Friday, 14 March 2008

On second-guessing the motives of terrorists

The kidnapping and murder of the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, Paulos Faraj Rahho, is a terrible tragedy and one more sign of the sectarian mess that Iraq has become. But this sentence in the BBC News web coverage struck me as odd:

The BBC's Hugh Sykes in Baghdad says centuries of peaceful coexistence between Muslims and the small Christian community in Iraq were shattered by the US-led invasion of 2003.

Sykes' comment, if accurately reported, attempts to create a direct causal relation between the actions of the United States and her allies on the one hand, and the actions of fundamentalist death squads on the other. The next sentence doesn't help matters:

Fundamentalists linked Christians with an occupation force they regarded as 'crusaders', and numerous Christians and their businesses have been attacked, he says.

I did not support the invasion of Iraq at the time, though my objections were strategic (it might make things worse) rather than moral (I sympathised with the humanitarian arguments for toppling a murderous tyrant). And I've been critical elsewhere of aspects of the post-liberation strategy. Certainly, the way the reconstruction of Iraq has been handled has helped to create the conditions in which sectarian terrorism has flourished. 

But to make this kind of direct causal link, second-guessing the motives of terrorists, without apportioning any responsibility to the perpetrators or to their twisted theo-fascist ideology, is to play the tired game of blaming everything that is wrong in the Middle East on the west, at the same time as denying any agency to non-westerners. We act, they react, etc.

It's reminiscent of the newspapers who described fundamentalist mobs who rioted and murdered in the wake of the publication of the Danish cartoons as being 'provoked', and further back, of those who blamed the terror attacks against Jewish Iraqis in the 1940s on the founding of the new state of Israel, rather than the entrenched antisemitism of the attackers.

It's a lazy habit, and one that reputable news organisations should avoid.

There's something similar going on in Robert Fisk's article on suicide bombers in today's' Independent. Here's the closing sentence:

One of George Bush's insidious legacies in Iraq thus remains its most mysterious; the marriage of nationalism and spiritual ferocity, the birth of an unprecedentedly huge army of Muslims inspired by the idea of death.

Again, I hold no brief for Bush, but trying to pin the growth of suicide terrorism on George W is like blaming the architects of the Versailles treaty for the horrors of Nazism. Fisk's analysis completely overlooks the part played by a vicious fundamentalist ideology. As I wrote elsewhere: it's the theology, stupid. 

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