Sunday, July 31, 2005

The bombs: pick your own reason


Just as no one can agree over the precise details of the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, so no one can come to a conclusion on the reasons for the attacks of 7 and 21 July in London, not even the people who did it.

Blair and his government continue to trumpet the line that the bombers, and only the bombers, are to blame for the attacks - no one else. On one level, he's obviously right; but this line refuses to countenance any debate about the circumstances in which people emerged who wanted to blow up Tube trains and buses without regard for who their victims would be. Blair's position is "these people are just evil; they want to destroy our way of life because they're just evil; they kill innocent people because they're just evil". It's a handy line to take for many reasons: it attempts to head off any criticism of the policies of his (and other Western) governments - "nothing we did could have prevented these attacks, they would always have happened at the time and in the manner in which they did happen". It also recycles the nice pseudo-medieval paradigm of good vs evil which was previously the exclusive domain of the tabloids, and more frequently used to denote paedophiles.

On the complete opposite side of the spectrum we might position the Stop the War Coalition whose website contains the following quotation: "The real tragic mistake has been the illegal, immoral and barbaric invasion of Iraq. The killing of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians. Londoners are now really paying the price of this war, both in the suicide bombings and in this public killing [a reference to de Menezes]." In a sense, the Stoppers' position is as simplistic as Blair's - the war is a direct result of the US invasion of Iraq, as backed up by Britain and other countries, and a pull-out of troops will ensure an instant return to peace in the UK. If they really believe it's as simple as that, then I wish them well in their journey through the world of fantasy. (But see EDIT below for more on the Stoppers and their arguments.)

The problem with Blair's position is that it provokes ridicule - the percentage of people who believe that the invasion of Iraq contributed to the terrorist attacks stands at 64%, according to one poll. The argument that Iraq had no impact is so transparently thin, it amounts to little more than a conjuror's misdirection trick: "look over there while I change the cards round".

The Stoppers' argument bears a little more weight, since there are obvious factors which overlap between the war in Iraq and the sudden upsurge in terrorism in the West: the European countries which have been hit so far have been Spain and the UK (and British targets in Turkey), both active supporters of the war - not to mention the Bali bomb, in which Australia (another war supporter) seems to have been the target; Iraq (and Afghanistan) has now become established as a place where combatants can have 'live' training in attempting to take out US military targets, a more valuable learning ground than training camps in Afghanistan; and, unlike Palestine, where terrorist supporters could only justify action against Israel, because it was the only state directly involved in the oppression of Muslims, Iraq's territory has been invaded by the countries which have become targets themselves.

I'll finish this post later. Click 'More' for... well, more.

1 AUGUST: All right, I'm back. Anyway, the purpose of this post was not (just) to ridicule both Blair and the Stoppers, but to point out a rather more awkward assumption being made by some commentators (I have Norm's Guardian article in mind, for example). It is the belief, espoused by these people, that there are ranks of 'apologists' (their term) in the UK who refuse to pin any blame on the terrorists, preferring to take the 'easy option' of effectively saying that Britain and the US have brought the terrorist attacks on themselves. Well, Norm, I can't say that my social circles were buzzing with self-flagellators after 7/7. Nor have I seen any serious commentator whose first comment was anything other than shock, outrage, disgust and sympathy towards the victims.

Norm's article includes the following paragraph:
If causes and explanation are indeed a serious enterprise and not merely a convenient partisan game, then it needs to be recognised that causality is one thing and moral responsibility another, though the two are related. The fact that something someone else does contributes causally to a crime or atrocity doesn't show that they, as well as the direct agents, are morally responsible for that crime or atrocity, if what they have contributed causally is not itself wrong and doesn't serve to justify it. Furthermore, even when what someone else has contributed causally to the occurrence of the criminal or atrocious act is wrong, this won't necessarily show they bear any of the blame for it.
Let's deconstruct this paragraph. Norm is far from a stupid man, and his argument warrants serious consideration. Let's look again at that sentence: "The fact that something someone else does contributes causally to a crime or atrocity doesn't show that they, as well as the direct agents, are morally responsible for that crime or atrocity, if what they have contributed causally is not itself wrong." To make this more concrete, this is another way of saying that if it's OK to invade Iraq and Afghanistan, arrest and torture civilians, and award 'reconstruction' contracts to American companies, then the US cannot be considered to be even indirectly 'responsible' for the terrorism it suffers (not even in an 'well, what did you expect?' sense). Well, that argument would be fine if it were OK to do those things. We'll leave that to speak for itself.

Norm goes on, referring in passing to the "'We told you so' crowd" (crowd?), to reveal what he believes is the 'root cause' of terrorism: "It is the fanatical, fundamentalist belief system which teaches hatred and justifies these acts of murder." I assume he's referring to the extremist form of Islam which seeks the imposition of the 'caliphate' across the world. Or perhaps he's referring to all Islam? He doesn't actually specify, preferring to say that it's "obvious". This all sounds pretty similar to Blair's mantra of "these people are just evil" (Blair: they're just evil; Norm: they're taught to be full of hatred).

Now, Norm is perhaps right to say that there is a belief system operating among certain young men in the Middle East which is profoundly anti-Western. He would be perhaps right if he were to conclude that anti-Western terrorism pre-dates the Iraq War (of course it does). He might even be right if he parroted the government's line that "these attacks would have happened anyway". He is wrong if he concludes that the Iraq War has made no difference.

Norm's argument is rather more civilised and intellectual than the posturing from 'Brownie' at Harry's Place (not, I assume, the same Brownie as this one): "I’ve yet to hear an argument from this clique [the Stoppers] that I couldn’t destroy in a thrice". Go on, then. Let's hear your argument for what you've called a "progressive foreign policy" (if you ask me, it's progressive only in the sense that American troops seem determined to progress from destroying one country to destroying another).

EDIT: I'm grateful to Philip for his comment (see below) directing me to yesterday's statement by the Stop the War coalition. Unfortunately, their argument isn't articulated very well. OK, they acknowledge that "The Stop the War Coalition has condemned unequivocally the bombings and attempted bombings in London. No disagreements with government policy can justify these acts". But they rather spoil things by stating "The invasion and occupation of Iraq is shorthand for wider concerns about Anglo-US foreign policy, as well as being a catastrophe in itself". While the list of Arab grievances against the West that follows this sentence has a lot of truth in it, it's lazy to imply that "you understand that when I say we should end the Iraq War, I mean we should end the Iraq War and the occupation of Afghanistan and free the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and support for the corrupt Saudi government and all the other things we've banged on about in the past."

Like all matters of international politics/diplomacy/relations/conflict, this is a complex issue which demands complex thought - not the simplistic blame game played by Blair and the Stoppers and Norm and Brownie (I see Chris Applegate agrees with me - I do hope this post doesn't fall into the 'boring political blog' brush with which he tarnishes many of his fellow bloggers. No doubt he will let me know).


Blogger Philip said...

On the position of the StWC, you might find this useful:

8:14 pm  

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