|The Early Days of a Better Nation|
Saturday, July 23, 2005
The Party Line
Every so often in Macaulay's History of England he'll be talking about some gallant soldier on one side or the other of various wars, and he'll say something like 'and then he went off for a few years to fight the Turks'. Catholics and Protestants, Roundheads and Cavaliers, soldiers of the House of Stuart or the House of Orange, took advantage of occasional interruptions in mutual massacre to fight side by side against 'the enemy of all Christendom'. I think these days we would look somewhat askance at a young gentleman taking a year or two out to finish his education in the Russian Army or the Bosnian Serb militia.
Most Christians no longer feel like our illustrious ancestors did, but it seems that quite a lot of Muslims do. The Ummah is a much more live idea than Christendom. When the Prime Minister of Australia was deriding the idea that the bomb attacks in London might have something to do with Iraq, he pointed out that the attack on Australians in Bali was linked by the perpetrators, and I think he said by Osama Bin Laden too, to Australia's intervention in Timor. Should we have repudiated saving the Timorese because of that? he asked.
Well, indeed not - and even the far left was divided about the intervention itself - but I don't think Mr Howard was quite reinforcing his point. When Jack Straw, John Reid and others recite the mantra of 'Kenya, Tanzania, Indonesia, Yemen' as countries that had nothing to do with the war in Iraq that were attacked by al Qaeda, they are not being stupid. Nor are they being stupid in conspicuously missing out the obvious country from the list: Russia. Russia, they might well say, has been attacked over and over again by Islamist terrorists and suicide bombers, and it opposed the Iraq war! So what do you say to that, Mr Galloway? They of course say no such thing.
No, they are not being stupid. They are sticking to the party line. Sticking to a party line is something that Messrs Straw and Reid know all about.
Scott Horton provides a useful round-up of the evidence and arguments against the party line here.
There are no excuses for terrorism, but sometimes there are explanations. There's a nasty meme going around that to seek (non-party-line) explanations is to condone. A good antidote to it is in the words of Alec Nove:
To understand is not to forgive. It is simply better than the alternative, which is not to understand.