Jay Tea at Wizbang! uses the Muslim community of Lodi, California, as an example to argue that snitching is good.

Over the weekend, I picked up on this story (courtesy Mike Pechar of The Jawa Report), about the militant Islamists awaiting trial in Lodi, California.

It turns out that most of the evidence against the father and son accused of being part of Al Qaeda is tape-recorded conversations, and the local community says that a man who had made himself an integral part of them has now vanished. The locals say that he must have been the FBI informant.

This is exactly why so many people -- myself included -- tend to be suspicious of the average Muslim. Here we have pretty clear evidence of a couple of would-be terrorists in their midst, and they are far more concerned with who ratted them out than the fact that they had a member of Al Qaeda living among them.

It's very normal for groups to want to protect their members from outside punishment, either because they want to reserve the power of disapproval and punishment for their own group, or because don't respect the laws and morality of the greater community.

So when is it ok to snitch? We generally teach children that it isn't good to gossip or be a tattle-tale, but there are obviously many situations in which you'd want your kids to tell on each other, just as there are for adults. Is the seriousness seriousness of the offense the determining factor? Should groups generally be allowed to self-police until and unless they demonstrate inability or unwillingness?

The use of non-violent social pressure to police members of a group is typically very effective, as long as the culture of the group lines up with that of the larger society. Kids can't self-police because their naive culture is barbaric and kids as individuals are incompetent. But adults aren't as limited, which is why when kids break the law their parents are often given a chance to correct the matter, with society only stepping in if the parents are ineffective.

What we see in the case of the Muslims in Lodi is that they didn't exert social pressure to prevent the potential terrorists in their midst from acting in furtherance of their destructive goals. If the local Muslim community had confronted these men and condemned them privately, it's unlikely that they would have continued along the path that brought them to the attention of the FBI. We know they had the power to stop the terrorists, and most likely the knowledge, but they decided not to. Did they agree with the terrorists' goals? Who knows. What we do know is that, as Mr. Tea points out, whoever snitched on them was a hero, not a traitor.

Is the rightness of snitching purely in the eye of the beholder, or can some more objective criteria be established?

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