Nov 22, 2006 4:46 pm


An Australian friend recently sent me for my perusal an essay by her son, studying at a leading Australian university. The essay question was, “U.K. foreign policy is responsible for the London bombings of July 2005. Discuss.” His essay laid out an elaboration of the well-known “root causes” argument – that unjustifiable Western acts breed violent Muslim response. Similar arguments are to be seen everywhere regarding the foreign policy of the United States, Israel and other countries grappling with Islamist terror.

How are these arguments constructed? Muslim terrorists who cite Western policy as a motivating factor for their violence are quoted; so too are Western officials who trace a causal link between Muslim perceptions of Western actions and Islamist terror. Local Muslim hostility to general or particular Western policies is also established – from sending troops to Iraq to the latest anti-terror laws enacted in Western legislatures. Optional accessories include averring past or continuing Western acts as creating cumulative hostility – the arbitrary Western creation of Middle Eastern national borders decades ago, alliances with dictatorial Muslim regimes, or support for Israel.

Such a rich amalgam of causes impresses by cumulative weight and apparent plausibility. Yet the argument that derives from it – that Western states are largely responsible for Islamist terror – is disastrously wrong. This is a subject for lengthier treatment elsewhere, but in short: causation is not responsibility – a vast distinction, well made some years ago by Norman Geras, as I was obliged to recall upon recently reading a report on Geert Wilders, a Dutch lawmaker who, since the departure for safe haven in America of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, his Somali-born former parliamentary colleague, is the most outspoken living critic of radical Islam and (recipient of death threats from Islamists) in his country. (Those Dutchmen no longer living and doing what he does include politician Pim Fortuyn and filmmaker Theo Van Gogh).

Wilders is a recipient of innumerable death threats from Islamists and is obliged conduct his life with round the clock security. There is obviously no doubting that his political activities and views have caused Islamists to target him, yet as he observed in a interview, “even though I know that I'm not responsible [for this situation], I know it’s the result of the things I say, the things I do.”

That would not be true for the victims of London, September 11 or any number of places around the globe, but the point is clear: Terrorists who punish Westerners for dismantling Saddam’s tyranny or speaking out about Muslim extremism are responsible for their own deeds – including their reaction to ours.

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