Guardian article on Iraq and terrorism: a very nasty piece (with 3 Sept update)

Today's (1 Sept 06) Guardian2 publishes an article by Peter Taylor which encapsulates all the illicit assertions about an allegedly causal relationship between Iraq and terrorism in Britain, invalid assertions that have often disfigured C P Scott's once great newspaper in recent months.  A friend has called the Taylor article 'intelligent' in a comment on an earlier post (and recommends a forthcoming television programme for which the article is a puff). This suggests a greater plausibility in Taylor's case than I can find in it.

I'm afraid I find this article ill-judged almost to the point of perversity.  Mr Taylor opens with a familiar reference to the supposed "succession of government ministers insisting that the terrorist threat has nothing to do with Iraq and British support for American foreign policy", adding that "Such political certainties fly in the face of all the empirical evidence…", when to the best of my knowledge no-one has produced a shred of evidence that Tony Blair or any other minister has said anything of the sort: indeed Blair has explicitly said the opposite (see quotation here).   It's simply sloppy journalism to parrot this slander, copying it out from the last article the writer has read,  without bothering to check its veracity.  Not a good start.

It is one thing to acknowledge that the Iraq issue, among many others, is exploited by the perverted in order to recruit and fanaticise terrorists, which is true, worth saying and uncontroversial, indeed often stressed by Blair.  It is something else entirely to go on to claim, explicitly or by clear implication, that (a) inciting or committing murder is an understandable (and therefore implicitly justifiable) way to express anger over a foreign policy issue; thus (b) the "reason" for terrorist acts and suicide bombings is disapproval of UK Iraq policy; so (c) therefore those involved in the occupation of Iraq are responsible — that's to say, to blame — for the terrorism; and it follows that (d) UK policy on Iraq, whether or not that policy is justified on other grounds, should be changed in order to remove the motivation and "reason" for terrorism in Britain. 

All these conclusions are illegitimate.  Mr Taylor seems dimly to perceive at the very end of his article that he has come uncomfortably close to defending murder and suicide bombings by seeking to 'explain' them, so he hastily admits that such acts are "undoubtedly obscene".  One awaits the predictable "but".  Sure enough, here it is. "But the reason for them is scarcely beyond doubt."  My emphasis, of course.

So there we have it, out in the open at last: the "reason" for the murder of innocent civilians by suicide bombers is British and American action in Iraq.  No mention of Kashmir (an especially neuralgic issue for, especially, Pakistanis, often much more so than Iraq), nor of Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Chechnya, Algeria, Kosovo, Afghanistan, the pro-western régime in Saudi Arabia, western policy towards Iran:  still less any mention of the sense of alienation of Muslims in western countries exposed to a western culture whose most conspicuous characteristics are the opposite of all that Islam seems to them to stand for.  No reference to the systematic glorification of martyrdom and the promises of delectable rewards for it in another world.   No: according to Mr Taylor, the "reason" for terrorist atrocities is Iraq.  So, by seemingly irrestible logic, the British government is to blame for terrorism: and the remedy for terrorism is to change tack on Iraq. 

I would hope that on reflection those tempted to seize any stick with which to beat Tony Blair might agree that this is shoddy stuff, profoundly distasteful, unworthy of a liberal and responsible newspaper.  Alas, there have been too many equally unacceptable and illicit propaganda pieces in the Guardian recently.  I look forward to Peter Taylor's  television version of his Guardian article on Sunday with the utmost foreboding: visual images are even more dangerously convincing than the printed word. 

Myths, by which I mean lies, repeated sufficiently often, eventually become part of the conventional wisdom. 

Update (2 Sept 06):  I am glad to see that the indefatigable controversialist Professor Norman Geras has also been lambasting Peter Taylor's dreadful article on his always stimulating blog, as well as plugging away at the naive and noxious fallacy that seeks to attribute the blame for terrorism to the UK and US governments:  see this, this, this and this.  He also quotes a splendid demolition job on Noam Chomsky's poisonous article of 1 September 2006 in the Guardian (the supposed link to it in the Guardian's website mysteriously doesn't work).  I don't by any means always agree with Professor Geras (for example, he supported the Bush-Blair occupation of Iraq, which I have strongly opposed from the beginning), but again and again he is robustly right-minded on issues where to be right is not necessarily to be popular.

Update No. 2 (3 September, pregnant date):  Mr Taylor's television programme this evening was every bit as terrible as his article; in some respects, worse.  Most of it was devoted to footage revealing what most of us knew already, namely that Islamic jihadists have been going off from the UK and elsewhere to fight the western infidels occupying Iraq, mainly by blowing themselves up.  There was some unsupported but plausible speculation by various American and British experts that some of these jihadists, presumably not including successful suicide bombers, would sooner or later return to their homes in Europe and the US and put their Iraqi experience to good use by performing terrorist acts in their native lands.  The only motivation suggested for these activities was disapproval of 'American foreign policy in the middle east', including especially US support for Israel's 'occupation of the Palestine lands'  (west bank settlements?  Israel itself?  take your pick).  Hero status through martyrdom was cited as an additional attraction.  A clear and predictable moral was drawn from all this in the final minutes.  The west was making no progress in the war on terror.  Eventually there would have to be 'talks with al-Qaeda' (one of the experts did however point out that this could be difficult to arrange in practical terms since al-Qaeda was a loose amorphous movement, not an organisation).  There was a reference, inevitably, to the pig-headedness of those, not identified for obvious reasons, who denied 'any connection' between Iraq and terrorism.  The object of talking to the "so-called terrorists" — the ultimate give-away, that phrase — would very clearly be to work out how to remove the causes of terrorism in the west by changing western foreign policies, by implication a doddle since these were obviously failing anyway.  Roll titles.

It beggars belief that anyone at the BBC could have approved this muddled and defeatist rubbish for transmission on BBC2, the national broadcaster's prestige channel.  However, I doubt if it can have done much harm, except perhaps by encouraging the sponsors of murder in the name of Islam to keep on plugging away in the deluded belief that in the end western rejection of extreme Islamicist demands would crumble away.  Most of those watching it who found it convincing would be those who were semi-secretly sympathetic to the terrorists in the first place, on the dubious principle that anyone who hates Bush, Blair and the Israelis can't be all bad.  Any Israeli watching it would have found it pretty chilling.


4 Responses

  1. Brian,

    Eventually there would have to be ‘talks with al-Qaeda’ (one of the experts did however point out that this could be difficult to arrange in practical terms since al-Qaeda was a loose amorphous movement, not an organisation).

    I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until, I think,  next week to hear Peter Taylor in "full flow" about talking to Al Qaida. Are you sure your circulatory system is up to it? .Though just having heard him on Today, anyone who thinks he’s going to suggest full face  talks with Bin Laden may be disappointed.

    Like you, I found little new in  the first episode. Not having your knowlege, I was, however, rather interested to hear the Jordanian ex intelligence? bod’s frank assessment of the how  really poor the west has been in fighting the war on terror.

  2. Brian

    I am a bit puzzled why you are so annoyed by those who imply a causal link between the invasion of Iraq and the terrorist threat, particularly when you, like most sensible people, did not support that venture.  Let’s leave aside for a moment what Blair and his ministers may or may not have said (though it seems to me they have repeatedly denied the connection).  The facts seem to me to be as follows: 1) terrorism and al-Qaida were around well before the invasion, though not in Iraq  2) Anger over the UK’s role in the invasion has been widespread among young British Moslems and has done wonders for terrorist recruitment. 3) If such young men say they are motivated by this issue, then we have to accept that as a reason.  You and I may think they are deluded, but that doesn’t matter. 

    The fact that we can all point to the ‘reasons’ for the invasion of Iraq and explain why it happened doesn’t mean we are justifying it.  It’s the same with terrorism.

    Best wishes


  3. Brian,
    Most of those watching it who found it convincing would be those who were semi-secretly sympathetic to the terrorists in the first place, on the dubious principle that anyone who hates Bush, Blair and the Israelis can't be all bad.  Any Israeli watching it would have found it pretty chilling.
    Convincing-in the sense that the "participants" were themselves convinced that Iraq played an important- let's leave the expression "causal" out of this discussion-indeed I was. And to suggest that that puts me in a pro-terrorist camp is, to use one of your own favoured expressions, obscene.
    sorry B .

    Brian comments:  I don't think you can realistically leave the 'causal' factor out of it;  I think almost everyone would agree with your revised formulation that Iraq played an important part (which is just about consistent with the revelation in the two 7/7 bombers' suicide videos, one of which didn't even mention Iraq at all, and the other mentioned it only as one of several anger-generating issues, with the main emphasis on the desire for martyrdom);  and I didn't say that everyone who was convinced by the programme was semi-secretly sympathetic to the terrorists.  I entirely accept that you weren't among them.  Are you equally sure about the people who marched under the banner proclaiming that 'we're all Hezbollah now'?

  4. Brian,
    I've just watched Part 2. What a parcel!!!!!

    Brian writes:  So have I.  A total waste of television air time that told us absolutely nothing.  (BTW, what's a parcel?)