The London attack: context vs. apologia —again
Here we go again. Following the 2005 London Underground bombings, we had to call out the depressingly polarized media reactions—voices on the anti-war left making the point that such attacks are a reaction to the counter-productive "war on terrorism," and voices from the right or fashionable post-left urging that militant Islamism is a totalitarian threat. All these years later, the slaying of an off-duty soldier on the streets of London by two young men who apparently spewed much extremoid jihadist verbiage elicits precisely the same reaction—as if these two theses were mutually exclusive. The choice of target this time—a soldier—should dampen the usual chorus that such attacks aren't about "foreign policy," as if the anger that animates Islamist militancy were merely arbitrary. But the voices that emphasize imperialist wars as the context for such attacks are often equally problematic—offering little and lukewarm recognition, if any, of the deeply reactionary nature of contemporary jihadism, and sometimes bordering on actual apologia for the attacks. Two depressing cases in point...
Lindsey German of the UK's Stop the War Coalition makes the obvious points about political context in a commentary on Green Left Weekly, "Lessons from Woolwich horror are clear"—but concludes with a sanctimonious and point-missing resort to told-you-so:
In the end, there has to be a political solution to terrorism. But it can only start with recognition of the disastrous effect of Western foreign policy in the Middle East and South Asia for decades, exacerbated by the consequences of 12 years of wars.
That means acknowledging that those of us who said these wars were not the answer and would make things worse were absolutely right.
A "political solution" to terrorism? What might that look like, exactly? Placid negotiations with people who blow up Shi'ite mosques or cut off the hands of those who steal bread, as in northern Mali when the jihadists recently had control there? Even accepting the media label of the problem as "terrorism"—rather than political Islam—keeps the focus on the West. As we have repeatedly argued, the jihad against the West is of secondary importance for such militants—after the struggle within Islam between secularism and fundamentalism. But German (who sloppily conflates the Libya and Mali interventions with those in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite very different dynamics) seems incapable of recognizing any threat to the peoples of the Greater Middle East (or "Islamic world," or whatever you want to call it) other than Western imperialism. She cannot grasp that the region is caught between two poles of terrorism—that of imperialism and that of political Islam.
Neither, it seems, can James Bloodworth in The Independent, who beseeches, "It's about time the left spoke out against religious fanaticism." And we agree that it is indeed—which makes it all the more frustrating that Bloodworth starts out by dismissing the notion of political context:
[D]enunciations of the crime have been book-ended with murmurings about British foreign policy.
As Ken Livingstone put it in an interview with Russia Today last week: "If you invade other people’s countries, there will be a comeback".
In other words, in order to be politically intelligible, the beheading of a British soldier in broad daylight in our own capital city must be framed in terms of what 'we' did to provoke it.
If this sounds to you like masochism that's because it is. As the French philosopher Pascal Bruckner has noted, when asked who is to blame for some particularly egregious atrocity or violation of human rights, the Western liberal's response is increasingly reducible to two short words: "we are".
Does recognizing the danger of religious fanaticism preclude any discussion of the grievances it exploits?
Similarly, Britain's left-wing press, like The Independent, aggressively report on the ugly xenophobic backlash following the Woolwich murder—the attacks on London-area mosques and mobilizations by the fascistic English Defence League. (The Woolwich attackers were apparently Biritsh citizens of Nigerian descent.) The right-wing press, like The Express, make much of the defacement of London's Bomber Command Memorial with the word "Islam" spray-painted in big red letters. The outrage is almost exclusively selective.
We don't expect nimrods like the EDL to understand that they and the jihadists they ostensibly oppose are birds of a feather. But why don't "progressives" get it?
We are really tired of having to make the same point over and over.