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July 13, 2005

Terror and clear thinking

I've followed a lot of links in the last week that promised to deliver "the best thing I've read on the London bombings" or "the one essay on terrorism I've seen that makes sense." And some of the linked blog posts were pretty good. Most of them were worth the time spent reading them.

But my pal Phil Edwards has actually gone and written the best thing I've read on the London bombings, which also happens to be the one essay on terrorism I've seen that makes sense.


As such, the anti-terrorist message is fundamentally not political. It's true that an act of terror is not like other forms of violence; one of its distinguishing qualities is that of being unforgivable. But it's also true that, like other forms of violence, acts of terror are always meaningful. The act was committed by a certain group, with its own aims and its own history; certain targets were chosen; the effect of the act was to shift the balance of power in particular ways; some causes were furthered and others hindered. In practice, this means that 'unforgivable' is not the end of the story. From London to Madrid to Algiers to Deir Yassin to Fallujah to Srebrenica to the via Fani to Brighton to Omagh to the Milltown Cemetery, we have always to ask (we cannot help asking), unforgivable and... what? Was that particular act unforgivable and irredeemably vile, unforgivable and contemptibly cynical, or unforgivable and horribly mistaken? Might it even, in some circumstances, be unforgivable but tragically constructive?

There is much more there, and some of it will come as surprising anathema to US ears accustomed to Manicheanisms. It's a salutary tonic for those Americans who summon up the (well-intended) bluster to proclaim "We are all Londoners."

You wish, pal. You wish.

[edited to reflect subsequent edits in Phil's essay]

Posted by Chris Clarke at July 13, 2005 08:35 AM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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It should be obvious by now that our responses to terrorism are failing. How much are we willing to live with? It seems to be we have zero tolerance, at least when we are the victims. But we seem to respond with a very big club; the terrorists spend a few bucks on pipes and explosives, we respond with millions of dollars of military might. I wonder, who can keep this up the longest? (Hint: ask the Soviets about their time in Afghanistan.)

In my somewhat uninformed opinion, our behavior got us into this mess, and it can get us out. We have made this a war on Islam, despite what the political heads say. We should reach out to the moderate (and in some cases, fundamentalist) Islamic world and support their efforts to improve their societies. We should treat such folks as equals, with respect for their practices and beliefs. This would undermine the radicals (who curiously enough, think *we* are the evil ones). I wonder, though, if this won't be considered "soft" by the bulk of the American population, who by and large think violent response is the correct response, and who have never met a Muslim of any kind.

Posted by: Robert at July 13, 2005 10:28 AM
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"You wish" indeed. Someone needs to ship Lileks some valium for his "7/7 clarion call." And know, I'm not linking to his Screedblog -- those interested in self-abuse must look for it themselves. ;)

Posted by: teh l4m3 at July 14, 2005 09:55 AM
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