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Culture Wars
The Menace of Menace

Boko Haram’s horrors are no more attributable to Islam than they are to the perpetrators’ identities as Nigerians or Africans. They instead have everything to do with what happens when societies don’t put the brakes on men—or menace.

Published on: June 5, 2014
Anna Simons is a professor of defense analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School and co-author of The Sovereignty Solution: A Commonsense Approach to Global Security. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not reflect those of the U.S. Navy, Department of Defense, or any office of the U.S. government.
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  • Anthony

    Excellent read and idea put the breaks on men – menace – is formulation I had not given thought to; it provides insight into another aspect of urban street violence though not nearly comparing author’s apropos examples.

  • qet

    “My point is that savagery should be a thing of the past by now—as in, it should be historic and no longer even thinkable.”

    According to what theory or reading either of history or the human psyche do you make this assertion? This sounds like mere wishful thinking, a/k/a fantasy. I would hope that people training our next generation of naval commanders are not imbuing them with fantastic beliefs.

    The idea that US entertainment products are responsible for the failure of savagery in the world to have retreated before your fine sensibilities is absurd. If you want to see a culture that were both dignified (full of gravitas) and savage at the same time, look no further than the pre-Columbian Native American cultures. You also say at one point that society’s challenges in managing young men are no different than they ever have been. You are not even coherent.

    “No one” points to Mandela and Gandhi as exemplars? You can’t be serious.

    Also, you should read Emerson’s essay “Power” to gain some more insight into your subject.

  • rheddles

    It is frightening to think that my taxes are going to pay for this woman to spout this tripe at the Naval Postgraduate School.

  • Tom Scharf

    “My point is that savagery should be a thing of the past by now—as in, it should be historic and no longer even thinkable.”

    This is fantastical thinking. What makes you think that aggression that has been programmed into our DNA for tens of thousands of years for survival is going to disappear due to the latest enlightened thinking on what society should be?

    “Unfortunately, we Americans bear a certain degree of responsibility for this.”

    Ah yes, the Blame America First crowd. The stated reasoning for this is beyond ridiculous, and the complete lack of evidence for this assertion is noted.

    “…because Boko Haram’s actions are no more attributable to Islam…”

    Yet another baseless assertion that is counter-factual to the evidence. If the people creating the terror actually invoke Islam as the inspiration, one can safely conclude that it is in fact attributable.

    I’ll spare everyone further commentary. This is clearly a constructed fantasy to fit the author’s preconceived ideology. Wishing facts into existence is not journalism.

    • Pete

      You’re right. The woman asserts, asserts., asserts. And to think she a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School. God save us!

  • Fat_Man

    If this is the type of analysis that our taxpayer dollars are paying for, we can cut the defense budget without losing effectiveness by getting rid of it.

    This is not analysis, it is gender studies 101 rubbish. Men menace indeed. The two words have no etymological relationship. The common Anglo Saxon noun is derived from ancient Teutonic root words for human beings e.g. German Mann. Menace is derived from minax, a Latin word that means threatening. You are welcome.

    The fact is that it takes very little research to find Boko Haram’s own explanation for what they have done, and they say it is Islam. I think we ought to take them seriously, when they say that.

    A brief study of the history of Islamic expansion demonstrates that Boko Haram is not new nor is it innovative, they are just like the classical and Ottoman, Ghazi Warriors that Muslim powers always used as wedge for expansion.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghazi_warriors

    It is always better to learn things than to just make them up based on college dorm bull sessions.

  • Interesting thoughts on anthropology and human nature as they relate to groupthink and the roots of violence, which I’m sure have some validity, particularly in more traditional societies and, as the author points out, the weakening of social norms, values, and institutions into a relativistic, materialistic morass is a prelude to violence. Typically it starts because of violent social disruption, but as the West is seeing, decadent social disruption can have an equally pernicious effect.

    That is where the value of this article ends.

    The commenters below me have already done an excellent job nitpicking this “professor’s” illusions, so I will not attack in the same way they did. I will only say that I find it fascinating that the author finds American soft power so powerful that it can influence the hearts and minds of individuals and factions across the globe in ways that other, more traditional media and means of storytelling were somehow unable to do.

    I have said this about other articles and I will say it again here- The American Interest is too honorable a magazine to publish such works that would be better off in Time, The Atlantic, or Mother Jones.

  • jburack

    This article is indeed strange. Violent entertainment in America somehow helps explain the actions of Boko Haram, but Islam does not? Are we seriously supposed to believe the young males of Boko Haram spend more time watching TV and playing violent video games than our own teenagers? The actions of groups like Boko Haram are not random sprees of violence by status seeking males. They are targeted efforts to achieve political ends based on an explicit understanding of Islamic teachings. What will stop them is a concerted reformation within the Muslim world making such interpretations of Islam anathema. Until then, they will continue even if you turn off all the TVs in the world.

  • Agim Zabeli

    Madam, you are a fool.

  • ljgude

    Anyone who thinks that savagery is unthinkable and should be a thing of the past has never looked inside themselves and has no effective awareness of what it means to be human. So unconscious and undeveloped that in this case they apparently can’t see a lot of difference between Navy Seals and Mafiosi. It is precisely because we all contain within us the opposites of thuggery and heroism, good and evil, and so on and have to struggle with them that we become conscious of the difficulties of the human condition. There is a book about an Indian prince from a long time ago who despaired when he realized that he was about to slay many his relatives on a battlefield not far from modern day Delhi. How he worked out his painful dilemma with his chariot driver, who was a good listener, should be required reading at all our military institutions.

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