Deliberately distorting arguments about the causes of terrorism

Although Tony Blair is mercifully gone from the British parliament, his toxic legacy still remains, both in terms of the mess that he helped create in the Middle East by his enthusiastic and dishonest support of the Bush administration’s illegal invasion of Iraq and because many of the Members of Parliament that he brought in still remain and are undermining current leader Jeremy Corbyn’s attempts to forge a more progressive agenda for the Labour Party.

Corbyn fired Pat McFadden, a Blairite stooge, from his shadow cabinet because he implied that Corbyn was soft on terrorism, and as a result three more members of the shadow cabinet resigned, with perhaps another on the way.

Glenn Greenwald discusses how people like McFadden shamelessly distort the position of Corbyn and others about the causes of the attacks in the west and how the media aids in their efforts.

They insist that those who posit a causal link between endless Western violence in the Muslim world and return violence aimed at the West are “infantilizing the terrorists and treating them like children” by suggesting that terrorists lack autonomy and the capacity for choice, and are forced by the West to engage in terrorism. They bizarrely claim — as McFadden did before being fired — that to recognize this causal link is to deny that terrorists have agency and to instead believe that their actions are controlled by the West. One hears this claim constantly.

The claim is absurd: a total reversal of reality and a deliberate distortion of the argument. That some Muslims attack the West in retaliation for Western violence (and external imposition of tyranny) aimed at Muslims is so well-established that it’s barely debatable. Even the 2004 task force report commissioned by the Rumsfeld Pentagon on the causes of terrorism decisively concluded this was the case

There’s a reason the U.S. and NATO countries are the targets of this type of violence but South Korea, Brazil, and Mexico are not. Terrorists don’t place pieces of paper with the names of the world’s countries in a hat and then randomly pick one out and then attack that one. Only pure self-delusion could lead one to deny that Spain and the U.K.’s participation in the 2003 invasion of Iraq played no causal role in the 2004 train bombing in Madrid and 2005 bombing in London.

Obviously, none of this is to say that Western interference in that part of the world is the only cause of anti-Western “terrorism,” nor is it to say that it’s the principal cause in every case, nor is to deny that religious extremism plays some role. Most people need some type of fervor to be willing to risk their lives and kill other people: it can be nationalism, xenophobia, societal pressures, hatred of religion, or religious convictions. But typically, such dogmatic fervor is necessary but not sufficient to commit such violence; one still needs a cause for the targets one selects.

It’s understandable that self-loving tribalistic Westerners want to completely absolve themselves and their own violent societies of having any role in the terrorist violence they love to denounce. That’s the nature of the tribalistic instinct in humans: my tribe is not at fault; it’s the other tribe to which we’re superior that is to blame. But blatantly distorting the debate this way — by ludicrously depicting recognition of this decision-making process and causal chain as a denial of agency or autonomy — is not an acceptable (or effective) way to achieve that.


  1. lorn says

    For people wishing to do violence, excuses are never hard to come by. Why limit the reasoning to any particular time and place? You might as well suggest that it was the Reconquista that booted the Muslim out of Spain that did it. History doesn’t work that way, not outside kids books. Those are all just excuses to fill a gap where any excuse will work.

    It is always politicians who are trying to jump into history, remain relevant , look confident and in control, and offer up a semi-coherent story line that both makes them look good and flatters their select constituencies.

    The bottom line is always the same. Someone wants power and seeks to keep and/or expand the power they have. Blair attacked because to do otherwise would seem incongruous with his previous stance. A good part of his party and power base were pushing for it.

    While riding the tiger one has to hold on and try to look like one is in control. Of course nobody controls history. The best manage by figuring out where history is going and faining control by loudly ordering the tiger to go there.

    The Muslim suicide bombers were wound up by an Islamic leader who was operating under the same imperatives. Blowing up random strangers who had no direct connection with, or contribution to, the suffering of your selected constituency, otherwise framed as ‘striking a blow for justice’, is always a grand way of building a political career. Doing something entirely meaningless and destructive while framing it to make it seem meaningful is always a good move in a world where people are hungry for meaning and are attracted to people who seem confident and effective. This is Leadership 101.

    In the end, there are people with more of less power, but even the most powerful have shockingly little control. The tiger runs and they hang on and try to look important.

    Could Tony Blair avoid going into Iraq? Given the options apparent, his prior history, and the pressure he was under, I doubt it. His only real options involved how deeply he would be involved and how he would frame it.

    This is how history works. Keep that in mind when promoting politicians. You are always going to be disappointed. No matter how perfect your candidate the fact is that once in office they have to ride the tiger of history and face far more narrow options than blank-slate assumptions might suggest.

  2. says

    I commend this article in trying to make people think more deeply about the real causes of terrorism.

    I don’t agree with the previous comment which appears to put sideline this discussion as mere ‘excuses’.

    To solve a problem between two sides one must discuss and investigate both to come to a conclusion and not sideline either one of the sides.

    I believe this shallow thinking has only been fostered by governments and their media tools to make people in the west fear the unknown and not engage in discussions like this thus allowing their governments to continue their poisonous foreign policy.

    Ive created a comparison of reactions to the recent Belgium attacks between arab and british news outlets which demonstrate this point:

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