Monday, August 08, 2005

Pointing the Bone

Pamela Bone is a journalist I admire. She's a writer on the left who understands the nature of poverty, justice, and the ideology which is slowly destroying out world. Best of all, the wisely avoids the indulgent Western self-criticism which has driven many of her colleagues to desperate seeking morally equivalancy for every fundamentalist excess when none exists. Here's a sample of her fine work from The Age today:

Those searching for the "root causes" of terrorism might do well to listen to the terrorists themselves. The leadership of al-Qaeda has said many times that its aim is to set up a global Islamic state. They want a worldwide Islamic theocracy ruled according to sharia law; a world in which women must conceal their faces, where they may not work or be educated, may not go in public without a male relative; a world in which women are under the total control of men. They want a world in which women do not have the option of rejecting them.


Exactly.

13 comments:

Jeremy said...

Heh, I just posted on this subject and linked the same article.

I completely disagree with you when you dismiss explanations of terrorism related to western foreign policy as "seeking moral equivalancey". As I noted in my post the evidence seems to be that suicide terrorism is a response to western occupation of Islamic homelands. And as that book review puts it:

"Nothing about this conclusion makes terrorist acts more justified, or less abhorrent, or a slighter assault on the bonds of civilization. Understanding is not the same as excusing. Still, understanding can be a useful tool for devising a cogent response and an effective policy."

I linked with disapproval your previous post equating this explanation with racism. In fact I think your explanation for terrorism which is presumably "they hate our freedoms" is even more racist - to think that the morality of another would incite some Muslims to suicide violence is to ascribe an even more insane reason than suggesting that it's a response to our foreign policies.

In the end, why do these causes have to be a binary either/or option? Why can't they "hate our freedoms" and our foreign foreign policy? Why does the possibility of one have to eliminate the possibility of the other? It doesn't make sense to me.

Just because they might "want a world in which women do not have the option of rejecting them." doesn't mean that this is the reason for them being incited to suicidal violence (in fact, many conservative Christians the world over are only a few shades away from wanting the same thing), and even if it is a reason for some, why can't other terrorists have different reasons? I ask again, why must it be either/or?

Polly said...

Jeremy, are you claiming places such as Bali as an islamic homeland?
Which islamic homelands were the US occupying before 9/11?

Jeremy said...

In reverse order

Which islamic homelands were the US occupying before 9/11?

You don know the original beef of Al Quaeda with the west was the occupation of Saudi Arabia in connection with the first Gulf war? In fact, they really started in opposition to the Saudi royal familiy because they co-operated with the US in that war. Hence the original world trade attacks. Also one must not forget their percieved link between the US and Israel.

are you claiming places such as Bali as an islamic homeland?

East Timor. The Australian Embassy and a renouned Aussie tourist spot provide convenient locations to attack westerners for that 'violation'. And also, we come across the false dichotomy again - even if the Bali bombers were purely motivated by the fact that westerners were drinking alcohol and having extra-marital sex in Bali, why does that mean that this is the reason for all other terrorists acts?

In order to avoid a certain class of predictable response I will now paste the following disclaimer to satisfy the right-wing PC-police:

Nothing about this conclusion makes terrorist acts more justified, or less abhorrent, or a slighter assault on the bonds of civilization. Understanding is not the same as excusing.

Polly said...

The overwhelming majority of people living in Bali and East Timor are not Muslims, so it doesn't qualify as an Islamic homeland. It's a counter-example to your original statement where you say the evidence seems to be that suicide terrorism is a response to western occupation of Islamic homelands. Bali and East Timor aren't Islamic homelands.

As for the situation in Saudi Arabia, the US has military bases or troops stationed in many countries at the request of the governments of those countries, (e.g. Germany, Australia and Japan). Many people in these countries are opposed to the US military presence, but they don't become terrorists.

As a moderate lefty, I think Pamela Bone makes a very good point about Al-Qaeda's motivations and goals (this doesn't mean I endorse or agree with George W Bush or John Howard's foreign policies). Al-Qaeda are a bunch of crazy theocratic fascists, and a lot of the debate on how western governments should deal with their actions ignores this point. I don't see how anyone can claim to be trying to truly understand the "root causes" of Al-Qaeda's terrorist actions while ignoring this point.

Anonymous said...

Polly, you make a good point. I also disagree that Islamist terrorism is a defensive response at all. Ari is spot on that PB is spot on.

-Daniel.

Anonymous said...

Polly, you make a good point. I also disagree that Islamist terrorism is a defensive response at all. Ari is spot on that PB is spot on.

-Daniel.

John Lee said...

The Strategic Logic of Suicide Bombing
by Robert Pape may be worth a look. The author, who's studied every recorded suicide bombing, backs Jeremy (and myself) in arguing that western foreign policy is fundamental to Islamic terrorism, and that until we acknowledge this fact we will not make progress against it. Pape wrote a piece for The Age opinion section a month or so ago summarising his thesis.

Those who've read the Iraq piece on my blog or the comments to Ari's post on Pilger's Racism will be familiar with the argument that we're now faced with a far wider phenomenon than al-Qaida and its agenda. Attacks against western interests are now being conducted by individuals throughout the Muslim world, including Muslim communities in western countries, who have no substantial connection with al-Qaida; the Iraqi insurgency and the London bombings are the two most high-profile examples. The only feasible explanation is that the west has turned itself into a legitimate target through its foreign policy - not just invasions of Muslim countries, but the obvious failures to rebuild them or demonstrate that this is not being done for western political and economic interests.

Anonymous said...

Hi people,

Isn't Pamela Bone being rather simplistic? The root cause of the spread of terrorism must be the support given to the likes of OBL by people who see the terrorists as their only viable means of fighting occupation or other, often imperialistic, forces whether political, economic, military, or cultural.

The USA certainly gave support to OBL during the Afghan conflict allowing him to set up recruitment centres in 3 major US cities in order to fight Russian occupation. Any of you who happened to catch the recently screened Russian documentary about that period would have seen terrorism in full flight. To see Russian soldiers recounting through their tears stories of schools being decimated and teachers raped and killed for teaching without headscarfs was sobering.

That we do not want to see or fail to recognise the moral equivalencies does not mean that there are none. Most of us realise we will never be able to bargain with the perpetrators of terrorism nor should we attempt to but unless we try to understand why they are given support in certain communities then this will go on escalating.

Here is a token "moral equivalency" question, is an Iraqi cleric supporting the setting off of a nuclear weapon in a major US city the same as a US congressman echoing a call from some in the Christian right to nuke Mecca? Are both supporting terrorism or does the delivery method matter?

Cheers

Cameron

Polly said...

So is Australia's support for an independent East Timor an example of western imperialism? (because according to OBL that's a reason why we're a target for terrorism).

Cameron, any person who advocates the nuking of Mecca is certainly advocating terrorism - that's completely disgusting and their views should be totally condemned - they'd probably end up locked up here in Victoria for religious vilification.

Jeremy, I do agree with Ari, I think it's completely appalling to claim that the actions of a few thousand nutcases world-wide are an understandable response to alleged western occupation of islamic homelands (especially when you have OBL saying that he wants a global islamic state, and that Australia deserves to be attacked for its role in an independent East Timor) when the overwhelming majority of Muslims do not support terrorism. I don't think that suicide bombers are sane or reasonable people. I think it's fine for Ari to ascribe insane reasons to them (as you state in your post) because they are demonstrably insane.

Plenty of people are opposed to US foreign policy but they don't turn into terrorists. Why are the terrorists different from all the people who don't become terrorists but don't like US foreign policy?

Jeremy said...

Now we get to the heart of it:

Plenty of people are opposed to US foreign policy but they don't turn into terrorists. Why are the terrorists different from all the people who don't become terrorists but don't like US foreign policy?

To generalise, a crazy, twisted and perverted ideology that is rooted in an extreme and hateful perversion of Islamic teaching and dysfunctional Arabic cultures which foster anti-western conspiracy theories and hatred of all things western and Jewish. This problem is exacerbated by autocratic Arabic regimes which use these things as a prop to support their dysfunctional rule. These things are the difference between people with a rational objection to western actions and the terrorists, and this sort of thing is what we must fight. But nevertheless we must realise that we only give this ideology more legitimacy in the eyes of some when we take certain actions.

Behind all your comments seems to be an assumption that I and others giving this argument at heart agree with it and sympathise with the terrorists (no matter how many times and how strenuously I deny it). You also think that simply pointing out that these views are irational (ie. Timor isn't technically Islamic land and US troops in Saudi Arabia shouldn't be seen as a violation) actually defeats the argument. You miss my point - it is irrational and twisted but it still exists. We must seek to understand it and not close our minds off to it because we are afraid that that means apologising for terrorists.

I think that trying to say our actions have no cost, that nothing we can do can possibly inflame terrorist sympathies because everyone who will possibily ever be a terrorist is already a crazy, non-understandable, murderous suicide bomber-wannabe is sticking your head in the sand.

Polly said...

Jeremy,
You're saying that the terrorists they are crazy and irrational yet they're also understandable (which implies a rationality to their actions). Is it understandable that these few thousand people turn into terrorists because they don't like western foreign policy (ignoring the millions living under the same evil dicatorships who don't turn into terrorists)?

Surely if your theory that terrorism is caused by a twisted idealogy fostered by autocatic regimes in the middle east is true then George W Bush is addressing the root causes by removing middle eastern dictatorships? Maybe we should go invade Syria and Saudi Arabia next (as they are big sponsors of terrorism).

Lets say your theory is true? What should we do to stop terrorism? Withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan immediately? Take away East Timor's independence? Kick all the Jewish people out of Jerusalem? Punish the Spanish for the Crusades?

Just to make it really clear - I don't agree with either of those two options above, and I'm certainly not pretending to have the answers on how to stop terrorism.

I do think that a lot of analysis of the issues are based on the whole clash of civilisations idea - which I don't think is true. Look at places like Indonesia and Turkey, where although things are far from perfect, but you have democratic governments where the overwhelming majority of people are able to get along and respect each others differences. I think most people in the world want to live a peaceful, safe and prosperous life, and reject terrorism. I think we need to treat terrorists as criminals who need to be brought to justice. I don't think that their actions should dictate anyone's foreign policy. That doesn't mean I agree with the Bush Administration or the Howard Government's foreign policies or their decision to invade Iraq.

What I do think is that any analysis of the problem that simplifies it to being about "western occupation of islamic homelands" will not come up with any lasting solutions to the problem of terrorism.

I also think that any analysis of the root causes of terrorism while dismissing Al-Qaeda's stated goals such as a global islamic state ruled by sharia law is going to be missing vital facts, and will present a distorted picture, and I think that Pamela Bone makes a very good point about pointing this out.
She also makes a very important point about the need for us to support women who are standing up against abuses of their fundamental human rights.

Jeremy said...

I think we're getting close to agreement here and sorry for my many quotes, I want to establish how much I agree with you.

First I should say you're attributing opinions to me which I don't have - ie that Bush and America should ignore the problems created by Arabic dictatorships and that they should never resort to military force to deal with them if necessary. I think doing so is important and I have posted on this a number of times (eg. in the context of Uzbekistan where Karimov's autocratic ways are exacerbating Islamist tensions and in the context of Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia & Egypt).

You also bizzarely imply that my explanation necessitates surrender to the terrorists, ie wholesale withdrawal and elimination of Israel. Have you been listening to what I've been saying? I am trying to understand I am not excusing nor am I agreeing. Again, just because our actions have costs associated with them in the form of terrorist violence doesn't mean we shouldn't take certain actions. It just means we need to be aware and to not act in a hasty and unncessary way if this will inflame violence. Since when has angering your enemy been a reason for not going to war with him? I think this bizzare attempt by our leaders to pretend that going to war with our enemy won't inflame them is what's weird around here.

"I don't think that their actions should dictate anyone's foreign policy" is what I've been saying all along. Just because we understand doesn't mean we need to agree (I say this more emphatically in my post I initially linked).

I also agree with this:

I also think that any analysis of the root causes of terrorism while dismissing Al-Qaeda's stated goals such as a global islamic state ruled by sharia law is going to be missing vital facts, and will present a distorted picture, and I think that Pamela Bone

But as I've been saying all along, this is only part of the picture and only relevant to parts of the terrorist "community". There is no reason to believe that community is heterogenous, Al Quaeda means and is "The Base" - it was a starting point for others to imitate and follow and I don't think it's right to say that everyone who acts in accordance with Al Quaeda's wishes believe the same thing.

I agree with this:

I do think that a lot of analysis of the issues are based on the whole clash of civilisations idea - which I don't think is true. Look at places like Indonesia and Turkey, where although things are far from perfect, but you have democratic governments where the overwhelming majority of people are able to get along and respect each others differences. I think most people in the world want to live a peaceful, safe and prosperous life, and reject terrorism. I think we need to treat terrorists as criminals who need to be brought to justice. I don't think that their actions should dictate anyone's foreign policy.

I absolutely agree with this:

She also makes a very important point about the need for us to support women who are standing up against abuses of their fundamental human rights.

And my disagreement was never with Pamela, it was with Ari's triumphant pronouncement that identifying this possible cause of terrorism trumps all other possible reasons.

In conclusion, I agree that Al Quaeda, the Taliban and co are autocratic, theocratic, violent fascists who must be stopped at all costs. I agree that they do hate us "for what we are" and despise western civilisation. But I believe that this is only part of the picture and only the view of some sections of the people we are fighting. Our foreign policy in the arab world can potentially inflame terrorist passions and turn moderates into extremists and thus we must act with care and knowing the consequences of our actions. We must seek to minimise this cost, but we should not let it paralyze us. Our approach to combatting terrorism must be holistic, and we must not close our minds to any path of thought out of a desire to portray our enemies as non-thinking non-humans who cannot be influenced by what we do.

Anonymous said...

Good on you Polly,

I will let Tom Tancredo, republican congressman for Colorado know that you consider him a terrorist.

Cheers

Cameron