Thursday, July 21, 2005

Red Ken and Root Causes

The Toronto Star European bureau reports today that London mayor Ken Livingstone “has spent the last two days pinning much of the blame for the July 7 attacks on U.S. and British foreign policy in the Middle East, on the West’s ‘double standards’ in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and on CIA-trained Osama bin Laden turning on his ‘creators.’”

Says Red Ken: “You’ve just had 80 years of Western intervention into predominantly Arab lands because of the Western need for oil. We’ve propped up unsavoury governments, we’ve overthrown ones we didn’t consider sympathetic,” he told BBC Radio’s Today program yesterday. And I think the particular problem we have at the moment is that in the 1980s, the Americans recruited and trained Osama bin Laden, taught him how to kill, to make bombs, and set him off to kill the Russians and throw them out of Afghanistan.”

Well, Ken didn’t manage to get these helpful thoughts out of his mouth nearly as quickly as Muslim groups were to pronounce themselves victims of racist “retaliation” that has yet to occur, but I guess less than a fortnight is fast enough, and mighty fast for an old socialist.

At times such as these it is helpful to remember that terrorism is, to choose arbitrary figures, 5% physical and 95% psychological. The psychological aspect of terrorism is not confined to grief over dead innocents or fear of going about one’s daily lives. It extends to the self-doubt and self-flagellation that occur when rational societies return again and again to the question “what did we do to deserve this?”

As much as Islamic terrorists hate Western culture, they understand and exploit it well. They understand that for the modern Western politician, inaction and deferred decision-making are the paths of least resistance; decision and action are swiftly met with criticism; too many decisions and actions tempt electoral defeat. The terrorists also understand that even decisions which are long past or irreversible are open to criticism and revisionism. Most in the West consider this openness to re-examination to be a strength -- those who would destroy Western culture consider it a weakness that works to their advantage, as it leaves their victims in a permanent state of second-guessing past actions, and fear and confusion over future ones. But second-guessing is not in the vocabulary of the terrorists. They do not publicly debate whether killing Muslims is consistent with their professed beliefs and values. They do not regard their bombings of Western civilians as inappropriate meddling in our affairs.

This is not to say that there is anything to fear in re-examining and re-affirming the West’s insistence that Israel be allowed to exist in peace and security; that it was worthwhile to forestall Soviet expansion into the Middle East through Afghanistan; and that, whether or not one of the reasons for invading Iraq was mistaken, Iraq and the Middle East are better off without Saddam Hussein, and America and its allies must remain until Iraq is stable.

I wish, however, that those of Ken Livingstone’s ilk would occasionally add to their list these items: whether it was prudent for the U.S. to reward terrorism by pulling out of Lebanon after the Marine barracks bombing in 1982, to trade arms for hostages in the 1980s, or to treat the major al-Qaeda attacks in the 1990s as criminal matters, not acts of terrorism and warfare. It would also be useful to remember that the West took the side of Muslims in Kuwait, Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s, and used force to do so, yet Bosnia and Kosovo were and continue to be recruitment and training centres for Islamic terrorists. If Livingstone were to look at all that has happened since the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, he would see that the terrorists change their spin as frequently and ingeniously as they change their methods, and that Western help for Muslims abroad and weakness on terrorism have hardly diminished the terrorists’ fervour.

Part of fighting terrorism is distinguishing between reasonable reflection on past actions and policies, and the wholesale rejection of past policies and actions, based solely on terrorists’ less-than-trustworthy claims that these are the reasons for their horrific acts. My own suspicion is that if the West is doing things that terrorists say they are angry about, then we are on the right track, not the wrong one.

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