Another day, yet another incident of Corbynite retro-hard-left triumphalism colliding with reality. This time, it’s Ken Livingstone’s recent statements on Question Time regarding the 7/7 bombers – ‘I remember when Tony Blair was told by the security services if you go into Iraq we will be a target for terrorism. He ignored that advice and it killed 52 Londoners.’ … ‘… they gave their lives. They said what they believed. They took Londoners’ lives in protest against our invasion of Iraq and we were lied to by Tony Blair about Iraq.’
While the Syrian conflict is providing the anvil for the party’s internal contradictions to be hammered upon, it’s Livingstone’s predictable recitation of the prevalent trope that terrorist attacks are reactive responses to western interventionism that merits attention here.
The problem with this analysis is the denial of agency involved. In fact the inhabitants of the nations involved, the wider moslem community and indeed the human population of the globe are free to chose how to react to any given action or event in international history. The point Ken needs to grasp is that the resulting reactions need to be clearly understandable as reasonable and proportionate responses to the precipitating action to warrant consideration in response. Otherwise we are at the mercy of any wild and irrational claim that one action – let’s say the invasion of Iraq – caused the mass-murder of uninvolved civilians in response, and therefore our foreign policy can only be conducted under the veto, and with the approval, of the wild and irrational.
Somehow when western countries kill civilians in pursuit of what they consider to be legitimate war aims, such as the failure of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to abide by the disarmament provisions of the 1991 ceasefire, Ken and his ilk find this morally unconscionable. Yet when somebody responding to this in the name of an islamic terrorist ideology murders civilians en masse, it’s a regretable yet inevitable product of western policy. On the one hand, we have agency, on the other, they don’t. This sort of thing is certainly nothing new, but when practised by 19th-century politicians extolling the colonisation of ‘uncivilised savages’ by’civilised nations’ Ken and his fellow-travellers have less of a problem recognising the unacceptable level of condescending imperialism involved.
So let’s explore the question of agency a little, in regard to taking the statements of islamic terrorists involved in the mass-murder of civilians at face value when determining the causal linkage between western interventionism and their attacks.
Following Ken’s lead, let’s kick off with the 7/7 bombers. An intensive 2-minute spell of research on the internet reveals that in video statements subsequently released to the media after their attacks, Mohammad Sidique Khan claimed that; ‘Your democratically-elected governments continuously perpetuate atrocities against my people all over the world. And your support of them makes you directly responsible, just as I am directly responsible for protecting and avenging my Muslim brothers and sisters. Until we feel security you will be our targets and until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people we will not stop this fight.’
His fellow mass-murderer Shehzad Tanweer likewise claimed; ‘What have you witnessed now is only the beginning of a string of attacks that will continue and become stronger until you pull your forces out of Afghanistan and Iraq. And until you stop your financial and military support to America and Israel.’
A common element in the first here is the global nature of supposed western oppression of moslems (‘…all over the world’), rather than just concerning Iraq. While the second does at least mention Iraq, it only comes alongside Afghanistan and – of course – the ritual culpability of America and Israel. Which means in both cases the invasion of Iraq is not the single causal link, but just one of several cumulative rationalisations behind the sense of ideological outrage involved.
I would mention the repeated mass-muderers conducted elsewhere by islamic terrorists, notably the Mumbai shootings which presaged the Paris shootings in 2008, or the Kenyan truck bombings of 1998 where al Queda managed to murder 224 people, only 12 of whom were American. Or the Estgate shootings in Kenya which killed 64 civilians, supposedly involving the widow of one of the 7/7 attackers (presumably inspired by her personal experience of western oppression as part of the native-born British bourgeoisie). While these amply demonstrate the propensity of islamic terrorists to kill indiscriminately, regardless of the nationality of their victims, I suspect it is not Eurocentric enough to convince Ken .
So let’s make things a little clearer by considering that the attack on British tourists in Tunisia this year took place despite the rejection of military intervention in Syria by the British parliament two years before. Or that, despite their non-involvement in the Middle East since the Second World War, how fourteen German tourists were among the nineteen murdered by an al Queda truck bomb of a Tunisian synagogue in April 2002. At that time an al-Qaeda official called Sulaiman Abu Ghaith attributed those deaths to the deaths of Palestinians, presumably at the hands of Israeli forces; ‘A youth could not see his brothers in Palestine butchered and murdered… [while] he saw Jews cavorting in Djerba’. Even ignoring the rampant anti-semitism involved, there is not even an attempt to link the foreign policy of the governments of the victims with the attack.
The irrelevance of national foreign policy to targetting by islamic terrorists is perhaps best illustrated by the case of the first Europeans people I can recall to have been subjected to that signature feature of modern islamic terrorism – the ritual decapitation of captives. In 1995 a party of six European tourists were kidnapped by islamic terrorists in Kashmir. While one American escaped, the remaining five tourists were presumed to have been killed. That number included one other American, two Britons, a German and a Norwegian, Hans Ostro. Ostro’s decapitated body was the only one recovered.
Perhaps Ken Livingstone would like to enlighten me as to the history of Norwegian intervention in Kashmir which justified or explained that? The kidnappers helpfully provided their rationale; ‘We are fighting against anti-Islamic forces. Western countries are anti-Islam, and America is the biggest enemy of Islam.’
Evidently no need for an invasion of Iraq or even one of Afghanistan there. No need even to have a foreign policy involvement on the same continent. It’s sufficient just to be from the west.
I suspect this will still not be enough to challenge Ken’s adherence to the claimed casual link between western foreign policy and the reaction. So let’s open the throttle with the maximum reductio ad absurdum, and go for the Nazi parallel. Although this risks incurring Godwin’s law, which warns against the hyperbole involved in citing the Nazis in an internet argument, I believe I can get away with it in this case because; a) I’m old enough to remember encountering it on usenet, and b) I’ve cleared the ground with the preceding argument to legitimatise the pressing of this particular nuclear button.
So, here we go. If we are to accept that islamic terrorism is a regrettable but understandable response to western foreign policy, how about other regretable but presumably understandable responses to similar external stimuli? Like this one by a certain Austrian ex-NCO explaining his own sincere yet somehow misunderstood policy of national recovery and European integration:
‘Today I will once more be a prophet. If the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the bolshevization of the earth, and this the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!’
So, the Second World War – along with the First World War and, indeed, everything else – can be blamed on the Jews? Fortunately there is an alternative hypothesis we might consider before accepting that one. That alternative would be that, given the historical evidence for the causes of the First and Second World Wars, neither the Jews, the Bolshevists nor degenerate western liberal democracies forced those wars upon Germany. While by contrast, those wars were (in the case of the first) caused by German agency in pursuit of autocratic militarist hegemony and (in the case of the second) caused by the irrational and genoicidal ideology of one national leader in particular, namely Adolf Hitler, pursuing the same end.
Hitler may well have sincerely believed his own ideology, and rationalised the collisions between his prejudices and external reality accordingly. But such views have no value when trying to objectively determine the causes behind the outbreak of World War Two, and they have no value to any reconsideration of national foreign policy in response. Otherwise we might find ourselves seriously responding to the question, ‘How to avoid another World War?’ with an answer like ‘Dealing with the International Jewish Conspiracy before they provoke another Hitler, of course’.
The same is true of Ken Livingstone, and by extension, the more widespread rationalisation of irrational prejudice involved in both the ‘7/7 caused by Iraq intervention’ and the ‘Blair lied’ tropes.
On the first, I have no doubt that the Iraq intervention inflamed irrational prejudices about the legitimacy of western foreign policy. But it did not create such prejudices, nor the barbaric responses of islamic terrorists towards the west which represent the extreme of those prejudices. Hitler’s rise to power may require understanding the Versailles settlement as a necessary precondition, but the fact that various Weimar governments had succeeded in revising the Versailles settlement (over reparations, or the Locano treaty) without recourse to militaristic anti-semitic agression.
And on the second allegation, Blair’s lying about WMD, I have a simple request – either prove it, or admit it’s bogus. You’ve had more than a decade to prove it. How much more time do you need to either find the evidence necessary to prove the allegation, or, by contrast, accept that it was erroneous to start with?
On both of those tropes, the real problem is the existance of an irrational prejudice which demands the selective interpretation of evidence to support a particular ideology. Which, intellectually speaking, is where Ken Livingstone and the 7/7 bombers find themselves on the same tube carriage. If that prospect did ever materialise I suspect Ken’s sympathetic critique of western foreign policy would cut no ice with the jihadi about commit a suicide bombing at Ken’s personal expense. Which brings me to my final point in response to Ken’s asinine statement about the 7/7 bombers; ‘No, they gave their lives.’
That would imply some level of recognisable self-sacrifice along the lines of a Buddhist monk incinerating himself in protest about the Diem government’s repression during the Vietnam war.
By contrast the 7/7 bombers didn’t ‘give their lives’. They took them. Just like they took the lives of 52 civilians. Let’s not indulge them by continuing to delude outselves about the causes and consquences of irrational and violent ideologies.