Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Attributing causes to Terrorism

Causation is a complicated matter. One event can have multiple causes and the causes can be of different types. Attributing causes to terrorism is often a matter of one's sympathy with the terrorist. The most sympathetic cause one can attribute to a terror attack is what the terrorist himself says made him angry or what the terrorist himself says he is fighting. Hence the Norwegian ambassador to Israel, as reported by JTA and noted by many bloggers, recently commented, "We Norwegians consider the occupation to be the cause of the terror against Israel."

A somewhat less sympathetic attribution of causes sees incitement or recruitment by other terrorists or extremists as causing terror attacks. I won't elaborate here because those notions of causality are receiving a lot of attention lately.

The least sympathetic attribution of causes sees the terror as resulting from the immorality of the terrorist, his willingness to murder to achieve political ends. In a very confused piece, Simon Jenkins of the Guardian writes:
The Norwegian tragedy is just that, a tragedy. It does not signify anything and should not be forced to do so. A man so insane he can see nothing wrong in shooting dead 68 young people in cold blood is so exceptional as to be of interest to criminology and brain science, but not to politics. [...]

Terrorism is a specific and rational political form: the use of violence to achieve a multiplier of fear through a civilian population to a particular end. Visiting "shock and awe" by bombing Baghdad in 2003 was terrorism, as were the bombs on the London Underground. Killing Norwegian teenagers (not Muslims) to express some vague hatred for society is not. It is merely deranged. [...]
Jenkins appears to be so used to the mindset of "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter," the mindset that goes with the assertion that Hamas must use suicide belts and Qassam rockets because they do not have "F-15's and Apache helicopters," that he cannot bring himself to see even an ultra-right terrorist as an example of fairly common type of politically-motivated criminal. And Neo-Nazi groups do organize in cells and nurture fantasies of committing terror-attacks. Jenkins writes:
No, Anders Breivik does not tell us anything about Norway. No, he does not tell us anything about "the state of modern society". He tells us nothing about terrorism or gun control or policing or political holiday camps. His avowal of fascism could as well have been of communism or Islamism or anarchism . . .
Anarchists in the early 20th century attacked crowds of ordinary people with bombs. It would be interesting to see Jenkins explain further what he thinks makes Breivak exceptional. The youth of his victims? The Taliban just strangled an 8-year-old boy. The left needs to stop making excuses for terrorism. If an ultra-right terror attack won't convince them of that, what will?


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