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American decline, religious inoculation, and the end of intervention

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Russell Razzaque on religion's inoculation against extremism  In 1989, Russell Razzaque was one of the few Muslims enrolled at the Royal London Hospital medical college. Alienated by the dominant social culture, he was drawn to the welcoming Islamic Society. Soon, though society started teaching a radical message, he writes in The Wall Street Journal. Razzaque dropped the society, but others became "intoxicated," even leaving school to devote themselves to the cause. After 9/11, thinking harder about what made the society's message repellent to some and attractive to others, Razzaque saw a pattern. "Those men who were the most opposed to the perverted messages being peddled by the Islamic Society were those who had been brought up by religious parents... Those who had no exposure to Islam prior to the encounter with extremist recruiters seemed more likely to follow them."  Studies back up his observation, he says. One Gordon College study "found that childhood religious experience tended to give individuals increased compassion for others, as measured in psychological rating scales. This helps explain why it would be harder for such people to follow a supremacist ideology that by definition is uncompassionate towards the 'out' group." Those who associate Islam as taught by their parents with warm childhood memories are less likely to infuse the religion with hatred for others later in life. "Thus contrary to the insistence of some that religion is inherently divisive and harmful, this research suggests that early-life exposure to moderate forms of religion may be a vital inoculator against the dangers of extremist recruitment," he says.

Nicole Gelinas on Republican politics in the wake of Irene  Republicans in Washington should be careful as hundreds of thousands in New England remain flooded and without power in the wake of Hurricane Irene. They will not win any battles by making disaster relief another opportunity for austerity measures, writes Nicole Gelinas in The Boston Globe. Instead, "the GOP can help the country--and itself--by making sure that recovery efforts are targeted toward real needs and executed efficiently." In New England, floodwaters have destroyed bridges, water-treatment plants, and utilities. Governments didn't require many inland communities to purchase flood insurance, so insurance companies will not replace destroyed homes. Yet Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said disaster funds must be offset with cuts elsewhere, Michele Bachmann said Irene was a sign from God about the deficit, and Ron Paul suggested we eliminate FEMA. "Nickel-and-diming disaster victims is, at the least, bad politics," especially for Republicans, Gelinas writes. Moderate voters already suspect Republicans aren't up to managing disasters in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Republicans should focus on a plan that will "approve money for bridge, road, and other infrastructure repairs, and to assist farmers and homeowners who lived well outside of federal flood zones. This will cost money--a few billion dollars or more--but unexpected events are what deficits are for." Republicans can also take the opportunity to say that this disaster proves the 2008 stimulus did not improve infrastructure. "Disaster recovery can show voters that the nation can spend infrastructure money well," she writes, and Republicans should show the country they are the party who knows how.

Michael Gerson on Perry and the New Deal  "It is an ideological milestone that the emerging Republican front-runner is as skeptical of the New Deal as anyone in his position since the New Deal," writes Michael Gerson in The Washington Post. In 1964, Barry Goldwater said Social Security should be voluntary, but when pressed by opponents, he retreated from the position. And Reagan, in his 1976 campaign, said "Fascism was really the basis for the New Deal," but then during his presidency Social Security spending increased. Perry has yet to specify any proposals for entitlement reform, but if he continues his rhetoric against the New Deal programs, Gerson sees three possibilities. First, he might prove himself too "unelectable" in Republican primaries. "No candidate who is seen as an enemy of Social Security and Medicare will be allowed by voters to change and modernize those programs," Gerson says. Second, Republican voters might like his message, giving Democrats an easy way to defend the presidency in the general election. The third possibility, though, is that this is a major turning point in American history. The recession "might call seven decades of accumulating entitlement commitments into question," Gerson says. "Can a modern economy remain energetic and competitive when it transfers increasing amounts from the private to the public sector, from young to old, from the productive to the retired?" Critics reject Perry as being far from the mainstream, but economic desperation could move the mainstream, Gerson argues.

David Brooks on avoiding American decline  Republicans and Rick Perry are telling the "reasonably strong" story of American decline, writes David Brooks in The New York Times. It goes like this: Over time, government has expanded and undermined the values that made America a success, "self-reliance, personal responsibility, industriousness and a passion for freedom." Financiers and families do not have to budget or behave responsibly because they know the government will care for them. Rick Perry thus wants to make government "inconsequential" in Americans' lives, but Brooks says this prescription is "necessary but insufficient" to restoring America's greatness. There are places government must remove itself, but there are others where it must do more. We became the wealthiest nation because of our superior education, but this advantage has eroded. "If government is 'inconsequential' in this sphere, then continued American decline is inevitable." Business startups and technological innovation are both in decline, Brooks says. This has led to structural problems in our economy. Meanwhile, social mobility is stagnant and inequality is widening. "Some of these problems are exacerbated by government regulations and could be eased if government pulled back. But most of them have nothing to do with government and are related to globalization, an aging society, cultural trends and the nature of technological change," Brooks says. Republicans have championed cutting back on welfare, but they have not advocated enough for increasing investment in solving these problems. "To restore the vigorous virtues, the nanny state will have to be cut back, but the instigator state will have to be built up. That's the only way to ward off national decline."

Shashank Joshi on the decline of western interventionism  In the wake of success in Libya, we have found "lessons galore -- about how durable NATO remains, and its discovery of a new model of apparently riskless war," writes Shashank Joshi in The Telegraph. But we should instead take warning and remember the many countries that opposed Britain and France's push for war. "Today's reality is that military forays such as the Libyan campaign are increasingly stepping on the toes of the rest of the planet," Joshi writes. When we intervened in Kosovo in the 90s, we didn't encounter powerful resistance from India, China, or Russia. None of them held as much leverage as they do today. But when we pressed for a no-fly zone this March, Turkey, Russia, Brazil, and China all resisted. "There are two ways to read this. The first is to lash out at the irresponsibility of these geopolitical arrivistes, who want to reap the fruits of global order--security, stability, prosperity--without contributing to its upkeep." A "more mature" interpretation is to realize that these countries have complex considerations when colonial powers advocate for an intervention. The rebels have already said they will remember those who opposed intervention, and it will hurt these countries' investments there. And for countries like China and India, it is grow or die, so these threats weigh heavily. "In short, the divide between East and West is far more complicated than the accepted narrative of Old World principle vs New World profit." Neither China nor India have their borders drawn as solidly as does the west, and so threats of intervention and "partition" ring more ominously there. "Just as Iraq cast a pall over the idea of intervention, Libya will give a fillip to those who see the campaign as a template that can be applied elsewhere in the Muslim world." But the "growing web of constraints" has already turned NATO away from considering similar intervention in Syria, so Joshi wonders whether Libya might be the last successful western intervention of our time.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.