Blaming those who can’t blame the bombers

Three, no four, cheers for ‘Brownie’ of the illustrious ‘Harry’s Place’ blog for his rousing attack on the bien-pensants on a recent Question-Time Special programme who sought to blame just about everyone except the bombers for the London bombings.  A specimen quotation:
 

“….one could have been forgiven for thinking that everybody, but everybody was responsible for the 7/7 atrocity, apart from the fanatics who actually carried bombs onto trains. “We need to understand why these young men felt so detached, blah, blah…” Self-hating Brits, I’d call them. Well, I’m sorry, but I’m just your ordinary Joe: wife and kids, mortgaged up to the hilt, unfulfilling job, not enough money, etc., etc.. It’s a hard enough slog as it is without some one-step-removed apologist insisting that I take partial responsibility for the irrational actions of people I’ve never met, never hurt, but who would, given half the chance, slaughter me and everyone else I love. Its not my fault, see, and I resent being asked to contemplate the possibility it might be. In fact, it makes me quite angry…  when I hear people whose most important decisions each day are what to play on the iPod lecturing the country’s most senior policeman about the rules of engagement for suicide bombers, telling him how his men are “executioners” (these being the officers who ran towards, not away from, a man they suspected of being half a second from committing mass-murder), I want to be sick, have a shower, scream……do anything in fact, but speak. ”

There was an excellent article in the Guardian by Professor Norman Geras on 21 July that made much the same points. Needless to say, he subsequently got stick for his views from the usual suspects among Guardian readers (of whom I’m one, though not one who belaboured the Professor for his gutsy views). I have made some similar comments, also attracting some heavy gunfire in response, on this blog.

Unlike some of the contributors to the Harry’s Place blog post, I’m a committed opponent of the war in Iraq, a historic blunder that will tarnish Tony Blair’s place in history almost as much as Suez has wrecked Eden’s.  But to say that Blair is responsible for the bombings because he refused to re-order major foreign policy decisions (however misguided on other grounds), purely in order to appease blackmailing terrorists, is grotesque.

Brian 

7 Responses

  1. Phil Edwards says:

    I’m puzzled, to say the least, by your enthusiasm for “Brownie”‘s tirade. Apart from anything else, I found the tone of the piece quite alarming; he tells us that a line of argument makes him angry, then spends the rest of the piece venting his anger in print (and reminiscing fondly about venting his anger in person). “Harry’s Place” is increasingly becoming a forum for one part of the Left to congratulate itself on its ‘decency’ while pouring vitriol on the rest.

    Geras’s piece is a bit more substantial, but not much more.
    Geras presents a cogent argument that the bombers bore responsibility for their actions as individuals, and that it cannot be demonstrated that the Iraq war was their sole motivating grievance. Having set up the strawman of an anti-war movement which challenges these propositions, he subjects it to the kind of polemical battering which we’re coming to expect from the ‘Decent Left’; he then leaps to the conclusion that the Iraq war is irrelevant to the bombings. I’ve unpicked this argument on my blog.

    But to say that Blair is responsible for the bombings because he refused to re-order major foreign policy decisions (however misguided on other grounds), purely in order to appease blackmailing terrorists, is grotesque.

    Indeed. But it seems to me that the argument being resisted by Geras (and “Brownie”) is that the Iraq invasion created new opportunities for terrorists, created anti-British feeling which was likely to make it easier to recruit new terrorists, and created disaffection among British Muslims which was likely to produce active or passive support for terrorists – and that all these consequences were probable, could have been predicted and should have been weighed in the balance when Blair & co were contemplating joining Bush’s invasion. To have overlooked predictable consequences like this in a good cause would be bad enough (pace Geras); when the cause in question is the Iraq war as we’ve known it, Blair’s responsibility is heavy.

    As for the bien-pensants of Question Time, I suspect that they had more of a point than “Brownie” was prepared to countenance. The “in a very real sense we are all to blame” mentality is easy to mock, but it does grasp something which “Brownie” doesn’t: in this case, that people aren’t born terrorists. People have to become terrorists – even that subset of people who are also fundamentalist Muslims and believers in a restored Caliphate. Obviously the terrorists are to blame for their actions, but for those people to have become terrorists something must have gone wrong – something more than being exposed to an ‘evil ideology’.

  2. James says:

    Brian,
    Sorry to butt in. This isn’t in any way a loaded question, I’m just curious. I can see that in one sense only the terrorists are morally ‘responsible’ for their actions. But isn’t what actually happens in the world important? Granted that there are wicked or destructive people around, if a political leader makes a decision that stimulates their destructive behaviour, is he not in any way ‘responsible’ for what happens next, even if in a slightly different sense? And is that kind of ‘responsibility’ immune from blame?
    Best,
    James

  3. Brian says:

    Phil,

    Well, we’ve been over much of this ground already in comments on an earlier post. You take a more generous view than I do (or than Brownie and Geras do) of the opinions, implied or explicit, of those many commentators who have been saying (and continue to say) that because Blair must have known that UK participation in the invasion and occupation of Iraq would be used by Muslim extremists to generate additional anger and resentment against Britain, and that this would increase the likelihood of a terrorist attack in Britain, therefore Blair has a share of responsibility for the London bombings. Attributing responsibility in this way has two unavoidable implications: (1) that Blair deserves a share of the blame for the bombings, and (2) that the increased likelihood of a terrorist attack in Britain ought to have been a factor influencing Blair against his decision to join the Americans in invading Iraq, even if on other grounds he believed it right and necessary to do so. Both these propositions seem to me utterly wrong, indeed dangerously so.

    You come perilously close to adopting this view, it seems to me, when you write:

    …the Iraq invasion created new opportunities for terrorists, created anti-British feeling which was likely to make it easier to recruit new terrorists, and created disaffection among British Muslims which was likely to produce active or passive support for terrorists – and that all these consequences were probable, could have been predicted and should have been weighed in the balance when Blair & co were contemplating joining Bush’s invasion. To have overlooked predictable consequences like this in a good cause would be bad enough (pace Geras); when the cause in question is the Iraq war as we’ve known it, Blair’s responsibility is heavy.

    Once you accept that the threat of terrorist attack in response to a specific act of policy is a factor legitimately to be taken into account in making decisions on that policy, you are handing over control of our foreign (and eventually our domestic) policy to terrorists. This is exactly comparable to yielding to the demands of a blackmailer. The only consequence of such surrender is that the demands of the terrorists (and of the blackmailer) will become yet more frequent and more exorbitant. In other words, the increased risk of terrorist attack in the UK should have been totally excluded from Blair’s calculations of the pros and cons of taking part in the Iraq war. (Whether it was excluded, or whether Blair decided that the risks of not attacking Iraq outweighed the increased risk of terrorist attack in the UK, we shall presumably never know.)

    The other implication of much bien-pensant comment has been that we need to ‘understand‘ what drove the suicide bombers (successful or failed) to commit such dreadful acts and to accept that we (or the Blair government, or western society, or whatever) are all partially to blame for the policies and actions that drove the bombers to do what they did. This seems to me an utterly unacceptable proposition, too, for the reasons eloquently expressed by Brownie in the passage that I quoted. The idea that the pursuit of policies with which others violently disagree is partly responsible for acts of criminal madness committed, apparently, as an expression of that political disapproval, is nonsense, and we shouldn’t hesitate to say so. You write that –

    …people aren’t born terrorists. People have to become terrorists – even that subset of people who are also fundamentalist Muslims and believers in a restored Caliphate. Obviously the terrorists are to blame for their actions, but for those people to have become terrorists something must have gone wrong – something more than being exposed to an ‘evil ideology’.

    …but it’s a far cry from that to the assertion that the whatever ‘must have gone wrong’ is something for which our own society, or government, or culture, or original sin, must be to blame.

    Those who, like me, strongly opposed Blair’s Iraq policies and actions, need, I think, to resist the temptation to chuck in the London bombings as yet another evil consequence of bad and ill-judged policies for which Blair and his fellow-warriors can usefully be blamed. There are plenty of excellent reasons to blame Blair for disastrous misjudgements and misrepresentations over Iraq, but failure to change those policies in order to avoid the increased risk of terrorist attack in the UK isn’t one of them.

    Brian

  4. Brian says:

    James,

    Thanks for that. I wrote my reply to Phil before seeing your comment and (unloaded) ‘question’. I think what I wrote in reply to Phil, above, probably answers your point too. To put it another way, there is more than one consequence of giving weight to the increased risk of terrorist attack in making policy decisions — i.e., allowing that risk to help determine whether or not to embark on an otherwise desirable or necessary course of action. One consequence, the obvious one, is that by deciding not to pursue a policy likely to provoke a terrorist attack (or likely to increase that risk, assuming that it already exists), you reduce the risk of a terrorist attack or else you refrain from increasing it, both desirable effects in themselves. But there is another consequence, too: you send a message to those who articulate their political opinions by killing innocent people and/or by killing themselves, that they can influence policy simply by threatening to resort to murder and mayhem if the government acts in a way to which they object. The implication of that message is obvious: the more credible and terrifying the threat, the likelier you are to deter political leaders from acting in ways that you dislike. And the more you succeed in deterring actions that you find objectionable by threatening to murder people, the more you will seek to constrain the target government’s freedom to act. It is obviously perfectly rational to conclude that the second consequence is even more damaging, and likely to result eventually in even more deaths and destruction, than the first. The moral is that whatever the short-term consequences, it’s never right to give in to blackmail.

    That’s not to say that there’s nothing to be done to reduce the risk of terrorism here or abroad. The immediate remedy is efficient policing to identify likely terrorist activity and to pre-empt it: and failing pre-emption, to catch the perpetrators and take them out of circulation. These are crimes, not political actions, still less military ones, whatever the criminals might say to the contrary. The longer-term remedies include removing, wherever possible, the sources of legitimate anger, alienation, indignation, and resentment, such as can be exploited to encourage terrorist activity. It’s obviously desirable to exclude or remove people who preach and inculcate hatred and rejection of our society and who seek to persuade others to damage or destroy it by illegal means. We should encourage the expression of political dissent through legal and democratic channels, by action in existing or new political parties and otherwise. We need to reduce the cultural isolation of ethnic and faith communities by encouraging much more interaction, insisting on the general knowledge and use of English, ending the state subsidy of so-called ‘faith schools’ and encouraging the education of children of all faiths (and none), together, in a strictly secular environment. The one ‘remedy’ that should be utterly rejected is to adapt government policy in such a way as to avoid annoying violent extremists for fear of what they will do if you don’t.

    Of course we should also end the occupation of Iraq and do everything possible to encourage a just and durable settlement between Israel and Palestine and look for a solution to the problem of Kosovo’s future that will be acceptable to the Muslims as well as to the Serbs, and encourage the Russians to find a peaceful settlement of the problem of Chechnya separatism and encourage the Indians and the Pakistanis to settle the Kashmir problem in a fair and peaceful way — etc., etc. But we should try to do these things because they are desirable in themselves, not because the perpetuation of the conflicts may be exploited to justify murdering people who have no responsibility for them. Still less should we condone skewing the just solutions of these problems in favour of the Muslim parties to the conflicts, in the (utterly forlorn) hope that this might persuade our home-grown Muslim terrorists not to bomb any more tube trains. We need to show, again and again, that murder doesn’t pay.

    Brian

  5. We need to reduce the cultural isolation of ethnic and faith communities by encouraging much more interaction, insisting on the general knowledge and use of English, ending the state subsidy of so-called ‘faith schools’ and encouraging the education of children of all faiths (and none), together, in a strictly secular environment.

    And that opens up all sorts of difficult questions.
    Has our “assimilation” approach to the Muslim community in the United Kingdom been a causative factor? Perhaps it’s instructive to examine the wholly different approach of the French.
    France has far greater number of Muslims per head than the UK. Yet their policy is one of strict “integration”. Strictly secular schools; and it certainly seems to be working. I remember all the hoo-haa last year when Chirac’s government passed a law forbidding the wearing of the Islamic veil and the display of other religious insignia. Most French Muslims disliked the policy. They protested. But they protested as French citizens. Some girls even marched with Hijabs in the red, white and blue of the Tricolore. The same solidarity was demonstrated when the two French journalists were kidnapped in Iraq. The kidnappers claiming their action was in response to the French government banning the hijab!
    Cheers
    t

  6. Brian says:

    t,

    Actually, I think our approach to the Muslim community has been the opposite of assimilation: the PC interpretation of ‘multi-culturalism’ has actively discouraged assimilation and promoted communal isolation. That is part of the problem. The pressure constantly exerted on us to pay excessive respect to cultural practices and attitudes of ethnic and religious groups even when they are plainly irreconcilable with core British liberal and democratic values has done huge damage. Any questioning of it has almost always led to shrill accusations of racism. We seem to have suffered a collapse of self-confidence in our own culture and values that has led insidiously into a kind of consensus that all cultures, including all religions, are equally deserving of respect and must therefore be equally immune from reasoned criticism, and even more from legal intervention. The new law against religious hatred will make matters even worse. So will the disastrous encouragement of ‘faith schools’ — but we’re stuck with them, since no foreseeable government will have the guts or gumption to close down Church of England or Catholic schools, and if they are allowed and indeed encouraged to continue, it’s impossible to refuse to help to fund Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and other effectively monocultural schools. One urgently needed measure might be to make it a condition of public subsidy of any faith school that (say) 25 per cent of its children must be from different ‘faiths’ — and ideally must belong to different ethnic communities from the majority. But it’s easy to imagine the uproar that would provoke!

    There’s a certain irony in the fact that the French colonial tradition of seeking to assimilate its colonial subjects into French culture, which proved such a resounding failure in relation to the future of French colonial territories, is now serving them rather well in a post-colonial domestic situation, whereas the British colonial tradition of respecting the local religions, languages, traditions of government and administration, etc., and interfering in them only to the extent absolutely necessary for maintaining order and preventing really barbaric behaviour, has come back to haunt us in our own country and has bitten us sharply on the bottom.

    Brian

  7. What appears to have completly escaped discussions on
    this blog is that genuine questions remain unanswered pertaining to both of the London Bombing events.

    What we do know is that trial by media is very flawed justice.

    I am astonished at the shallow analysis of the “Muslim conspiracy theory” phenomena which is riddled with contradictions and absurdities.

    The information available at this time allows for a multitude of possible scenarios that could give sense to the bombing events.

    The Menezes “story” reveals that much of what is flaged as evidence by “sources” and media is false.

    The same will no doubt apply to the 7/7 and 21/7 episodes.

    The Leeds four are so distant in character and history from a potential manic bomber that surely other explanations should be explored.

    The “story” simply does not make sense.

    Verbosity does not replace critical thinking.

    Why so quick to condemn without judicial process?

    A problem must be correctly comprehended to implement a worthwhile solution.

    It is possible that the London events are staged “terror”
    for political purpose with deeper agenda beyond the face value.

    My point is, will we ever know the truth without a transparent constituted process, that upholds the heritage of our rule of law.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *