Friday, July 08, 2005

On the London bombings and terrorism

As everyone else, I am shocked and saddened by what happened in London yesterday. My wife came in at about 5:30 am and woke me up with details and we listened to the BBC radio news as events unfolded.

This seems especially heinous, given what was anticipated as a great week end for news of assistance for African nations coming from the G8.

AKMA serves as my mouthpiece for my feelings in this case.

Andy calls our attention to a commentary by Robin Cook in today's Guardian. He -- Robin, not Andy -- writes, in part,

So long as the struggle against terrorism is conceived as a war that can be won by military means, it is doomed to fail. The more the west emphasises confrontation, the more it silences moderate voices in the Muslim world who want to speak up for cooperation.
Thunder posted a helpful consideration of American rhetoric in response to the bombings in London yesterday. He wrote in part,
George Bush stated that terrorists have evil in their hearts. That to me is a succinct statement about how he understands terrorism. Terrorists are evil, essentially living bogeyman. Terrorism can only be solved by destroying evil, thus the US response to terrorism is largely done through its military.
Along those same lines, it struck me yesterday that the terrorists don't recognize the humanity of their targets (or submerge that to some other end, such as seeing them for symbols of their own (the terrorists') oppression). The dead and wounded are not persons but symbols.

It also struck me that the kind of rhetoric that Bush and much of America uses does exactly the same thing. They are evil. They hate our freedom. These sorts of statements are simpleminded caricatures. When someone just is unambiguously evil -- beyond reason, beyond reconciliation, beyond humanity, little more than a beast -- what can you do but destroy them? And so the cycle continues.

(One can imagine how a group of people who not only thought of another as evil, but themselves as straightforwardly good, yet doomed to agonistic struggle, would easily take up the gauntlet and continue this cycle.)

I'm not even sure I can say that it is two sides of the same coin -- it's closer even than that. Rhetorically, it is simply the same.

Lord have mercy.


Blogger Alastair said...

Stanley Hauerwas well observes that, by speaking of a 'war' on terror, Bush gave Bin Laden exactly what he wanted: he became a warrior, rather than a criminal. Using our language with precision at such a time is such an important thing.

Besides, I can't help feel appalled by the hypocrisy of Western leaders who speak of a war on terrorism, when they are so compromised themselves. I wonder how many will remember such history as this now that Ken Livingstone (the Mayor of London) has spoken so powerfully in response to the bombings. We should also not forget that he entertained IRA leaders while they were still engaged in blowing us up.

American leaders' response to the death of Yasser Arafat and the large support for the IRA that has traditionally come from America makes me wonder whether amidst all of these recent tragedies we should not see some chickens coming home to roost.

Friday, July 08, 2005 7:21:00 PM  
Blogger Gaunilo said...

True thoughts, Jason. Of course, governments with a war to legitmate have always trafficked in a binary language: good vs. evil (with the necessary concomitant, the dehumanization of the Other). What's new, however, is that such rhetoric plays directly into the hands of the opponent. The more Bush speaks such a reductionistic language of good and evil, the more Islamists can portray their cause as precisely the same thing - with the sides reversed. And as you say, the conflict is thereby locked into a "bad infinite" of endlessly recurring cycles of violence. Reprisal and counter-reprisal. They've been doing this in Israel for a loooong time - and it doesn't work.

Blair, while supporting Bush's "war on terror", has always been much more moderate, and the reaction in Britain seems to be much more level-headed so far. Here's hoping they are able to handle this tragedy better than we did ours.

Friday, July 08, 2005 9:40:00 PM  

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