cases, is the most effective way to combat terrorism.

Works Cited

Byman, Daniel. (2006, March/April). Do Targeted Killings Work? [electronic version]. Foreign Affairs, Vol. 85 Issue 2, p95-100. Used Page 5

Drumbl, Mark. (2004, Spring). ‘Lesser Evils’ in the War on Terrorism [electronic version]. Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, Vol. 36 Issue 2/3, p335‑348. Used page 3 and 7.

Ignatieff, Michael. (2004, May 2). Lesser Evils. New York Times, Section 6, Page 46. Used page 1-2.

Rauch, Jonathan. (2006, September 23). The Right Approach to Rough Treatment [electronic version]. National Journal, Vol. 38 Issue 41, p18-19. Used Page 4.

Rolfe, Dominic. (2006/2007 Summer). Jihad in the Near North. Policy, Vol. 22 Issue 4, p47-51. Used page 8.

Van Bergen, Jennifer, & Valentine, Douglas. (2006). The Dangerous World of Indefinite Detentions: Vietnam to Abu Ghraib. Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, Vol. 37 Issue 2/3, p449-508.Used page 6.

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A Mosaic instead of a Medium: the Causes of and Solution to Extremism at Home

A Mosaic instead of a Medium: the Causes of and Solution to Extremism at Home

St. Thomas University

October 7 2005

A problem is growing  in Europe and the whole of western civilization. Religious extremism is at an all time high. The September eleventh attacks and the July bombings in Britain are, at least in part, a result of the hard lined doctrines of religious fundamentalists finding there way into the minds of young, alienated Muslims. Instead of fighting a target they cannot see governments must bring in preventative measures to stop this indoctrination. Appreciation and understanding of religion and culture may be a better way to combat home grown terrorism. The lowering of unemployment rates and the increase of opportunities, both economic and political, for disenchanted minority groups should be pursued.

For years Muslims have been moving into Europe because of economic ties and promise of work. They are now the largest religious minority group in Europe at approximately 14 million. According to a 2004 estimate by French police intelligence units, 150 mosques and prayer halls are under extremist control in France. This is just under one percent of the nations 1,600 indexed mosques and prayer halls. There is an estimated twenty different extremist sects in Holland, according to the nations intelligence services spokesman. British authorities say as many as 3000 British citizens have trained in al- Qaeda training camps.

Young men are easy targets for extremist doctrine. Muslim men “…saw aggressive, violent images on the internet and asked questions about why Muslims were suffering abroad

Henheffer, 2

while European countries are doing nothing,” (Powell, 191). This statement was made by a Muslim woman trying to explain the crisis in Europe. Samantha Lewthaite, the widow of a man suspected of being one of the London suicide bombers claims her husband, Jermaine Lindsay, “…was an innocent, naive and simple man. I suppose he must have been an ideal candidate” (Widow Of Suspected London Suicide Bomber Says His Mind was Poisoned, 1). Lindsay had been visiting mosques in England run by people that Lewthwaite said “…poisoned his mind.”(1). It is difficult to understand that a man described by his family as “innocent” and “simple” could kill himself and twenty six others.

Bob Powell, in his Time article, Generation Jihad, cites surveys in which Muslims claim “…frustration with a perceived scarcity of opportunity and disappointment at public policies that they believe target Muslims unfairly”(2). These policies tend to follow a pattern pointed out by Joel S. Fetzer and Christopher J. Soper as,

The political appeal of such anti-immigrant–or even anti-Muslim–political parties as the British National Party, the French Front National, and the Dutch List Pim Fortuyn appears to have led governing parties to adopt harsher measures toward immigrants, most of whom are Muslims” (247)

Powell says that these people do not see much opportunity for themselves. The harsh European policies toward predominantly Muslim immigrants only remove opportunities that could be there. The economies of Europe often have a high unemployment rate and grow very slowly. These problems are especially hard on minority groups. The wars between Western and Islamic nations, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, make it easy for people to believe the West is against Islam. As Powell puts it “the persistent notion -stoked by Osama bin Laden but increasingly accepted

Henheffer, 3

among moderates- that the west is waging an assault on Islam.”(2)Many Muslims lack a sense of belonging in the societies in which they were brought up. They no longer have roots in the nations of their fathers and have even less in Europe.

Europeans have always tried to assimilate Muslims into their culture. In France an intermediary is appointed to represent minority groups in an attempt to organize them into a political body. This is a great idea and may be one of the stepping stones toward better connecting Muslims to European society, but it does not go far enough. As Samuel Huntington argues, although economic and political beleifs can be conpromised upon, culture can not. Despite its attempts to give minorities political representation, France’s (and other western nation’s) policy of inclusion can create a lot of tension between cultures that do not always see eye to eye. This was illustrated in the “scarf affair” that occurred in France in 1989. Due to its policy of inclusion France has a rule against wearing religious symbols in school. This rule resulted in the expulsion of three teenaged, Muslim, girls. Assimilation did not work in this case. Trying to create a single culture will bring on problems. Has forced assimilation ever worked?

The terrorists piloting the planes that flew into the World Trade Centre had western educations, but acted against western culture with horrible consequence. The lack of acceptance by Westerners is well expressed by Karim, an unemployed French citizen, “Who will give us a job when we look like this? We have to fend for ourselves to find a way out.” Again, asking Muslims to compromise on their traditions to be included has failed. Perhaps governments do not need neutral policies to which all citizens must compromise their culture in order to conform. A more effective policy may be one of allowing cultures to exist side by side with understanding

Henheffer, 4

and open communication, a mosaic instead of a medium.

The United States government has set out to fight terrorists by conventional means. They call any nation harbouring or supporting terrorists an enemy state. The US seeks to attach to a nation a  problem with no face or home territory. Invading Afghanistan and Iraq has done little to prevent attacks and less to keep terrorists out of Europe or North America. Terrorist networks are  as well situated in as many nations as the United States is not targeting, as fanatical beliefs are in the minds of the extremists seeking out disciples.  While going after terrorists using means which have proven to be ineffective the United States has missed a better solution. Terrorism can be prevented, by solving the problems that cause Muslims to believe the best way to find a better life is through doctrine of extremists. Perhaps the United States, and any other nation with aggressive foreign or harsh immigration policies need to find a new doctrine.

Connecting Muslims to European society is not easy. Political representation is probably the easiest way to begin, but this alone has had a poor track record  in France. The European Union is the most viable solution for disenchanted Muslims and frantic westerners. As Riva Kastoryano says, “…it aims to create a unifying system and, on the other [hand], it institutionalizes difference…” (201) The French system has failed because it did not make any allowances for difference. The European Union is attempting to establish a European culture while keeping nations sovereign. On a slightly smaller scale, it can bring Muslims into this European culture without forcing them to change their traditions and values.

There is a huge and possibly explosive problem in western nations today. Alienated Muslims are seeking a new way of life in violent interpretations of the Koran because it is the

Henheffer, 5

only place they see as promising them fulfilment. Western nations are doing too much of the wrong thing to try and stop extremism. It can not be prevented through war which only breeds more hatred. It can not be fixed by forced assimilation. It will take understanding, communication, equality and political representation, and more to stop this threat. People’s values, traditions, and religions must be allowed to thrive in a mosaic society. As nations are brought together under the EU, so must cultures be brought together.

Works Cited:

Fetzer, S. J., Soper, J. C. (2003) The Roots of Public Attitudes Toward State accommodation of European Muslim’ Religious Practices Before and After September 11. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 42.2, 247-58. Retrieved October 4, 2005 from the Humanities Index

Kastoryano, Riva. (1999). Muslim diaspora(s) in Western europe. South Atlantic Quarterly, 98.1, 191-203. Retrieved October 3, 2005 from the Humanities Index.

Powell, B. (2005). Generation Jihad. Time, Oct. 3. Retrieved October 3, 2005 from Time website

Widow of suspected London Suicide Bomber Says His Mind was Poisoned. (September 23, 2005). Maclean’s. Retrieved October 4, 2005, from .

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