After Brussels
Let’s Try Collective Punishment

1,633 words

Paul Cézanne, Pyramid of Skulls, circa 1901 [1]

Paul Cézanne, Pyramid of Skulls, circa 1901

Dear Western “Leaders,”

It’s time for that talk again. Another round of terror bombings. Again? Already? Dozens more innocent men, women, and children dead and hundreds more maimed. Obama, detached, announcing stricter security measures; our world “leaders” and “national security experts” patiently lecturing us about how we shouldn’t “give in to Islamophobia.” 

But we do not want to be more thoroughly screened at airports. We do not want to be coaxed into giving warmer hugs. We don’t want more advice on how not to offend or reminders of how brave it is to go about our day as if this hasn’t happened again so that the terrorists don’t “win.” We don’t even want retaliatory airstrikes in the Middle East. We want you to listen to us for a change.

We have noticed that you have moved into a new phase in your attempts to shape public opinion about these things. Your media aims now to convince us that this is “The New Normal.” Nothing will change, we are told. We are conditioned so as not to expect it to change. We are all African slaves now, thrust under a yoke that, if we want to be good and righteous and go unflogged, we must bear without too much complaining.

Our news helps you lull us into this state of holy victimhood. On the night of the Brussels attacks, NBC nightly news’ Harry Smith sentimentally sermonized to us, accompanied by soft piano arpeggios like the intro to a Coldplay song or an Audi commercial. “Our guard is up again,” He droned, “just like every other time this happened. California. Paris. We hold our loved ones closer and realize this feeling will fade in a few days. But we also know this will happen again.”

But what if we don’t want this to happen again? What if we don’t want this to be the New Normal? What if the loved ones that we are urged to hold closer have been shredded into bloody spaghetti by shrapnel? Your “experts” never seem to offer any other strategy than the one that hasn’t been working. Bomb them there in the Middle East. Invite them here to the west. Kill them there. Be nice and hospitable here. So many of these so-called experts (such as Robert Pape on CNN) promote precisely this strategy. They do so now after the Brussels attack, parroting the same advice they gave after the Paris attacks four months ago. They keep insisting that the meaner we are to Muslims the more we will suffer their terror bombings. So we should embrace them instead. We should let them come into our cities in even greater numbers and build yet more mosques and maybe impose a bit of Sharia law and surely all this terrorism stuff will eventually go away. Right? After all, the best way to extinguish bad behavior is to reward it.

This doesn’t sound like instructions for how to get along with people. It sounds like a primer on how to keep smiling while your nation is taken from you and your wives and daughters, and even sons, are raped — or, what’s worse (because it is never-ending), are beset with an alien culture in which rape is par for the course.

Not all of us in the west are going to play along with this plan of inaction. There is an instinct to fight back. But before we get there, before we throw open the Gates of Vienna and start shooting, let us try, just this once, a different strategy. Let us consider collective punishment.

What? Is he mad?

Vasily Vereshchagin, The Apotheosis of War, 1871 [2]

Vasily Vereshchagin, The Apotheosis of War, 1871

In Defense of Collective Punishment

The consensus in the liberal west, guided by Article 33 of the Geneva Convention and muh feelings, is that collective punishment is a non-starter, ineffective and utterly immoral. But calm your tits for a moment and hear us out.

(A quick, parenthetical aside: why should we be bound to this mere document penned by old, dead, white guys anyway? Come on liberals! If you can argue that the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution is obsolete, why can’t we argue the same about the Geneva Convention?)

Ok. Let us first note that Article 33 prohibits subjecting groups to “all measures of intimidation or of terrorism.” But isn’t this what the Jihadists are doing to us? So the almighty Geneva Convention is already out the window. Are we supposed to play by the rules while our adversary does not? As Trump would say: “Not gonna happen, folks.”

It is right that we should bring in Trump here, because we think he comes near the right idea on this. He first floated the idea of collective punishment in interviews following the Paris and San Bernadino massacres: “We’re fighting a very politically correct war. And the other thing is with the terrorists, you have to take out their families.”

For this statement Trump was called the usual bad names — angry, hateful, sadistic — in the mainstream press. But was this proposed policy really the product of such emotions and inclinations? We don’t think collective punishment is meted out from some need to vent uncontrolled rage or depraved sexuality, or from an inability to distinguish the individuals who attacked us from their kinsmen who didn’t.

Though admittedly a so-called necessary evil, collective punishment is a rational, pragmatic response. It serves a purpose.

Collective punishment is an effective means to force a group, in this case Muslims, to more thoroughly police themselves. It incentivizes Muslim leaders and moderates to discourage radicalism and even to rat out suspected Jihadis in their ranks.

The strategy has a long history — because it works.

Anglo-Saxon England had, instead of a police force, a system of Sippenhaft or Frankpledge wherein communities were organized into Tithings, ten adult males who were held collectively responsible for each other’s actions. William the Conqueror used this system to establish order; each Tithing or Hundred (ten Tithings) that failed to produce the murderer of one of his followers were subjected to heavy fines.

This system worked so well that within twenty years, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of 1086, a man could walk across England mid his bosum full goldes ungederad — with his bosom full of gold, unhurt.

This system doesn’t seem particularly inhumane. But this isn’t the same, you might argue, as “taking out their families.”

Well, true. But harsher measures are not at all unprecedented. Treason in ancient China might get you and all your relatives executed. In ancient Rome the system of decimation, slaughtering every tenth man, helped insure that the cohorts didn’t misbehave or mutiny.

Collective punishments are used to achieve such objectives today in Israel, where suspected Palestinian militants get their houses leveled to the ground by massive, armored bulldozers. This puts pressure on Palestinian leaders, who in turn dissuade the youth in their communities from striking Israelis.

Similarly in the Chechen Republic, the former rebel leader Ramzan Kadyrov imposes some semblance of order on the region by collectively punishing his erstwhile comrades. Suspected Islamic militants can expect their apartments to be demolished — sometimes with them and their families still inside. To avoid such a fate, whole communities have been conditioned to immediately rat out any budding militants. Putin is demonized in the west for installing Kadyrov and endorsing these practices. But the fact that Moscow has been free of Chechen terror in recent years has been largely attributed to them.

Still these methods are a shock to our refined, liberal sensibilities. But should they be so shocking? Isn’t it odd that the same liberals who express horror and outrage at this idea of “taking out their families” have no qualms about collective punishment when it takes the form of retaliatory airstrikes in distant lands, which to us seems a harsher hit on a more arbitrary and potentially messier target. This can be said for Dresden and Hiroshima, for the “Shock and Awe” strikes on Baghdad, and for our penchant in the present for drone-bombing hospitals and wedding parties in remote corners of the Hindu Kush.

Airstrikes and distant military destabilizations in general are preferable to you, though, because they can be whitewashed in the media while still giving us the impression that something is being done, somewhere, about something. But what is really being achieved? Apparently only the creation of more displaced, angry migrants. More victims for us to accommodate. Don’t be racist xenophobes and do open up your hearts and lands and legs to these poor lost souls who, we promise, won’t be terrorists this time.

Considering the alternative, then, which is the status quo of terror strikes and airstrikes in which everyone seems unhappy, let us make this strategic adjustment. We don’t need to go so far as the Chinese or Trump and execute all relatives of a terrorist. But let us call off our airstrikes, call back our military and, instead impose a new Frankpledge on every Muslim community in the West.

Let us offer, for instance, this modest proposal: if we should find that members of a particular mosque have committed an act of terror or a rape, all the members of that mosque will be frog-marched into the town square and get put in stocks, there to be flogged with bacon for ten hours. If it happens again, the mosque will be leveled to the ground and all its members will have their thumbs removed with a sharped pig jowl.

Under these conditions, we think it won’t be long before there is peace. A nationalist peace. Muslims will happily go back to their caliphates, their homelands, where bombs are no longer falling, and we will be free to be nice to each other again. More trusting. Doors unlocked. Bags unattended.