Blogs > HNN > Commentary on London: A Quick Survey

Jul 14, 2005 7:01 pm

Commentary on London: A Quick Survey

With the exception of Derek Catsam’s commentary at Rebunk and Alan Allport’s posting of Noel Coward’s “London Pride” on Cliopatria, I’ve found most of the commentary on the London bombings here at HNN pretty disappointing in style and substance, and will have more to say on it (and views like it) in a bit. (A notable exception that I encountered after I wrote this post is E. Simon's "incredible hulk" thesis, expressed in the comments section of one of my posts.) For now, here are links, in no particular order, to a handful of articles on London that I found insightful.

Peter Bergen’s Op-Ed, “Our Ally, Our Problem,” in the July 8 New York Times does a good job of conveying the pathological character of British Islam (cf. “Dirty Kuffar”), including its open sympathy for Al Qaeda. A problem for champions of the grievance explanation for terrorism: what grievances explain such sympathy? And even if grievances (or perceived grievances) do explain it, why should we take those grievances seriously? (Bibliographical note: Bergen is also the author of the useful book, Holy War, Inc. For an insightful cinematic depiction of the pathologies of British Islam in its Pakistani incarnation, see the 1997 film “My Son, the Fanatic” , based on the Hanif Kureishi novel by that name).

I’ve been disappointed with Daniel Pipes’s recent writing, e.g., his recent discussion of “the essence of Islam” , but his column on London in The New York Sun nicely complements Bergen’s piece, and puts a useful spotlight on"Al Muhajirun." What he discusses there is in my view just the tip of the iceberg.

Amir Taheri’s essay “And This Is Why They Did It,” (in the Times of London, I believe; July 8) continues with the same theme, offering a plausible alternative to grievance explanations for the London attack. “Time to Hit the Suicide Factories” in The New York Post (July 8) deals, plausibly but somewhat less effectively with the same topic. (Hat-tip to Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi for the Taheri references.)

William Saletan makes some excellent points about the political strategy behind the attacks in “People Power,” (Slate, July 8). In so doing, he rebuts Lee Harris’s famous thesis , defended in the wake of 9/11, that Al Qaeda lacks a Clausewitzian military strategy or political program.

I’m not entirely sure I agree with John Tierney’s advice in the New York Times (July 9)
that “when fear stalks,” we should “tune out” and ignore it . But he makes an interesting case, and it’s certainly something to think about.

I have not been particularly impressed with specifically British writing on the London bombings—Stoicism is one thing, cogent analysis another—but I agree with the spirit if not the letter of Max Hastings’s “We have to keep dancing,” in today’s Guardian.

I’ve only skimmed the South Asian and Middle Eastern press, and haven’t seen anything of note there. I get the impression (and it’s only an impression) that the London attacks have not been nearly as much of a big deal outside of North America and Europe as they’ve been there. Anyway, though it’s not directly on London, Anne Applebaum’s “In Search of Pro-Americanism,” in the July/August 2005 issue of Foreign Policy puts the overhyped phenomenon of “anti-Americanism” in perspective.

Finally, Christopher Hitchens has interesting things to say as usual, and his “We Cannot Surrender” (The Mirror, July 8) is probably the most eloquent single piece on 7/7 that I’ve read so far. (I’ve had some trouble with The Mirror link, so access it from Hitchens’s website .)

“The Anticipated Attack” at Slate (July 7) poses an as-yet unanswered (really, unacknowledged) question: if we’re to respond to London by pulling out of Iraq, will we be safer yet if we pull out of Afghanistan? To take the question a step further: shouldn’t it follow that if withdrawal from Iraq and/or Afghanistan makes us safer than we currently are, outright surrender to Al Qaeda on all fronts should make us safer still?

I keep reading that the London bombings owe their existence to our illicit interventions in"the Muslim world" (a notion that could itself use some interrogation). Hitchens's piece should stimulate some obvious criticisms of this remarkably half-baked thesis. It's a useful exercise to"walk the cat back" a bit and ask: how far back in counterfactual history would we have to go to satisfy the demands of the brand of isolationism being touted here? If we shouldn't have invaded Iraq, should we not have invaded Afghanistan? After all, there were terrorist attacks on us before we ever invaded Iraq. If our intervention in Iraq is the cause of terrorism, so is our intervention in Afghanistan.

If we shouldn't have invaded Iraq, should we not have imposed sanctions or inspections on it? Those, too, were incursions into Iraq's"sovereignty," and incursions that cost tens of thousands of Iraqi lives (arguably more lives than the invasion has). Sanctions, after all, furnished the rationale for the 9/11 attack. (Remember?) Should we simply have thrown them out to appease the bin Ladens of the world?

Away with sanctions, then. But how does throwing out sanctions cohere with the anti-war thesis that"sanctions" were the only thing"working" to keep Saddam's WMD aspirations in check? Maybe the claim here is that a fully WMD-armed Saddam would never have been an"imminent" threat to us. I mean after all, just look at what a paragon of prudence Saddam has always been! He would never have used WMDs on us. After all, to quote Destiny's Child , Saddam's a survivor, and survivors don't mess up their chances for survival. Well, Saddam was a survivor, at any rate--before he ended up the world's most famous candidate for the death penalty.

Sanctions, of course, were a natural result of the 1990-1991 Gulf War. The only way to avoid sanctions, then, was to avoid that war. So should we not have liberated Kuwait in 1990-91? What then would have happened if Saddam had used Kuwait as a base for an invasion of Saudi Arabia?

Or is the thesis that we should never have dealt with Saudi Arabia or any of the Gulf States at all, as though this were an easy option, and their circumstances were utterly disconnected from our own?

OK, so...where does that thesis take us? No dealings with the Saudis! Fair enough. What are the consequences? No ARAMCO? No oil companies on the Arabian peninsula? No oil drilling or development? An American economy sans Arabian oil? Someone tell me what that would have looked like. Tell me--so I can start to buy into the fantasy that if only we hadn't ever dealt with the Saudis, we'd never have had to deal with terrorism, and on balance would be better off than we are now.

Forget Saudi Arabia and move to South Asia. Maybe the claim is that Reagan should never have armed the mujahidin in Afghanistan, since they were the precursors of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. If only we had had the sense to stay out! OK, but what would have happened if the Soviets had thereby come to dominate South Asia? Perfectly acceptable? What if the history that followed that consequence had prolonged the Cold War in ways that erased the peace divided on the 1990s, and simply staved off the inevitable rise of Islamism? Or does anyone believe that the rise of Islamism is exclusively linked to U.S. aid for the mujahidin and bears no causal relation to the Soviet invasion? Wouldn't we have faced an Islamist problem whether or not we supported the mujahidin?

The point is that counter-factual history cuts many ways, and if the claim is now to be made that our"interventions cause terrorism," let's see the contrastive explanation that shows us that non-intervention would have been the prophylactic against it.

P.S., July 13: Another piece on London by Hitchens, superior to the others referenced here, this one in The Weekly Standard.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Jason Pappas - 7/11/2005

You rhetorical point is valid but I’d like to address a very minor point of economics. Whether we deal with Saudi Arabia or not has no bearing on the economics of oil or our economy. Oil is essentially sold into the market; it is not a custom product made-to-order for a single buyer. I talk about it in detail here:

Derek Charles Catsam - 7/9/2005

Thanks, Irfan.

N. Friedman - 7/9/2005


Thank you for pointing out Taheri's excellent piece. It almost surely explains much of what is occuring. The ghazi/Jihadi tradition is deep and the use of razias/ghazavat is also well within the Muslim tradition which people like bin Laden are reviving.

Again, thank you.