[Part 1 is here.]
I move on to a similar argument from someone else. In an article in the Times shortly after the August arrests, Inayat Bunglawala wrote that blaming British Muslims collectively for the actions of a few is unjust. About this he's obviously right. As I've said on a previous occasion, blame belongs to those responsible for the crimes planned or committed, and to others materially implicated in these, and not collectively to entire communities. But Bunglawala went on to say something whose point is, once again, not so clear. He reminded people that a working group appointed last year by the Home Office, and of which he was the convenor, had 'made it clear that foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, could not be left unconsidered as a factor in the motivations of extremists. We believed it was a key contributory factor' - it 'contributed to undermining our national security and making the terrorist threat worse'. (The same thing is repeated here.)
OK, it's that causal connection again: foreign policy as 'key contributory factor' in fostering terrorism. But what is the writer's persuasive intent in invoking it? Not excuse-making; it isn't meant to condone. Bunglawala:
This should not be misinterpreted as an apologia for terrorism. It cannot be said enough that there can never be any justification for the deliberate killing of civilians. However, the Government needs to acknowledge that extremist groups have taken advantage of Britain's role in the wars against Afghanistan [!] and Iraq and Washington's longstanding blind support for Israel as an opportunity to recruit more Muslims into their ranks.You'll find the same combination in the much publicized letter to Tony Blair from Muslim leaders: 'Attacking civilians is never justified'; but British foreign policy provides 'ammunition to extremists who threaten us all'.
If terrorism motivated by anger over British foreign policy isn't - ever - justified, should the government in some way yield to this anger nonetheless? What exactly, to put it otherwise, is Inayat Bunglawala asking for in asking that the government 'acknowledge' the causal influence of foreign policy on murderous anger, and in emphasizing that it should not be 'left unconsidered'? One has to presume that this isn't merely a demand for a thought process to occur or for some sort of acknowledging public statement. It's an argument for a change of policy.
It is, however, unthinkable that those making the argument would favour policy changes in response to every case of alienation or anger. To go back to an example I gave after the London bombings last year:
On account of the present situation in Zimbabwe, the government decides to halt all scheduled deportations of Zimbabweans who have been denied the right to remain in the UK. Some BNP thugs are made angry by this decision and they take out their anger by beating up a passer-by who happens to be an African immigrant.Should government policy be changed because of such anger? Of course not - neither David Clark nor Inayat Bunglawala could possibly think so. It might be said, though:
Ah, but the BNP's anger would be misplaced, because that policy of halting deportations is sound. It's righteous anger that provides the reason for a change of policy, and the anger over Iraq is fully justified. [And over Afghanistan? Who to follow here, Clark or Bunglawala? Never mind, hey.]But this principle also won't do, and I don't believe that those insisting, for reasons we're still trying to get clear about, on the causal nexus between foreign policy and terrorist motivation would be able to endorse it in generalized form.
Thus: if terrorist bombings arouse anger within the British public at large, then according to the above-quoted affirmations that the deliberate killing of civilians is never justified, this anger will be righteous anger. Should any of it become the basis of hostile or prejudicial acts directed at innocent people assumed, merely because of their colour or religion, to bear a share of the responsibility for the bombings, it is hard to think we would be hearing calls for this anger not to be 'left unconsidered' in the determination of policy regarding the protection of citizens against hate crimes, discrimination and so forth.
Anger is not a good reason, though the reasons for anger can sometimes be good ones. When they are, it is those reasons that should be brought forward in public argument.
A final point. It can happen in extremis that people will urge others against what is, on their own reckoning, a just course of action, merely because the costs of it are prohibitive. I have in mind here that in the Jewish ghettos in Nazi-occupied Poland, parents sometimes pleaded with their adult children who had joined the Jewish resistance not to stage an attack on the Germans, because of the savage punitive response it would certainly provoke. This was a case of appeasing those with immensely superior force at their disposal and who held an unlimited power of life and death over the captive community.
That is nothing like the position in which the Western democracies today stand to those who threaten terror against their citizens. Given this, and given that the foreign policy of any country should be shaped according to general considerations determining rightness and wrongness, and given that the anger of some particular group within the country in question is not in itself a good reason in determining policy, it is hard to see what the purpose is of those who now direct our attention to the anger of the angry. It is not, they insist, to condone; and I don't think they'd allow that it's to appease.
Update on September 1: see now this short follow-up.