Terrorism, Faith And Civility

Andrew Exum has a long, wide-ranging, and fascinating interview with former fundamentalist Muslim and current terrorism expert Daveed Gartenstein-Ross. In response to a question about civility:

I’ve come to see civility as important for a variety of reasons, but honestly, practical reasons loom rather large. First of all, it’s generally hard to win a name-calling contest. If I call someone an America-hating pinko, they can fire back that I’m a right-wing tool of the military industrial complex. Those two insults seem essentially to cancel each other out: why give someone an area that can end up a draw if I believe that I can prove all of my other arguments to be correct? Second, I find that if I’m civil, I can actually (sometimes) persuade people I’m arguing against that they’re wrong about an issue. In contrast, if I begin a debate by insulting someone, it only further entrenches him in his initial position, thus making it more difficult to talk sense into him. …

Being polite isn’t the same as being a pushover, nor is it the same as false collegiality that needlessly avoids confrontation. Indeed, I think that kind of fake collegiality should be avoided: the review I published this year of Robert Pape and James Feldman’s Cutting the Fuse is probably one of the harshest critiques a graduate student has produced of a work of that stature. But again, it eviscerates their argument without really personalizing the matter.