Sunday, July 10, 2005

Role Reversal

Today it is The Guardian with sensible commentary, and The Times with nonsense.

Nick Cohen hits the target with this article.

But it's a parochial line of reasoning to suppose that all bad, or all good, comes from the West - and a racist one to boot. The unavoidable consequence is that you must refuse to support democrats, liberals, feminists and socialists in the Arab world and Iran who are the victims of Islamism in its Sunni and Shia guises because you are too compromised to condemn their persecutors. Islamism stops being an ideology intent on building an empire from Andalusia to Indonesia, destroying democracy and subjugating women and becomes, by the magic of parochial reasoning, a protest movement on a par with Make Poverty History or the TUC.

Again, I understand the appeal. Whether you are brown or white, Muslim, Christian, Jew or atheist, it is uncomfortable to face the fact that there is a messianic cult of death which, like European fascism and communism before it, will send you to your grave whatever you do. But I'm afraid that's what the record shows.

Yes it is. One can only hope that Cohen's fellow Guardian writers start looking at the same record.

The Times, on the other hand, has this from Simon Jenkins. He starts with the same, tired critique of American and British policy, drawing moral equivalence between terrorism and the response to it, and fallaciously conflating incorrect intelligence assessments with "mendacity". (Or, less charitably, perhaps mendaciously conflating the two.)

He does make some reasonable observations and suggestions about the importance of local, on-the-ground preventative measures with regard to terrorism.
Most bombings since 9/11 have been the work of local, dysfunctional gangs with at best tenuous links to a fundamentalist Mr Big. Combating these gangs demands assiduous neighbourhood intelligence.
This is true, although the significance of the lack of any central organization since 9/11 is apparently lost on Jenkins, who elsewhere in his article makes the dubious (and ultimately unknowable) claim that the removal of the Taliban and OBL's training camps in Afghanistan "failed to...supress terrorism". While the work and plans of local, dysfunctional gangs is certainly more difficult to track, they are also far less able to mount big attacks such as that on 9/11.

But ultimately the focus of his argument is that we should treat terrorists as common criminals and terrorism as an "avoidable accident". This, he says, is the "sane" response. He thinks that, by treating terrorists as a force against which we must wage a war, we "award them a spurious legitimacy".
Like a number of MPs in the Commons on Thursday, he implies that Britain fighting to bring democracy to the Arabs is a noble war, but their fighting to bring Islam to London is mere terror. I know there is a difference, but it was Blair who gave terrorism the status of a war. He can hardly complain when his enemy treats it as such.
Amazingly, Jenkins has gotten it exactly backward, and demonstrates quite well the parochial line of reasoning the Cohen spoke about in The Guardian. It is not Blair or Bush who have compelled the terrorists to act as though they are in a war. Bin Laden and Al Qaeda have been treating this like a war since well before 9/11. In a May 1998 interview with ABC reporter John Miller, Bin Laden spoke of the "call to wage war against America" as well as against those "Western regimes" that support the US. Yet the US and the West ignored him, repeatedly treating the terrorist acts being committed in the name of OBL's war as criminal acts rather than acts of war; the WTC bomb in '93, the bombing of the Cole, the bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, to name a few.

In other words, we've already taken Jenkins' advice, and what did it get us? 9/11, that's what. And when that happened, finally the west in general and the US in particular decided to take Bin Laden at his word, and treat this as a war by taking control of OBL's real estate in Afghanistan and getting rid of the government that sponsored and protected him. Jenkins may find that unjust and characterize it as "kicking hell out of a poor country", but, as Jenkins himself might say, when a terrorist and his government sponsor declares war against the west, they can hardly complain when their enemy treats it as such.

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