Friday, July 22, 2005

 

Norman Geras and the 'Iraq Blamers'

I was delighted to see, in the Guardian, 21st July, an article by my friend and former colleague, Norman Geras, on apologists for the bombers. The closely argued nature of his article bore the hallmark of his philosophical training and in addition had been edited down from an original piece which appeared in his excellent blog: 'Normblog'. Nice to see serious blogs being taken seriously.

What does he say? He is concerned that so many influential people are seeking to find mitigating factors which explain why the bombers bombed and in so doing risk implying some exoneration. He is keen to emphasise: 'causality is one thing and moral responsibility is another, though the two are related.' Using this as his premise he upbraids those 'apologists' who seek to use their focus on 'causes and explanations' as partisan sticks with which to beat political enemies. Finally he asks why such 'hunters-out of causes' fail to register as a cause the 'fanatical, fundamentalist belief system which teaches hatred and justifies these acts of murder'

Fair enough, I thought, when I read this but then, on reflection, something seemed a bit wrong with the line of reasoning. Did it not, it seemed to me, carry some resonance of those rightwing arguments which I've always felt unsure about? What I mean is those arguments against criminal acts which have been utilised since the days of transportation to condemn perpetrators. These tend to say: 'Never mind about the fact that most criminals come from the needy, impoverished classes, they had a choice between right and wrong in stealing(or whatever), and they chose the latter.' It follows, according to those on the right, that such felons should be punished. Norm recognises that causality and moral responsibility are related but it's the closeness of their relationship which is at the nub of his argument. And it's the nature of the crime committed which is crucial too.

Is it jusifiable for someone to steal to provide for their starving family? I would tend to say yes and can easily imagine myself doing so. Those criminals who were deported to Australia were in many cases guilty of trivial crimes: stealing food or the basics for survival. Significantly, I would say, the development of Australia into a thriving modern country is evidence that if needs are met, wrong behaviour can disappear.

Is it justifiable to kill in pursuit of the same goal? I would say no and cannot imagine ever doing such a thing. But the person who kills- though morally beyond the pale- has a legitimate cause of complaint, it seems to me, if their families are starving. The next question is: do muslims have a legitimate cause of complaint, even if they do not justify mass murder? I would think yes, they do in relation for example, to the Palestine issue and, indeed, Iraq. Now does it follow that meeting muslim demands over such issues will cause the killing in our homelands to diminish or even cease? If yes, then we should seriously consider such matters. If no, then do we have to accept that we face an unreconcilable ideology whose hatred for us is unfathomable and which will always seek to destroy us? Are we in the middle of what Huntingdon called the 'clash of civilisations'? A grim prospect indeed.

I think the 'Iraq Blamers' like Galloway not to mention those columnists in the Guardian, have highlighted a legitimate connection relating to a legitimate grievance the alleviation of which is likely to cause an easing of the danger we face on the tube and on the bus, not just in London, but in Manchester and other big cities. I agree that their grievances do not justify mass murder but would argue that venturing into such dangerous territory in the first place was ill-advised and that withdrawing as soon as is practicable would be well-advised. Also, Norm, weren't some of these Iraq Blamers merely refuting earlier Blair's claim that the bombings had nothing to do with Iraq?

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