Sunday, July 10, 2005

Question On Terrorism

“This was not a terrorist attack against the mighty and the powerful. It was not aimed at presidents or prime ministers. It was aimed at ordinary working-class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Jew, young and old. Indiscriminate slaughter irrespective of any consideration for age, class, religion, whatever. That isn't an ideology. It isn't even a perverted faith. It is just an indiscriminate attempt at mass murder.” – Ken Livingston, Lord Mayor Of London (BBC).

In a comment, Kathryn raised a question that should be more widely discussed: ‘What principle in the world is worth the costs of an act of terrorism?’.

I put it to the world.


Cooly McCool said...

resistance to a colonialistic ideology. I don't want to seem all unsympathetic, because I am, sympathetic that is. But Tony Blair really has been playing Rule Britania. I honestly believe there are a dozen or so characters in this world who should be seen for war crimes. But we do have a long history of it -Britain and America, were new, but english by diffult and so americans. France recanted and have kept their hands clean. The west has been playing divide and rule there a long time.

What I do object to in that statement is a) the lack of introspection of it. It is a bit cliche'd but it really is a case of looking in the mirror and you find the terrorist is actually you. It scares me that history, or memory of your own actions, a way of seeing from others perspective pervade society. and b) the way it is making as broad a generalization of islam as being represented despite the same array of muslims as there are christians. Most christians wouldn't want to be remembered by the inquisition, or paedophilia.

I agree its indiscriminate, and I do admit I am inherently very cynical about these things, but this speech stinks abit of a wolf dressed in lambs clothing, a nasty ideology hiding under the guise of humanity.

Ok Rose, pete, Kathryn and Ming, let me have it.

Cooly McCool said...

Sorry, the line in second paragraphy should read '...It scares me that an absence of history, blah' sorry, but that might have confused.

MH said...

Just to clarify - are you claiming that some principle of resistance to colonialistic ideology is worth the cost of an act of terrorism. And that this expense is justified by history, and the costs history has extracted from those subjected to that ideology.

Samuel Douglas said...

Truth, Justice and The American Way.
Now there are some values worth blowing smething up for!

Actually that was both sarcastic and offensive, but that's me all over isn't it.

I agree to some extent with Rowan. We get so caught up in seeing certain people as the other, that we never think of how they see themselves (which is more important than how they see us).

But I am cautious in the same way that Martin advocates. I am not sure what justifies these sorts of actions. I have a particular problem with people who make use of human suffereing either as a political tool, or for personal gratification. But it is plausible to suggest that there are times when such actions could be justified. That is why I scoff when certain leaders make statements to the effect that 'terrorism is never justified'. Unpack the words a bit and look at the actual events unfolding. It was not so long ago that Britain and her allies used indiscriminate bombing of civilian populations as a strategy in conflict. Google 'Dresden' if you don't know what I'm talking about. I guess the question I would want to ask about WW2 might be: What price would the allies have considered too high when it came to defeating the Nazi threat? Would we have resorted to what we now call 'terrorism' to 'liberate' Europe from the Nazis? Of course we would. I think it would be implausible to suggest otherwise.

In light of this it seems that we could be forced to admit that some ends justify such brutal means.
But what principles can be defended in this way? Would it be irrational to, for example defend democracy in a way that fundamentally erodes peoples democratic rights? I suspect so. I'm not sure where to go from there. I can't say that nothing 'is worth the cost' of terrorism, but I'm not sure what is.

MH said...

I have just been writting on Kant's 'Practical Imperative' - as part of my thesis - which states that persons should never be used only as means, but must always be considered as ends. This is the point that I keep hitting my head against: the 'outrages' (to take a term from Joseph Conrad's 'The Secret Agent') of terrorism, where individuals are injured, treat these individuals as means, and I just don't think that their ends can justify this. (As an aside, I feel the same way regarding both the Blitz and Dresden). If Cooly's position is the one I have previously formulated, then I am going to have to disagree with it for this very reason. I doubt that it is possible to justify the harming of individuals as part of a terrorist action for any principle.

[At this time, I feel like I need to spend a little more time thrashing out this position more clearly.]

Cooly McCool said...

I don't see the cost as justified, but sadly they did not set the precedent (and no, september 11 was not the 1st blow).

Just of interest, Taariq Ali in SMH
(He wrote a book called 'clash of fundamentalisms', which is very condemning of both sides and sees what is going on as being the 1200 year old conflict of christendom vs. islam. Its very good, same kind of leage as Edward Said.)

Anyway, as much as I like to think people should not be treated as means, when a war is fought that is exactly what occurs to both sides involved - indivuals get subsumed under the rhetoric of the state etc. I just can't label 'acts of terrorism' anything other than moves in a war. We can't maintain that that there wepononry (terrorism) is more morally bankrupt than our own. By dwelling on the rhetoric of 'lives lost' we villify and dehumanize all of the islamic community, while seizing some exalted moral position for ourselves. Don't confuse this with me saying that the deaths are acceptable - they are not. What I am concerned with is our inability to properly address the problem, and that can only be done by ceasing to privalege our position. Are we giving each westerner's life the value of 5000 muslim's? Like I said, I'm wary of this as a faulty case of humanity - it can be sold appearing to appeal to our higher capacities, but it will simply reinforce and propagate hatred and inhumanity.

We shouldn't be asking 'what ideology is worth this?' and instead 'is our ideology worth it?' I say no it isn't.

Cooly McCool said...

Sorry, that address was:

Pete said...

Cooly, Cooly, Cooly....

You seem so certain that I'm gonna fly off the handle at you over this....

Yet for once you and I are pretty much in agreement. I don't really want to ever have to advocate an act like this and certainly in this particular situation it is damn hard, if not impossible, to do so. But I agree with most all that you've said. And Sam is also on the mark by flagging the tricky nature of these events. I feel that it is definatley possible to justify these types of actions at times. I seriously don't think I'm capable of saying much of value on these latest events (something about me being one of the ones in the "them & us" equation that clouds my perspective) but having done a little reading on the Chechnyan situation I can and do sympathise with thier modus operandi, no matter how unpopular that may make me.

Anonymous said...

Terror attack against the West were going on before 9/11, before 7/7--they are aimed at things Western, secular, democratic...if you think otherwise, look at Islam in theFar East. Now look at the fundies of Islam (now radicalized) in Caspian Sea area...stop beating your chest with the mea culpa thing. Imagine this scene: your teen age daughter visiting England or the US is blown up by terrorists..this is ok cause foreign policy wrong?

Samuel Douglas said...

Oh really Anonymous, do put some effort into understanding what we are saying here.

Imagine that you are an Iraqi, and that your teenage daughter was killed, (though maybe inadvertantly) by Coalition forces. This is OK because because most of Saddam Hussein's policies were wrong?

It is abhorrent to value the life of one daughter more than the other. No "they" shouldn't have blown up people in London. But there are lots of things we should not have done either. Instead of pointing out what the other side has done wrong, we need to pay serious attention to the responsibility we,( and our elected representatives), have to take for what has happened.

I want to say that even conventional military action should be the absolute last resort, only to be used when every other possible avenue has been exhausted. My negative opinion of 'terorist' tactics is even stronger again. I am simply trying to understand thier point of view (and for the most part failing).

Sadly too much comes down to perspective and who gets to write history.

Rosie said...

Cooly, I think you've mostly got it. For me, in a nutshell- nothing can justify actions like this, however the main problems of an act of terror such as this come from the rhetoric afterwards and the ideas of retribution. It is not hippy crap that hate begets hate. It is simply very logical. Similarly, surely it is obvious that we are each playing our own sides of this farce, and really experiece pretty much the same things. It is atrocious for anyone to lose a loved one, be they british, american, afghani or iraqi. Retribution does not work. Arrogant rhetoric only polarises. This will escalate until someone can rise above the need for revenge, and for once look at the roots of a problem instead of responding heatedly and innapropraitely.

nyrhtak said...

would you engage in acts of terror for your freedom or the freedom of those you love?
i would

Pete said...

wow, it almost seems like all of us Newc U. Phil clubbers are actually in agreement for once.

MH said...

Is the point of agreement that acts of terrorism according a principle of resisting colonial ideologies are justified by the long history of the 'West' violently repressing those places and peoples it has colonised (qua subjagated)?

This seems to be the position that is - to varying degrees - being advocated. And, to disrupt Peter's utopian vision of accord, one that I dissent from. If it isn't, would one of you be nice enough to set aside the rhetorical posturing (which is where I am getting lost), and set out the position so that I might be able to consider it in the light of the original question.

Pete said...

Alright I'll stand corrected. I should have said 'most', not 'all'.

But I'm afraid that the rhetorical posturing may be here to stay Martin. It's not that we're trying to provide an answer to the original question, more that we are trying to question why you are asking it...

See the problem is this, why did you put this post up and ask this question about the London bombings? Why did you make the previous editorial comments about them? But consider for a second, how many people died in London because of those bombs? And on the same day how many people died due to political-related violence in South America? How many in Africa? How many in Chechnya?

Our problem here is not that we aren't sympathetic for the people of London, because we are. But we are also sympathetic for the rest of the people around the globe who are also going through this kind of thing. Put this discussion into perspective against this type of backdrop and it turns out that the London victims are vastly outnumbered....

Yet why does this type of discussion only get raised after some westerners die?

Matt said...

Would it be terrorism at all if the target wasn't civilians? Isn't this the very definition of terrorism?

There will be no "end" to terrorism (ironically of course, just as there can be no politically successful conclusion to Bush's endless war), only degrees of stability. Isn't that the price one pays for democracy (whether liberal or socialist)? The price of vulnerability, in a fundamental sense, that one MUST pay?

Samuel Douglas said...

Excuse me, did I say that I agreed that:
"acts of terrorism according a principle of resisting colonial ideologies are justified by the long history of the 'West' violently repressing those places and peoples it has colonised (qua subjagated)?"

I think not. My position justifies nothing. All I was trying to say was
1. Nothing, for me, justifies these actions, but we shouldn't be surprised when they happen, and we should look at our own part in their coming about.

2. If it is not ok that terrorist activities occur which effect people in western countries, then it is not ok anywhere.

3. In order to reasonably be able to back up No 2. we need to take a long hard look at our actions that could be interpreted by people 'on the other side of the fence', as it were as terrorist actions against them. Some of their interpretations of our actions will turn out to be reasonable under the circumstances, some will not.

In relation to the original question, I guess I would say that nothing 'is worth the costs of an act of terrorism', but that has not ever stopped it from happening. In fact it is precieely becase the price is so high that these actions/strategies are deployed. Nothing gets the attention of people and their politicians like huge number of civilian casualties.

MH said...

Peter (and those he speaks for) – I will make you a deal; I will answer why I am asking the question at this particular time, if you return focus to the original question.

In a sense, my interest in terrorism is rather personal. At the time of my initial posts on the subject I was scribbling a series of e-mails to the half-dozen friends who could easily have been caught up in the events. But my interest in this particular incident follows on from my interest in the subject of terrorism on a much broader scale (so in response to your question Peter, based on last years figures on terrorism [which are the most recent I have available (and which I haven’t checked against 2003)], I would estimate that .6 of a person in Africa, 1.5 people in Russia (primarily because of the 331 who died in the school siege), and 9 people in South America will die on any given day, alongside 2.3 Nepali at the hands of Maoists – so, depending on how you look at the figures, it is quite possible that more people did die in London).

As to why I asked this question at this time, it is part of my function as Editor to keep the discussion here topical. When a question emerges, that I feel needs to be discussed, I put it forward. The form of this particular question arose in relation to one of the other posts, and believing that it deserved a wider forum I put it forward. I would like to point out that this is not the first time I have raised a question relating to terrorism, though at that time no one was willing to engage in a discussion (and the question on hostages become a discussion of foreign policy). So another question that I have for you, Peter, is why you are willing to discuss terrorism now when a couple of months ago you weren’t prepared to do so? And don’t say that the question wasn’t there – it has existed since to varying extents since the Crusades – and you are able post on it.

Why does the question only seem to arise when ‘Westerners’ are killed? Probably because we are located in a predominately western discourse (not to mention ideology), where the background noise of international terrorism is drowned out by larger-scale global needs (need I mention ‘Make Poverty History’?), natural disasters, revolts et cetera. It is easier to filter out terrorism – which for the most part is Latin American drug lords killing people, and Central Africans taking hostages (according to 2001 figures) – because we can say that they bring it on themselves. We can put it down to the fact that violence is part of the world that we live in, and since it does not directly affect us, it can be ignored. I do not want to justify this excuse – it is inexcusable – but that is simply how many people think about things. It really is only when things jump out that people are prepared to pay attention.

I hope that I have addressed the issues that you have felt need to be addressed. I am still fascinated as to how (any of) you can justify one form of violence in the face of another, and develop a case for the position I am taking you to be advocating.

Post Script – Samuel has put forward his case in the time that it has taken me to write the proceeding. I would like to thank him for clarifying his position. I think that his second point is correct. I also agree that whilst there is nothing that can justify the cost of terrorism is has been deployed regardless, due to the cost that it does impose. I apologise for misconstruing his statements.

Cooly McCool said...

You must address the causes of terrorism. And those causes are 'foreign policy'. As to a description of terrorism, I have already provided the American military description under the hostage taking post, and it relates to, oddly enough, foreign policy. Likewise, I have also said, and stand by the description that terrorism is the weaponry of the desperate. Quite simply, it doesn't happen unless provoked. Its justification does not come from 'reason' as in a Kantian principle, but instead from a principle of resistance (which may be justified by reason I guess). Its justification is therefore historical and not meta-ethical. It is thus pointless to talk about the ethics of any given terrorist act without considering the historical/political environment that produced it. It is also reasonable to consider it as part of a strategy. As terrorism tends to be labelled as such by the dominant actor politically, then I suggest we use the american description and apply it indiscriminately to all. Also that we consider the historical factors that have produced 'terrorism' (i.e. why are we being targetted?) as well as asking: what is the purpose of terrorist acts? What strategy are they a part of?

I can't justify war Martin, but it can justify all sorts of attrocities, which may be sad, but for what end are they deployed? Resistance is easy to justify.

I should say that if you want to have a discussion on terrorism, then I would suggest we look at concepts of 'the other' with particular focus on Said's 'Orientalism'. We should look at the western discourse which we find ourselves in, and look at our construction of the east - the creation of the concept of the terrorist, the infidel, the arab, etc. The terms with which we work are baggage laden, and mostly come from our imaginations made concrete in some capacity.

Finally, I will ask for a justification of liberal democracy, human rights and freedom as being a privaleged 'ideology' that may be used as justification for contravening themselves.

Samuel Douglas said...

Cooly McCool comes out swinging, alright!
That's more like it. You should get that worked up more often. I think we are saying things that are not dissimilar in content, just in how we put them forward. For me justification is not the important issue, simply becasue it is not, and has never been about that. Study of the conditions; social, historical, technological, ideological and economic factors that allow these things to happen, this is the key to stopping, or at least minimising it, not stomping around the desert with a big gun demanding that people "respect ma authoritai".

I am intersted in what the factors/conditions/etc are that allow 'terrorism' to happen. What worries me is that some factions/groups/parties will cite certain social factors such as liberalism (I use the word in the American sense) and associated phenomena such as 'freedom' of communication, association and the right to express ones political views in public as things that contributed to the terrorist threat. It will of course be a complete coincidence that that these groups already disagree with most things liberal( unless they involve a lot of money) and have a vested interest in maintaining a certain situation with regard to who is elected, for example, or the world price of oil.
Even the kind of analyisis Cooly advocates can be misused if diversity of opinion is stifled.

Post Script: Biometric Identity Card Anyone? Minister Vandstone seemed quite taken with the idea this morning on the Sunrise (or was it the other one, dosen't matter, they showed the interview on both).

Pete said...

Martin you are an arrogant little turd.

On the 7/7/05, 0.6 Africans did not die.

If you can't figure out whats wrong with your pissant little display of statistics and your method of sampling then I'm not even going to bother wasting my time with you.

Pete said...

btw I'd also like to add a 'Cheers for cooly'

Lets see more of that!

Samuel Douglas said...

Yay! Monday is going to be great.

Anonymous said...

dialectically, it is rather simple to see that both the western militaristic powers in the conflict, mainly the US and the UK, and the opponents the terrorists, are actually in agreement regarding methodology. Both sides apparently agree that zero sum troubleshooting, bombs as problem solving devices, is an effective solution.

Naturally, both sides try to argue that somehow 'Joe innocent' is less harmed when the bomb was dropped in good faith rather than diabolical plot. Objectively, the same amount of problems occur regardless if the bomb was in 'good faith' (Bombing Iraq to solve problems of terrorism) or diabolical (London plot).

Bombs as problem solving devices are irrational across the board, it is only when we get caught up in our language that certain events seem to trigger discussion more than others.

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Global Dialectic for the Internet