Friday, June 22, 2007


This is the second in a series of posts inspired by Salman Rushdie. For the previous one, see here. The next one is here.

The clerical fascists of Pakistan and Iran, and their supporters in the UK like Lord Ahmed, have spoken of Rushdie (or, in this case, the British state for honouring him) provoking Muslim anger, even violent anger, including suicide bombings. I didn’t think that many people here would treat that notion with anything but contempt, until I read discarded copies of Wednesday’s Times and Independent on the train today, and saw lots of letters from people with very British names, including relatives of British soldiers serving in Iraq, expressing exactly that view.

The idea of provocation has been expressed many times by western leftists and liberals. The idea that 9/11 was an example of “chickens coming home to roost” or that 7/7 was “blowback” for Iraq are variations on this theme.

A similar logic is at work in the claim that “we” (the West) are responsible for the tens of thousands, or indeed (if you accept the rather contentious Lancet methodology) hundreds of thousands (or even, if you have Lenny Lenin’s “dialectical” grasp of maths, “nearly a million”) deaths in Iraq. Clearly, the Coalition is directly responsible for many deaths in Iraq – insurgent combatants, but also far, far too many civilians killed as a result of criminally stupid blunders, tactical errors, excessive uses of force, mindless displays of muscle. But, the argument goes, “we” are also responsible for those killed by the insurgents and the sectarian gangs and the Al-Qaeda operatives and so on, because we removed Saddam, or simply because we are there.

These claims about provocation and responsibility say something about agency. Specifically, they say that “we” (the West, white folk) have agency – and “they” (the Muslims, the brown folk) don’t. “We” rationally calculate our actions – they simply respond mindlessly. This view is profoundly racist; it infantilises Muslims. It is time “we” gave Muslims enough respect as to hold them morally to account for their actions.

Trackback: Judeopundit, including other links on the same subject.


Will said...

The Islamist and strasserite Lenny the Loon at Stalin's Tombola is on record as denying the validity of dialectics and application to the historical process. Thus is Historical Materialism cast out in favour of idealist Volkstheorie - or a sperm theory of history.

Incognito said...

How do you hold a people/religion morally accountable, Bob, when they have no morals or conscience, because their religion states that it's okay to kill others who do not subscribe to their religious doctrine?

Renegade Eye said...

I don't support what some call the Iraqi resistance. There is nothing progressive about the Islamists or warlords.

You have the US arming both sides now. I think they also lost moral standing.

I haven't heard a credible alternative to "The Lancet" article. Bush used a number like 50,000.

bob said...


I put dialectics in scare quotes because I think that the "anti-imperialist" late-Leninist politics of Stop the War etc is the completely undialectical non-Marxist thinking


People need to be held to account whatever their teaching. I believe that human moral capacity exceeds the straitjackets imposed by ideology and religion.

Credible alternatives to Lancet:

The UN, the Iraqi health ministry and Iraq Body Count, using radically different methodologies, have come to very similar counts. These counts are certainly "conservative" - as they are based on officially reported death (reported to the Iraqi mortuaries etc or reported by the media) and thus miss the unreported individual deaths of people beyond the reach of the authorities. Their counts are roughly a tenth of the Lancet count, though. Lancet is almost certainly a "liberal" estimate, as it is open to the possiblity of deaths being reported multiply (as the methodology assumes a Western-style nuclear household with one family per home and no extended families across homes). Lancet's methodology also allows for unusual local conditions to be skew the count radically, and appears to have been subject to numerous inaccuracies.

Whatever count is most credible, the number is obscene and unacceptable. The number the West is responsible for is outrageous. But the "resistance" has long ago started to kill far more Iraqis than the Coalition, yet the Coalition is still held responsible for these deaths.