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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Fake solutions and real ones

Before I return to East Asian matters I wanted to write something a bit more editorial on the recent bombings in London. I don't really want to address the bombings themselves or the complex issue of the factors that lay behind them as I think this has been done better than I could ever do by some of the commentators I have linked to in previous posts (especially Gary Younge). So I thought I would look briefly at one slightly tangential aspect that interests me.

The issue is one that I've mentioned here before: ID cards. Until the bombings the government's plans to bring in ID cards were definitely on the slippery slope, suffering from spiralling projected costs, rapidly waning public support and about to become victim to a concerted effort by the opposition parties to upset the (much weakened) Labour government's new legislative programme. It will be interesting to see how things pan out, but I suspect that it will be much harder to defeat them now and the government has already moved to use the bombings as justification for ID cards (among a number of other 'necessary measures'). Funnily enough, though, even Home Secretary Charles Clarke in his post-bombing advocacy for ID cards has admitted that they would not have stopped the attacks. He argues rather that "on balance they would help rather than hinder" the investigation of terrorist attacks like this one. This seems like an incredibly weak justification from a government minister who is supposed to be pushing for ID cards. (And it should be noted that it would have been completely irrelevant in the current case as the attackers seem to have been totally unconcerned about concealing their identities and were carrying documents from which the police have been able to identify them easily).

However, I think in a strange way Clarke is actually being considerably more honest that much of the media rhetoric around that repeatedly uses the old cliche about how such bombings are "almost impossible to prevent in a free society like ours." The problems with such a statement are almost too many to unpack. First, it implies that technocratic solutions would be helpful and perhaps even prevent terrorism, but that we cannot implement them as we value our freedoms too much. But this government (like those before it during the 'troubles') has introduced a number of measures already that reduce our freedoms considerably and yet terrorism only seems to have become more likely. More broadly, I think the correlation between the degree of freedom granted to citizens in a particular society and its vulnerability to terrorism is a highly dubious one. In fact I think the correlation could almost be reversed: it seems highly repressive states are particularly good at breeding terrorism against themselves and there really is no way that a population can be 'locked down' to the extent that some people will not be able to commit acts of violence should they have the desire to do so. This is especially true of countries that are brutally occupying a another country - Russia and Israel come to mind straight away, but any number of other cases could be cited. Israel has opted for the ultimate technocratic measure: a massive concrete wall with watchtowers turning the West Bank into a prison, but I doubt that even this can be entirely effective in protecting Israelis.

Of course governments love technocratic solutions (even when they are honest enough to admit that they won't work) because they cannot commit themselves to the real solutions (and technocratic solutions have useful spin-offs too). In a rare moment of clarity, Blair said the other day that we have to tackle the 'roots of terrorism', but we all know that the reality is that he is completely incapable of doing this, tied as he is to Bush's disastrous 'war on terror'. While it goes without saying that security, prevention and (hopefully) justice are necessary when dealing with terrorism, here are a few suggestions for political rather than technocratic solutions to the problem:

  • Troops out of the Middle East

  • Self determination for Iraq, Palestine, Kurdistan, Chechniya and Afghanistan

  • No more military and financial support for regimes that oppress their own or neighbouring peoples, eg: Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia

    At July 14, 2005 2:33 PM, Anonymous scott said...

    I agree that all of your solutions are good goals that should be worked toward, but don't you think they should be done in stages?

    Secondly, don't you admit the possibility that the same groups who bombed Spain and London would, if foreign countries were out of the Middle East picture, just start bombing their fellow countrymen who resisted extremist governments?

    Would you then be criticizing the West for not preventing such bloodbaths? Perhaps the roots of terrorism are not really poverty or foreign interference, but thugs hungry for power.

    The idea of self-determination for every country/region is certainly good, but what should foreign powers do about it? For countries that can do so on their own in a fair manner, then great. But most countries collapse into bloody civil wars that make the violence in Iraq pale in comparison.

    The way Bush and co. are running things is certainly no good. The suggests I hear from the left sound possibly worse.

    At July 14, 2005 3:33 PM, Blogger kotaji said...

    Yes, of course it's not enough to have the things I mentioned above - they are just a start, or rather the prerequisites for any progress being made at all.

    Ultimately solutions have to be internal to those countries. I'm not saying somewhere like Egypt or Iraq is going to become a utopia if the US/UK etc stop interfering; there will have to be a process and that may well be messy. But the Middle East (not to mention other parts of the world) has had more than one hundred years of imperialism, colonialism and interference both major and minor. The state of these countries - their civil societies, oppressive ruling classes, the increasing turn toward political Islam in various forms etc - cannot be separated from that history. The people of the region are no more thuggish or power hungry than people are anywhere else.

    To suggest that these countries or peoples are innately incapable of looking after their own affairs is basically orientalist and racist (I'm not accusing you of this, but it is implied in much of the tone of media reactions to terrorism and events in the Middle East).

    As I said, there must be internal solutions to the problems of the area and they can only begin to be worked out once the goals I mentioned above are achieved. I am certain that when the causes of despair and humiliation are removed people will unanimously reject the false solution offered by the radical Islamists and they will lose the breeding ground they now have.

    One more thing: I should probably add Xinjiang and Tibet to the list, just to show I'm not being soft on Chinese imperialism.

    At July 14, 2005 8:01 PM, Anonymous scott said...

    Good reply. I think there are cases where nations do need outside help for a time(The Marshall Plan was not such a bad thing, for example)due to circumstances beyond their control, but in the long run nations need to work out the details on their own.

    Contrary to what others may believe, bombers are over here ('here' being the west) because we are over there. But the moment we pull out, we should expect things to get much worse over there before they get better. With few exceptions (yourself included), those on the left seem to ignore this.

    At July 16, 2005 3:26 PM, Anonymous David said...

    It's convenient to see the events of the 7th as correlating directly to the events in Iraq and Afghanistan, but this sort of violent extremism in the name of Allah long predates Sept 11th and operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Today, a large part of the violence found in Iraq is coming from non-Iraqis, including approx 70 UK citizens (according to the Brookings Institute) in the country hoping to murder and maim in the name of Islam. Britain’s Muslims have been exporting violence for at least ten years, including suicide bombings in Israel, and organizing terrorist attacks throughout the Middle East and elsewhere. The problem is the violent sociopaths that have found asylum in Britain and hope to perpetuate there brand of intolerance and hatred throughout the world from their UK base. Britain has been strongly criticized, not just by countries like Egypt and Israel, but by France, Germany and a number of other European countries for giving shelter to those who have committed heinously brutal acts of violence against civilians around the world, and those advocating the rise global Islam through the sword. Britain believed, naively, that by offering cover and succor, these sociopaths would target others - far from Britain’s shores. Hopefully we will now learn that allowing the fires of hate, intolerance and religiously justified homicide to burn in our communities will eventually lead to us all being burned.

    At July 18, 2005 11:33 AM, Anonymous David said...

    Interesting - rather than address the points I made you retort with invective and threat...says a lot about you.

    At July 19, 2005 9:39 AM, Blogger kotaji said...

    Yes it does say a lot about me... I'm a scary bastard ;-)

    Seriously though, I won't engage with people who are clearly racists. This is my blog so it's my prerogative to choose who I engage with.

    At July 19, 2005 2:11 PM, Anonymous David said...

    Right...slander away without any indication as to what racist verbiage your referring to (there was certainly nothing in what I wrote)...oh well, best not to let coherent thought get in the way of your own racially sculpted beliefs. Oh, and as for you being didn't seem that intimidating at the Sheffield conference (yep, I was there). And as for your threat to "burn me down", let me know when you wish to make good on that – I'd be happy to pop round’.

    At July 19, 2005 2:21 PM, Blogger kotaji said...

    Yes, you're right, I'm not at all scary. But I have been known to a) use irony, b) make jokes and c) engage in banter.

    At July 21, 2005 12:41 PM, Blogger kotaji said...

    Just looking back at these comments I feel things got a bit overheated (I hope this isn't a pun too far). And my comment above could be interpreted as a threat rather than what it was meant to be: a jibe at a suspected rightwing troller.

    I certainly don't want to appear to be threatening my readers so I've decided to remove my earlier comment.

    I will leave David's original comment, although I have to say that I hope people reading this will see why I find it offensive.


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