Thursday, July 12, 2007

# Posted 6:47 AM by Patrick Porter  

OXBLOG INTERVIEWS NICK COHEN (PART 2): Nick also argues more broadly about the need not to see Muslims as simply reacting to what happens around them. There are liberal and moderate Muslims actively struggling against extremism who deserve our support. At the same time, the militant forms of jihad are not just bi-products of our foreign policy. If the twentieth century has taught us anything, it is that totalitarian movements (such as militant Islam today) and their ideologies have a life of their own. He refers to the recent comments of ex-jihadist Hassan Butt, who said:

‘When I was still a member of what is probably best termed the British Jihadi Network, a series of semi-autonomous British Muslim terrorist groups linked by a single ideology, I remember how we used to laugh in celebration whenever people on TV proclaimed that the sole cause for Islamic acts of terror like 9/11, the Madrid bombings and 7/7 was Western foreign policy.

By blaming the government for our actions, those who pushed the 'Blair's bombs' line did our propaganda work for us. More important, they also helped to draw away any critical examination from the real engine of our violence: Islamic theology…
Mohammad Sidique Khan, the leader of the 7 July bombings, and I were both part of the BJN - I met him on two occasions - and though many British extremists are angered by the deaths of fellow Muslim across the world, what drove me and many of my peers to plot acts of extreme terror within Britain, our own homeland and abroad, was a sense that we were fighting for the creation of a revolutionary state that would eventually bring Islamic justice to the world.’

Cohen agrees that even as some are keen to blame every act of terror only on Western foreign policy, this actually reflects a narcissistic mentality, that ‘we’ are the prime agents in the world, when in fact there are forces in the world beyond our control.

We talk a bit about the nature of anti-Americanism. Cohen is careful to distinguish legitimate criticism of specific American policies and Presidents, from a more indiscriminate political hostility. I suggest that the main dividing line in foreign policy today is the difference between those who see America as primarily the problem, and those who see the US as primarily the solution.

Nick agrees generally, but says that attitudes towards America are not just reflections of foreign policy debates. There is a general leftist/postmodernist European revulsion at the perceived crudity of the USA, its mass market, its consumerism, its aggressive capitalist economics – tendencies they also fear in their own populations. At the same time, he agrees that anti-Americanism in Britain also has a strong conservative strain, arising from the Revolutionary war of Independence and running through the decline of British global power, linked to the rise of American power.

We also talk about the impact of the blogosphere. Nick agrees that the debate within the left about the war in Iraq took place much more within the blog world than the world outside it. It was on sites like ‘Harry’s Place’ and ‘normblog’ where one was able to hear a pro-war left that saw itself as the true voice of a democratic anti-totalitarian movement, and in turn, where one saw the most strident criticism of it.

Nick reflects that there is an important difference between the conventional and blog media: a conformism descends upon the liberal press and centralised media, whereas the web enables scattered people who might have thought they were isolated or unusual in their beliefs to find each other. Nick researched his book partly by going through all of the posts and fierce battles in the ‘comments’ section.

Finally, I ask Nick about the state of play now. He thinks that we are in a strange position, where enough people have been killed to fuel a movement towards misguided appeasement, but not enough to convince people that there is a deadly threat. Paradoxically, I suggest that even as we hope it won’t happen, al Qaeda might be far more damaged by a successful large-scale strike on Britain, as like the Omagh bombings undermined sympathy for the IRA. It would serve to alienate opinion and mobilise far more resistance at the grass roots level. But Cohen thinks that the usual suspects would still make similar noises, blaming everyone but the killers.

By this point I had taken up far too much of Nick’s time and thanked him. Nick headed out of the pub and back into the fray.
(23) opinions -- Add your opinion

Did you ask him what life was like being a useful idiot? You should have.
Anonymous, care to expand on that thought?

Or better yet, maybe the purveyors of Oxblog could eliminate the anonymous comment feature--useful anonymous comments are few and far between. Nearly always they drag down the discussion.
Who are these people who claim that "every" act of terrorism is "only" due to Western foreign policy? Surely it's enough that our foreign policy play some role in causing some terrorist acts? Since our foreign policy is one thing that is under our control, it seems like we should be devoting a lot of attention to it, instead of sidestepping the issue with the banal observation that it does not create acts of terrorism all on its own.

John Pilger for one said that the attacks in London in 2005 were 'Blair's Bombs':

I agree that aspects of our foreign policy may provoke certain folk who are predisposed to being provoked to blow people up. But these are often people who would find reason to be violently provoked anyway.

For example, the plot last year to blow up aircraft is said to have begun in the year 2000 - before 9/11 even.

The question is whether Iraq etc iis the fundamental cause. AQ and its affiliates have found 'reasons' to attack people in at least 26 countries, including many states that opposed America's recent wars.

The point is that jihadism would be with us whatever we do, and ultimately sees the whole world as a battlefield. Read what Hassan Butt said if you think I'm talking nonsense.
I think I trust the analysis of the NIC more than the words of a single former jihadist. And if you just want to look at terrorists' own words, there are plenty of examples of them referring to Israel/Palestine, Iraq, US troops in Saudi Arabia, and other acts of Western foreign policy as motivating their actions.

You're also taking too narrow a view when you think of the impact of our foreign policy as inspiring individuals to take up arms against us. There are at least two other important ways in which our foreign policy is (partially) responsible for acts of terrorism:

1. It is much easier for terrorists to operate effectively if they are among a population that shares their antipathies and sees them as being on the same side. Our foreign policy can play (and, over the last few years, has played) a large role in turning these masses against us, so that terrorists can operate more freely and effectively.

2. People are more likely to take up arms when they're already in the midst of an armed conflict, and they also stand a better chance of getting trained to be effective killers. Bin Laden was armed and trained during the fight against the Soviets, and now (as the NIC report says) many Iraqis are getting arms and training, and most likely some fraction of them will go the global terrorism route.

we are in danger of misunderstanding each other.

Do some western policies create grievances among individuals and their general populations? Yes. Is Iraq providing a training ground for terrorists? Yes.

Where we differ is on this point: without these grievances and conditions, would we still have plenty of radicalised jihadists and angry societies? I think yes.

Just as dictatorships, radical clergy and state propaganda in the Arab-Islamic world breed a culture of hatred, so too does the ideology of radical Islam leads jihadists to look for grievances, causes and hatreds that will fuel their violence.

They have found such reasons to carry out attacks in areas that have nothing to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict, or US troops in Saudi Arabia: in Nigeria, Bangladesh or the Philippines, for example. Even honourable policies, such as Australia's belated support for East Timor's independence, became another 'reason' to kill. It is not, I would argue, primarily grievances that create the movement. It is a movement searching for grievances - and finding them. They do spend rather a lot of their time killing Muslims, which is an odd activity for a movement some say is primarily driven by resentment of western policies.

Bin Laden, for example, does talk about the specific western policies that aggravate him. But he has also declared 'I was ordered to fight the people until they say there is no god but Allah, and his prophet Muhammad.' He has taken this rather literally, and it doesn't ultimately exempt anyone from the war.

However, its a tricky issue.
That cleared some things up, but it looks like the misunderstanding continues. I agree that responsible Western foreign policy isn't going to come anywhere close to eliminating Islamist terrorism. This is a problem that'll be with us for decades to come.

What I do think is that good Western foreign policy tends to lead to fewer acts of terrorism, and bad foreign policies (like the Iraq war) tend to lead to more acts of terrorism, and the difference between the two is substantial enough for us to really care about. Some of your comments suggest that you may think that the difference is relatively insignificant, but I can't tell if that's a fair reading of what you've said.

I also agree that there are a fair number of manufactured grievances, but I think that if the genuine grievances were taken away it would be harder to sustain the movement relying only on manufactured grievances. The question is not just how terrorists characterize their mission, but what motivated them to take up arms in the first place, and what motivated them to participate in something bigger than a local conflict. I think that genuine grievances against the West play a non-negligible role in both of those steps.

Here is a third additional way in which Western foreign policy matters for reducing terrorism (to add to the 2 from my last comment). Almost anything else that Western governments can do to reduce terrorism (such as promoting democracy, liberalism, or religious moderation) is easier to do if more people see Western governments as forces for good in the world, rather than as enemies (cf. Iran on the problems that can arise when we "support" reformers). And Western foreign policy can play a large role in shaping these views. This gets back to the "main dividing line" that you proposed (US as problem vs. US as solution), but with a twist: what matter here are the views of people in places like Egypt and Pakistan.
Blar writes;

"Here is a third additional way in which Western foreign policy matters for reducing terrorism (to add to the 2 from my last comment). Almost anything else that Western governments can do to reduce terrorism (such as promoting democracy, liberalism, or religious moderation) is easier to do if more people see Western governments as forces for good in the world, rather than as enemies (cf. Iran on the problems that can arise when we ‘support’ reformers)"

The idea that terrorism can be reduced by the US promoting democracy, liberalism or religious moderation, at least in the short term, is absurd. The terrorists are not going to relent if we promote precisely what they oppose. Iraq is the proof. The administration is trying to promote all those good things, but the Islamosfascists have expressed vehement opposition by slaughtering thousands of innocent men, women and children.

Liberals are utterly incapable of understanding terrorism or the totalitarian movements that use it a tool. Either they say we should mind our own business and stay out of the Middle East or they call for us to promote democracy and tolerance, the latter with words only, please. Yet others imply that if only we allow Muslims to commit another holocaust in Israel the Islamic terrorists will stop being so violent.
These mad muslims don't need "grievances" to kill infidels,
it's their path to paradise... I think the result in Haymarket and Glasgow was not the most likely result--the most likely result was to have body parts strewn everywhere. When several of these bombings go off as planned we will see the Brits and the Americans fight back, probably by rounding up all muslims just like the Japanese-American roundup of 1942. In addition, certain areas of the world where people are still living in the 8th century may be turned into oil slicks. Those who have the means to prevent it are not going to lie waiting in their beds to be murdered. It doesn't matter who is president or prime minister, or what niceties are proposed now by the Foreign Office and the State Department. When the public is a seething, angry mob, at a white heat, its elected leaders will respond to jihad with the wrath of God--at a speed you won't believe.
sure glad exguru isn't in charge of anything. where do these nutters come from?
great interview patrick, unfortunate that this site gets tainted too often with vile comments. keep up the good posts.
james l, exguru isn't advocating nuking the Muslim world. He is simply making the plausible prediction that if Al Qaeda or some other radical Muslim outfit explodes a nuclear weapon on American soil there will be overwhelming retaliation.

The Islamofascists see the the overwhelming cowardice and self-hatred of the western political and media elites and they are going in for the kill.

Cowardice and appeasement in the thirties led to World War II. A similar mindset today seems likely to bring about World War III.

Or will the West simply surrender and a new Dark Ages descend upon the Earth?
It's disappointing, though hardly surprising, that the first, anonymous commenter's "useful idiot" comment was dismissed so cavalierly. In fact, it serves as a useful reminder that Cohen's picture of a post-Cold-War left that's suddenly gone off the rails and embraced monsters is pure revisionist history.

In fact, it's Cohen's "decent left" faction (or at least its prominence) that's the radical new post-Cold-War innovation. Until then, it was completely routine for the mainstream left to embrace the most monstrous totalitarian tyrannies in history: the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Cuba, Zimbabwe and many others.

Ideologues of all stripes like to fantasize that their faction is bound by principle rather than constituency politics, and every now and then a Nick Cohen will take his fantasy seriously and cling to the high-minded ideals that his colleagues never paid more than lip service to. We can all applaud Cohen's steadfast embrace of democracy and human rights--but we needn't succumb to his amnesia about his faction's long history of consorting with brutal tyrants. In the history of the Western Left, it's Cohen, not Livingstone, who's the outlier.
Dan Simon, it depends on what you mean by “left”. In 1948 the left wing of the Democratic Party split with the party and supported the candidacy of former vice-president Henry Wallace under the banner of the Progressive Party. The Progressives advocated friendship with the Soviet Union. The larger, anti-Communist faction of the Democrats supported Harry Truman, who upset the Republican candidate Thomas Dewey and won the presidency.

President Truman and his Secretary of State Dean Acheson were criticized by the Republicans at the time, but today most conservatives admire the skill and leadership they showed in a difficult time.

Unfortunately since the mid sixties the Henry Wallace mindset rather than that of Harry Truman has come to dominate the Democratic Party. We see this in Congress today, where the Democrats are working hard to see that Al Qaeda wins in Iraq.
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