Following on from this post:
I’ve suggested on various occasions that there are what we might call ‘psycho-political’ reasons for the insistence by some on the Left on the so-called ‘blowback’ theory of Islamist terrorism. These reasons include:
- an inability to step outside an anti-imperialist/conspiratorial paradigm in which the West is ultimately to blame for most of the ills of the world
- a tendency to see any movement that claims to be anti-western, however reactionary its rhetoric, as ‘radical’ and as an ally in the global struggle
- a skewed anti-racism (actually an inverted form of racism) which claims to feel sympathy for minority groups, but prefers to cast them as oppressed victims and can’t allow that they might have ideas and motives of their own
- in the wake of the collapse of socialist idealism, a barely-suppressed fascination with and sneaking admiration for the revolutionary zeal of Islamism.
Those with a passing knowledge of the history of pre-war Europe will recognise similarities (brilliantly described by Nick Cohen) with the ways in which many liberals and leftists consistently misconstrued and underestimated the threat posed by the rise of fascism in the 1930s.
But suppose for a moment that we take what the blowback theorists say seriously. Suppose there is some truth in the arguments of Seumas Milne and others, and it’s possible to prove a causal link between the interventions by Britain and the US in Afghanistan and Iraq and the terror attacks here at home. Would establishing that link actually tell us anything useful?
Imagine a different scenario. Suppose that in the late 1940s, the British Labour government, appalled by the stories emerging of oppression and torture in Franco’s Spain, had decided to launch a war to liberate the Spanish people from this distasteful fascist regime (unlikely I know, but stick with me). Imagine that, as a result of this attack on his country, an enraged Franco launched secret underground cells of Falangists to set off bombs in British cities, causing death and mayhem. How do you think the British Left would have responded: would they have blamed the government for launching the war and making Britain a target? would they have complained about ‘Bevan’s bombs’ and demanded an end to the war? Unlikely. And why? Because they would have supported the war against Franco, would have regarded the terror attacks as tragic but the inevitable price of a just war, and because they would have believed that it was wrong to allow British foreign policy to be dictated by violent fascists.
Imagine another scenario. Suppose there’s another terrorist attack on London in a few years time, but this time it’s a number of gay pubs that are targeted (not unprecedented, unfortunately: remember the nail bomb attack on the Admiral Duncan in 1999), causing many deaths and injuries. The bombers, from a previously unknown extreme rightwing group, release a video claiming the attack was in response to a new law giving gays and lesbians greater equality. This would be a clear case of ‘blowback’ – of simple cause and effect – in which a link could be proven between government policy and a terror attack. So would the comment pages of The Guardian be filled with talk of ‘Brown’s bombs’ and demands that the government repeal the new equality law instantly? Hardly. Why not? Because liberals and progressive would agree with the new law and would argue that government policy should not be dictated by violent fascists.
Why, then, don't today’s blowback theorists take a similar line? Because they think that government policy shouldn’t be dictated by violent fascists – unless it’s a policy they disagree with, in which case it’s perfectly acceptable to give in. Then again, they don’t really believe that the terrorists are fascists, but at worst a variety of misguided freedom fighters. So all that the blowback theory really tells us is: its proponents don't like the war. Nothing more.
This post has generated the most hits of anything I've written in my three and a bit months of blogging, thanks mainly to a link from Pootergeek (cheers). Getting a lot of comments makes you wish you'd said some things differently. So, just to clarify: yes, of course I'm aware that most people on the Left were fully aware of the threat of fascism in the Thirties and that by far the most apologists were on the Right. What I was referring to was something Nick Cohen highlights: that some on the Left, too, including some pacifists, were willing to play down the evils of fascism and argue that the fascists and their own governments were equally bad - something that finds echoes in today's attempts to 'understand' the anger of fundamentalist terror gangs.