Explanations vs. excuses, revisited
The coverage of yesterday's London terrorist attacks has shifted somewhat from facts about the bombings themselves to reactions and analyses of those reactions. Many express solidarity with the British and make references to their history of courage in the face of those who have tried to break their will in the past. Others blame Bush and Blair's recent Iraq policies for angering the Moslem world and providing motivation for the bombings.
Of course, I'm of the former group and not the latter. But I want to make clear that I am one of those people who actually is interested in the "why" of the bombings. I like searching for explanations; I find it valuable. Keep in mind the difference between explanations and excuses, a distinction I wrote about here.
To summarize the idea I discussed in that rather lengthy post: seeking an explanation for a phenomenon is a neutral process. The results can be used to make excuses for that phenomenon and its perpetrators--to blame others and fail to place the responsibility on the actors themselves. But the results can also be used to try to understand and to counter or change the phenomenon in the best and most efficient manner.
The entire "bring democracy to the Arab world" neocon enterprise is predicated at least partly in such an explanation. Whether that explanation ends up being correct remains to be seen. But the analysis goes something like this: why has terrorism in the world of Islamicist extremists reached such a fever pitch and acquired so many adherents? The neocon explanation--at least in part--is that the citizens of most of the countries involved are under the thumb of either doctrinaire brainwashing theocrats or brutal dictators, or in some cases both. Human rights are very compromised in these countries, exploitation is rife, the people have almost no say in their governments, and the economies are stagnant. If these things can change in the direction of people gaining autonomy and freedom, it is likely that the people will not only rise to the occasion but that these vicious ideologies will lose a great deal of the misery on which they feed and grow.
Well, that's certainly an explanation, but it's no excuse. With it comes a plan that emerges from the explanation. You are, of course, free to agree or disagree with the reasoning behind the plan as well as the likelihood of its being achieved.
Leftists offer another explanation: Western imperialism and occupation and exploitation leave the poor third-worlders with no options but to blow up people on subway trains in London. I won't bother to argue the merits of that one--it's been done many times before, and you either buy those arguments or don't buy them; at this point I doubt I'll change your mind. But this explanation is not just an explanation, it is an excuse. It excuses the perpetrators of the bombings and makes them into victims.
I believe that the explanation for the bombings that Amir Taheri offers in this column has validity. His summary explanation is as follows (and I urge you to read his column in its entirety for the details of the religious underpinnings behind this point of view--hat tip: Dr. Sanity):
But sorry, old chaps, you are dealing with an enemy that does not want anything specific, and cannot be talked back into reason through anger management or round-table discussions. Or, rather, this enemy does want something specific: to take full control of your lives, dictate every single move you make round the clock and, if you dare resist, he will feel it his divine duty to kill you.
I would add to Taheri's explanation still another one, nonreligious in nature: a nihilistic rage and urge to wreak destruction, to be seen as (and to see oneself as) the most powerful and baddest dude on the block.
As for the motivations of those who make apologies and excuses for terrorist murderers, I offer the following, which appeared as part of this post by Neuro-Con. Neuro-
Con quotes a commenter named Michael McCanles at Belmont Club (and, by they way, if you have a moment, please read Belmont Club's latest).
Fear of envy" (i.e., the "evil eye") is for anthropologists a major embodiment of this narrative's central obsession. Thus: Islam must hate us because "we" have robbed them of something that they want: thus the incongruous overlay of the marxoid group-conflict model on top of terrorist motivations. The nice thing about this narratival explanation is that it allows the teller a hidden modicum of control. If we can say "they are attacking us because of something that we have done, then all we have to do is correct it by giving them what they want, and all will be well. Thus we control the situation because our actions are the root of the evil being done us." This is why leftists are so dedicated to scapegoating and fingerpointing.
An excellent explanation--not an excuse--for the behavior of so many leftists.