Saturday, July 09, 2005

More collective guilt

I made a comment elsewhere that's been removed by the blog owner, which is that person's prerogative, of course. I made the comment in the sincere misapprehension that the readers were being challenged to debate the author's position (it was, in truth, peppered with question marks). I lament the author's censorship, because it's when conventionally-held positions are challenged that we most vehemently need to guard against it. But, again, as I say, that's not my call to make in this case. I must respect the rights and wishes of others on their own home turf.

However, this is my home turf. :) I spent a lot of time considering my position and my words, and a lot of work setting them down, and I'm loathe to see them vanish into cybernothingness. And so, in fairness to myself, I repeat them here, and leave it to the Republic of Letters to judge.

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For me, there's no contradiction between loathing Bush's imperialist policies, and feeling deep sympathy for the victims in London and the people who love them.

For me, there's no contradiction in a country sending its troops off to kill people in other countries, and having its own people killed as a result; it was obvious enough all during World War II; why suddenly not today? That's the nature of war; it doesn't play favourites; it provides no bulletproof vests to people of good will in either Baghdad or London. That's the very reason we need to stop appealing to it as a method of policy. But so far, we haven't.

The people of Iraq and Afghanistan have every right to live in peace, and to live in whatever kind of society they choose. The people of London have the same right...

I agree with you. But where your logic falls short for me is the hard, but honest truth, that as much as the people of London (and New York, and Madrid, and yes, Toronto) have the same right as the people of Iraq and Afghanistan to live in peace, then inasmuch as we have denied them that right, we morally incur the same risk as them to die by violence. When you punch someone in the nose, the obvious corollary is you're inviting them to punch you back — so if you're not willing to be punched, don't punch them. We never stopped to ask who among them was good and who was bad; we just dropped bombs on them. Why are they required to treat us more fairly? Only someone who can't see past Western exceptionalist could argue otherwise. Our society brought the war to them. We do not have the right to demand to be safe in our homes when we have denied that to them. Only when we cease to do so will we have the moral right to demand that; but by our actions as a society we have abrogated that in the eyes of the world and posterity. The obligation is first and foremost ours, because the power is ours.

It's ridiculous to say "this will keep happening until we demand an end to US imperialism," or the like.

It most certainly is not. Slavery existed for thousands of years until people en masse demanded an end to it, and not before. The objectification of women, likewise. The resistance to political equality among the races, likewise. These are instances of exceptionalism that fell by the wayside only once our society as a whole finally admitted they were morally unsupportable. Scattered individuals were not enough. Until our society, in general, reaches the psychological maturity or critical mass to demand that we will not send troops abroad to get what we want, and until we're willing to accept that less powerful nations have the right to say "no" to us and not be bombed, then we're going to keep behaving in ways to they are going to respond to in kind. That's simple, obvious logic. Or it will be, one day, in the manner that those other issues I mentioned are today.

The ordinary people killed by terror do not have the power to affect that change, and should not be made to suffer for it.

How do they get us to stop, then? If Western nations can do whatever they want to anyone else in the sure knowledge their home populations are unassailable, what is there to ever stop us? Obviously, not appeals to morality! Not conscience! The only means they have is fear; it seems to be the only thing that gets our attention. The big boast of democracy has always been that it's made by "ordinary people". We get together. Vote. Call the shots. The government does what the people want! Or so I've always been told. Okay, if we want to tell the world that's what we're all about, then what are we saying when the governments we elect send people off to take over other countries and kill thousands of people? What's the obvious conclusion about the key role of "ordinary people" in this?

And what makes the terror-apologists so sure that it would end?

Who's sure of anything? But we won't know till we try. What's the alternative? Keep the troops there and keep fighting? If that were the cure, those people in London would still be alive. I say, let's get out of Iraq, let's stop invading less powerful nations, and see how it goes. Unless Arabs actually are some race of being that gets mad at others for no reason, then ceasing to furnish them with provocations might be the answer. Let's find out!

By implying that the Islamist terrorists are merely reacting to Western policy, the apologists demean the very people they urge us to understand. Am I to believe that if only the US and Israel would leave them alone, the Islamic Fundamentalists would all be chanting peace prayers?

Well, follow the chain of evidence. They're not blowing things up in China or Sierra Leone or Sweden, are they? They're targeting the nations where people support the effort in Iraq, or places where those people congregate. And they haven't been doing it for all that long; only since the 1960s, really. So we can say it dates from roughly a generation after the US superseded the UK as the big hand of the Western world in the Middle East. I understand what you're saying about the arrogance of seeing everything as a reaction to the US and the West; I've made that point myself about Canadian politics. But sometimes, people do react to the policies of the US and the West, and there's every indication that this is the case. If you can interpret the evidence in some other way that makes as much sense, I'm all ears. But you'd need to explain why only the West, and why only recently. If it's not a reaction to Western policies towards the Middle East since roughly the creation of the state of Israel, then what is it?

The people on that London bus, the people in the World Trade Center, and the people of Falluja - none of them deserved it. It's all barbaric, it's all unjust, and it all must be condemned.

Condemnation's a start, but until people like us convince enough of our fellow Westerners that our modern-era Viking raids have to stop, the societies we target have a right to defend themselves, to do what it takes to compel us leave them alone. How can anyone who believes in human equality and justice deny that? So long as they are under threat, we are under threat. When we all finally get that, this will end.

2 comments:

Kyle_From_Ottawa said...

Do you consider Russia as "West"? Because they've been on the receiving end too.

Here's my two cents on the issue. In a way, I feel the same way as you do. But I disagree with things also.

The groups that are carrying out these terrorist attacks are generally composed of young males from wealthy families in places like Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. They're not coming from Iraq or Afghanistan or any other the other places on the receiving end of cruise missile. And quite frankly, if you look at the tangled mess of Middle Eastern history, you can't assume we pulled the first punch. Was it the U.S.? The U.S.S.R? The British Empire? The Nazis? The Turks? The Persians? The hordes of Ghengis Khan? The region has been the world's barroom brawl for some time now.

Lone Primate said...

Do you consider Russia as "West"? Because they've been on the receiving end too.

Do you consider Chechnya as part of Russia?

They don't.

The groups that are carrying out these terrorist attacks are generally composed of young males from wealthy families in places like Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.

And French troops helped win the American Revolution. Does that invalidate the struggle of the Patriots?

And quite frankly, if you look at the tangled mess of Middle Eastern history, you can't assume we pulled the first punch.

I do know that the reasons given in the statement where the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. I can't see any reason they'd just pull that out of the hat. As I pointed out, this is a relatively recent phenomenon. They haven't been blowing things up in London for generations, and are looking for fresh excuses... maybe the IRA's in search of a few, but not Arabs. They have current grievances. I'm not happy about it, but put it this way: I understand it. And in a way, I accept it. "I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will
never be purged away but with Blood." If we want to rule the world by force, there's a price. That's how it looks to me.