understanding our enemies, as long as we’re the good guys


The speaker in the video is Amaryllis Fox, a former CIA agent and Twitter employee.  You can book her as a speaker here (along with a lot of other famous people).  The main point is clearly true:  everybody thinks they’re the good guy.  It’s an oversimplification that your enemy is a “subhuman psychopath that’s going to attack you no matter what you do.”  She leads workshops on the fundamental attribution error, without calling it that:

Sun Tzu said “to know your enemy, you must become your enemy.” After a career in counterterrorism for the CIA Clandestine Service, Amaryllis Fox adds “and once you have become your enemy, you will know he is not your enemy.” In this interactive session, Amaryllis shares the CIA’s practice of “red-teaming,” becoming method actors channeling the adversary, and explains how this practice, which helped end the Cold War and find Osama bin Laden, can enable us to stop caricaturing our adversaries and find pragmatic paths to peace. Amaryllis will invite the participants to take on roles within a particular global or community conflict, from Syria to the everyday workplace, challenging them to understand how they might make the same choices as their adversary in the same position. The session concludes with an interactive discussion about applications of red-teaming to daily life in order to solve conflicts, build empathy, and empower communities to stop finger-pointing and work together to solve their divergent needs.

In other words, the CIA and people who read liberal websites understand that Muslims are human beings just like ourselves.  Unlike people who’d attend a workshop about listening to your enemies, the CIA engages in the same exercises and then bombs or tortures people they know to be human.  Doesn’t that make them subhuman psychopaths that are going to attack no matter what?  Can we look at our own media and honestly deny that we’re at war with Islam, crusading?  I mean, Donald Trump.

This is what you can read about on Al Jazeera:

More than $200m was spent towards promoting “fear and hatred” of Muslims in the United States by various organisations between 2008 and 2013, according to a fresh joint report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the University of California, Berkeley.

Released on Monday, the report identifies 74 groups, including feminist, Christian, Zionist and prominent news organisations, which either funded or fostered Islamophobia.

“It is an entire industry of itself. There are people making millions of dollars per year from promoting Islamophobia. They often present themselves as experts on Islamic affairs when they are not,” Wilfredo Amr Ruiz, a spokesman for CAIR, told Al Jazeera.

“They have fuelled an environment of distrust among the American public by claiming that Muslims do not belong to the American community and that they could never be loyal citizens.”

Ruiz said that Islamophobia has posed two main dangers: a rise in hate crimes and anti-Islamic legislation.

“For example, in the last year alone in Florida, there has been a 500 percent increase in hate crimes against Muslims. Mosques have been vandalised and there have been a number of bomb threats towards Islamic groups.

“And Florida’s government is even trying to ban school books from making any references to Islam in history.”

Since 2013, the country has seen a rise in the number of bills or amendments – about 81 – designed to “vilify Islamic religious practices”, 80 of which were introduced to state legislatures by Republicans, the report notes.

She has some serious blind spots, similar to those of someone whose gorilla vacation drives the cute local Africans to despair:

The newest social shopping site has a charitable spin! Mulu.me is a Pinterest-like pinboard where users can curate wish lists, and if a visitor purchases a product through the site, Mulu splits any affiliate revenue with the user who posted it. Posters can either donate the money to one of 38 popular charities, or have it paid directly to themselves via PayPal. “Users can follow their friends, style arbitors, tastemakers and celebrities like Zooey Deschanel and her Hello Giggles pals, Busy Phillips and Michael Kors,” Mulu founder and CEO Amaryllis Fox told InStyle.com of the growing celebrity following. “It’s pretty empowering to be able to support a clean water project in Sudan with your killer taste in shoes.” Check out mulu.me to sign up!

She’s using “killer” as a synonym for “good,” but you could also take it literally in this context…

Amaryllis Fox shows that superficial empathy is part of the problem, if it leads us to act like things are equivalent when they’re not.  Yes, both sides have war profiteers, but “they’re doing this because they’re bad people who hate us” is a lot more realistic when they say it than it is when we say it.  It’s not enough to notice that two sides are saying the same thing about each other.  Is one of the sides more correct?

Recognizing your enemy’s humanity and insisting on your own compassion was what distinguished Stalinism from Nazism, according to Zizek:

Everybody thinks they’re the good guy.