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Sunday, July 24, 2005

Christianity and Islam

I was travelling on a train the other day and someone had scrawled ‘Islam is evil’, a view I suspect is more widely held than certain people think. I have had discussions with people back in my home town who think that it will one day be overrun with mosques, a pretty unlikely thing given that there are virtually no Muslims in Barrow-in-Furness. This attitude is reflected to some degree among some Christian scholars here in the UK.

It shouldn’t need saying that these views are of no merit whatsoever. But why do so many people think like this? One reason is (as ever) the role of media. There has been a great deal of media coverage on Islam here in the UK, increasingly so after the recent London attacks. Various things are repeatedly discussed and reported: the difference between ‘extreme’ and ‘moderate’ Islam, Muslims suppressing militants, a hook handed comic book cleric, etc. Some of these concerns have been echoed by Tony Blair. No matter how well meaning some of the journalism might be the overall effect creates a context whereby Muslims are treated as potentially dangerous fanatics, putting ethnic communities here in the UK under serious threat every day.

But were not the London attackers, the Sept. 11 hijackers, the Bali bombers, all Muslim? Well yes of course. So what is the assumption here? Is Islam is somehow differently violent from the religion of ‘our’ supposedly civilised societies? Perhaps ‘they’ haven’t quite evolved in some way? Hopefully few people would say such things because they are so clearly absurd but those constantly questioning Islam in the British media and British public life should come clean about their assumptions. They should also ask why Christian violence doesn’t get such coverage.

After all, George W. Bush claims to be a committed Christian as does Tony Blair. Between them they share a great deal of responsibility for the lives of what is now suggested as 25,000 civilians killed in Iraq, thousands in Afghanistan, and God knows how many more have suffered directly or indirectly due to US and UK foreign policy. It could be argued that these two coincidentally happened to be Christians who were not fighting in the name of God. But Blair explicitly justified the Iraq war apocalyptically in terms of good and evil and Bush has been even more explicit. What about some of the Christian 'fundamentalists' and their continuing connection with the American political right? So should we ask why Christians would produce such people who have presided over profoundly unjust wars and continually support brutal dictators (like Saddam of course)? Many Christians would be offended by this with some justification just as many Muslims are by questions constantly levelled at them. Many, many Christians have opposed such behaviour and would not want to be linked with figures such as Reagan, Bush or even Blair, just as many, many Muslims have openly condemned the recent atrocities in London. Most prominent Christian leaders opposed the Iraq war and many Christians have been vocal opponents of British and US foreign policy over the years. But as some Muslims have supported aggressive actions in the name of Allah so some Christians have supported aggressive actions of their Christian political leaders in the name of Jesus Christ, both sides no doubt deluded in such instances. So is it really fair to frame this in terms of 'religion'?

Thousands and thousands of innocent people have died in New York, Iraq, London, Afghanistan, Bali, and so on and so on. By framing the discussion in terms of Islam, hatred of ‘our values’, and even religion in general misses the point to some extent. It does nothing to prevent more innocent deaths and if anything is only contributes to the sorry state of affairs. Whether a violent Christian or a violent Muslim in this so-called war or terror, religion is only the surface of much deeper issues.

42 Comments:

Blogger Michael F. Bird said...

James, I wrote this on Euangelion after 7/7:

I'm reminded of the words of an Arab publisher:

"It is a certain fact that not all Muslims are terrorists, but it is equally certain, and exceptionally painful, that almost all terrorists are Muslims."

From an article in the Telegraph called: Innocent religion is now a message of hate. It is a good read from an Arab/Muslim perspective.

July 24, 2005

 
Anonymous steph fisher said...

It is a relief to read the unprejudiced comment here by James. That all terrorists are Muslims depends on how you define terrorist. If it is defined as one who is responsible for killing thousands of innocent people, you can include Bush and Blair. The only difference is they do not kill themselves in the process. And don't forget the slaughter of the Muslims by the Serbs.

July 25, 2005

 
Anonymous steph fisher said...

It is a relief to read the unprejudiced comment here by James. That all terrorists are Muslims depends on how you define terrorist. If it is defined as one who is responsible for killing thousands of innocent people, you can include Bush and Blair. The only difference is they do not kill themselves in the process. And don't forget the slaughter of the Muslims by the Serbs.

July 25, 2005

 
Blogger Jaume said...

I totally agree with James's opinion on this. Michael: likewise you could say that not all Basques are ETA terrorists, but certainly almost all ETA terrorists are Basque. The same could be repeated about the IRA, Catholicism, and Northern Ireland. This kind of identification is what leads to tragedies, social disruption and civil confrontation. Let's call terrorists terrorists, regardless of their religion or ethnic origin.

July 25, 2005

 
Blogger Ken said...

Of course, it is self-evident that not all Muslims are terrorists.

That said, there is no moral equivalence between Islamic terrorism and the actions of Bush and Blair. To suggest so is either naive or ignorant. The deaths of 25,000 civilians ought to lie predominantly on Saddam, the insurgents, and the terrorists and indirectly upon those nations who failed to make a united stand against tyranny and terrorism (and consequently failed to force Saddam out peaceably). The US and the UK seek to avoid civilian casualties under difficult and trying conditions; Islamic terrorists seek to multiply civilian casualties and the greater the number of lives lost, the greater they preceive their victory to have been. While Coalition Forces have made mistakes and civilians have lost their lives as a result, it is considered a tragedy when such things happen and, if it is discovered that it is deliberate and malicious, the US and UK will bring their own to trial. That is a world of difference.

July 25, 2005

 
Anonymous steph said...

wow!!

July 25, 2005

 
Blogger James Crossley said...

Ken: in that case you still have to ask 'why Muslims'? There is nothing mysterious about Islam which some how lures Muslims to be violent? No, surely not. But a whole pool of social, economic and political issues in predominantly Muslim countries would seem a better place to begin. I echo the comments of Steph and Juame here: given the right circumstances people of any religion or none can become terrorists.

Let's not kid ourselves: the war in Iraq was never for any honourable reason. The only reason now that the US and UK would avoid innocent deaths is due to public opinion. That said, cluster bombs against what is effectively a third world country by the most powerful military force on earth does not sound like someone trying to avoid innocent deaths. Nor does Rumsfeld going off to Iraq in the 1980s to sell Saddam his weapons.

They didn't try to force Saddam out peacefully: that fact is very well documented now. There should be no dispute that US foreign policy is done in the name of US interests (see the Project for the New American Century). This is how just about every power has acted in history.

Also let's not forget who sold Saddam those weapons over the years. Let us not forget that the US continues to prop up (with money and training) the vile Uzbekistan regime (to mention one). None of this behaviour is new. The US and UK have supported some of the very worst dictators over the years and opposed democratic movements worldwide.

So, do we say that almost all expansionist powers are Christian and assume that their Christianity is behind it? No and nor should we assume that Islam has very much to do with what recent terrorists have done.

July 25, 2005

 
Blogger Jim said...

James, You remark-

Let's not kid ourselves: the war in Iraq was never for any honourable reason. The only reason now that the US and UK would avoid innocent deaths is due to public opinion. That said, cluster bombs against what is effectively a third world country by the most powerful military force on earth does not sound like someone trying to avoid innocent deaths. Nor does Rumsfeld going off to Iraq in the 1980s to sell Saddam his weapons.

I simply could not agree more.

July 25, 2005

 
Anonymous steph said...

Some people can argue that black is white but congratulations James and Jim for your intelligent, thoughtful and courageous comments. I admire you both.

July 25, 2005

 
Blogger Ken said...

James: The fact that the US sold weapons to Saddam only increases their responsibility to remove him not lessen it.

In his first term, George Bush finally reversed an American foreign policy that was meant to deal with the Cold War. The US was slow in changing and its failure to do so under Bill Clinton is a big reason for its present problems. Its present support for Uzbekistan and Pakistan is a concern certainly but I would guess there are pragmatic strategic considerations, considering that it has been fairly consistent in its attitude towards other regimes.

As for the intentions going in, don't you kid yourself. It was pragmatic and certainly more honorable than dishonorable. Claims that the motive was profit or a personal vendetta or some Moore-esque conspiracy theory are unfounded and at clear odds with the facts.

The Project for the New American Century is likewise pragmatic but essentially honorable; it does advocate American hegemony but it does so within a context of liberation and freedom from tyrannies.

I certainly won't deny that the US operates, as every country does, out of its own national self-interest but it is also the country, with the possible exception of the UK, that historically and now continues to do the most in the world to effect positive change.

The war in Iraq was an inevitable conflict. Saddam was a belligerent and eventually the US and the UK were going to have to deal with him.

Yet, they would very much have liked to force Saddam out peaceably and very well could have had Russia, China, France, and Germany stood with the US and the UK. I'm not sure what 'facts' you elude too but I guarantee that the US would have been overjoyed to discover that Saddam had resigned and fled to Syria. Short of this, however, Saddam would have been playing games and the US rightly recognized that. The Duelfer report explains much of this as does any close analysis of the events of the twelve years preceding the invasion.

The use of cluster bombs, contrary to the claims of the HRW, remains an important strategic weapon. The US took responsibility to use these weapons primarily in areas outside civilian populations and has in many cases taken responsibility for disposal of unfired munitions.

In any case, the US and the UK militaries do not deliberately target civilians. This is not a publicity stunt designed to boost ratings. Suggesting public opinion is the only reason is simply nonsense and so manifestly inaccurate that it is a clear sign of your loss of perspective. You've evidently forgotten the moral and legal codes, the freedom and constitutions, the history and accomplishments of your native country in a fit of postmodern relativism.

As for your final question... yes, we do. Al Qaeda is primarily driven by its religious theology. The disagreements between Shia and Sunni are primarily religious. The opposition to US troops formerly stationed in Saudi Arabia is a religious grievance. The opposition to Israel is a religious grievance. Islamic terrorists intend to enforce their religion on those whom it captures, overthrows, or conquers. Pre-9/11 Taliban Afghanistan is a clear indication of their intent for all Muslim countries. The call is submission to Allah or death. The war is supported by official fatwas.

While Bush and Blair may be from predominantly Christian countries, they're arguments, reasons, and goals for conflict could only be said to be religious in the very broadest of terms. They govern societies that place values of freedom and the rule of law above adherence to a particular religious creed. They are not forcing Christianity on Iraq and have no intentions to use their military action as a vanguard for a new Christendom. In fact, they are encouraging the development of societies built on respect for the pluralities of Islam.

You are avoiding the facts for the sake of a PC argument and along the way you are attempting to slander Christianity.

July 25, 2005

 
Blogger Ken said...

But a whole pool of social, economic and political issues in predominantly Muslim countries would seem a better place to begin.

Precisely and this is why the US and the UK are advocating a broad range of measures to democratize and liberate the Middle East and other oppressed peoples. Everything from foreign aid to invasion is being used to address a complex set of problems.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, it was necessary to use force, especially when in the former case the rest of the world did not stand behind the Bush ultimatum. In Palestine, Arafat had to be isolated and a new PA has to be encouraged to end corruption. In Lebanon, Syria had to be pushed out. In Egypt and Saudi Arabia, consistent pressure has to be applied to encourage democratic reform. In Africa, debt relief based on accountability and democratic reform, coupled with lowering economic barriers, can contribute to long-term sustainability. In North Korea, there has to be an end to its extortion attempts based on nuclear threats. In Iran, the nascent reformist movements should be encouraged and a strict policy towards nuclear proliferation enforced. In the Phillipines, the national forces are being trained to better police and fight Islamic terrorists. In Pakistan, a combination of economic engagement, reforms, and international pressure needs to continue.

Each situation is different but the goals are clear: the establishment of democratic and free states that respect the rule of law and guarantee basic social and economic freedoms. This is the way to political and economic enfranchisement and ultimately the way to peace.

All this said, your related suggestion that there is no real, inherent problem within Islam itself is wrong. There is a disease in the religion that fuels Islamic terrorism. It is in madrasses and mosques, both in the Western world and the Middle East, where al Qaeda's brand of terrorism was born and currently proliferates. Just as Christianity has continually committed itself to assessing and re-evaluating its own ideologies/theologies, so too must Islam. To deny the role of Islam in Islamic terrorism ignores a self-evident enabler in the present problems.

July 25, 2005

 
Blogger Ken said...

Truth is the First Civilian Casuality, Newsweek.

July 26, 2005

 
Blogger James Crossley said...

We are straying off topic a bit here but I feel I should answer the questions.

As for this being a ‘PC’ argument I really don’t know what you mean. In what sense is it PC? If anyone opposes the official US/UK line can it only be ‘PC’ (which I presume you use derogatorily) and therefore dismissed? Does saying something is ‘PC’ really contribute to an argument? As for avoiding fact, I've given plenty of them. You may disagree with my interpretation but I have given facts. It is no good saying the opposite.

As for implying some kind of association with ‘conspiracy theory’, again is that really an argument? I may or may not be wrong but I’m at a loss to see how what I’m saying should be associated with a ‘conspiracy theory’. Is it completely unbelievable to think that a nation would be expansionist and want to invade another nation for resources? Well, if the US was behaving like that it would be in line with most powers in history. Again I may be wrong but it is hardly as implausible as a ‘conspiracy theory’ like something from the X Files!! Or take a 20th century example. The British PM Eden in his dairies said that one of his primary concerns in the Suez crisis was oil. Some pro-Iraq war advocates were happy to accept that oil was an issue and view it as a positive. Again, Iraq may or may not have involved the oil issue but to say it was involved in some way does not make you a conspiracy theorist.

But on the subject of conspiracy, let’s not forget who has influenced some of the Bush administration, i.e. Leo Strauss who argued that it is necessary to keep certain ideas hidden from the masses for the sake of social stability. Does this ideology not more closely resemble conspiracy theory than saying a nation invades another for its own interests?

And how is saying something like this at odds with the facts: what about the contracts handed out?

I really don't see how supporting Uzbekistan and Pakistan is somehow at odds with US foreign policy. They are not the only brutal powers supported by Bush! The US, like any other power, and as it has done in its history, uses whatever nation it needs. It is national self interest. Nothing at all unusual. the fact they support a variety of different types of people only supports my argument that it is national self interest.

As for strategic use of Uzbekistan, this is of course one reason given. Let’s assume this is true (I think there’s more to it than that as Uzbekistan also has rich energy reserves but let’s assume it’s just strategy). Is it right to accept just what the US and UK are backing in the name of strategy? The human rights abuses and tortures in Uzbekistan in recent years are appalling, perhaps the most infamous being the boiling to death of dissidents. Amnesty (used by Blair to justify Iraq) and HRW give all the other horrendous details. The US have pledged millions of dollars to aiding Uzbek 'law enforcement'. That law enforcement was recently shown in Uzbekistan and the lives of so many just lost and reporting virtually banned. Britain has allowed Uzbekistan and other countries with poor human rights records access to a wide range of arms. Is this really worth it just for strategic placement? Is this kind of support really necessary?

The Project for the New American Century. I’m not even remotely convinced their motives are honourable. But if we were to think of it as honourable, in what way? Building on (in their words) Reagan’s military ‘success’? Is increased military spending really necessary in the US? Why should any country accept US hegemony? The spreading of ‘American values’ (their American values: not the American values of many Americans)? Why should any country want to accept this? Are you surprised that many people are vehemently opposed to this around the world? It is not just the British and US govts who have the ability to think politics and democracy. Most people are perfectly capable of thinking like this but providing financial support for non-democratic tyrants will hinder the case. Perhaps one way to allow the spread of democracy would be to stop backing rulers like Karimov and a whole host of unpleasant rulers and provide support for democratic movements in various countries instead of opposing them. I’m not saying this potential solution is right or wrong but it is certainly an improvement.

As for your argument that selling weapons to Saddam was a reason to invade, there are problems with this too. One problem is this: is it really right to sell a known brutal dictator weapons in the knowledge that he will use them but then come back 20 odd years later and say he’s got these weapons and we must disarm him? Does that logic not seem a little perverse? Does it not tell you more about the intentions of Rumsfeld that he was perfectly happy to so? Another point is that by the time of the Iraq war there were no WMDs left of course (as the Bush administration had previously acknowledged, confirmed of course in the long run). So disarm Saddam of what? And, incidentally, why use the indiscriminate cluster bomb to do this? They may well say sorry or take responisbility but they have killed many, many civilians in Iraq. Some of the effects of the general bombing campaign were reported here in the UK e.g. the infamous market place bombing. They may not have meant it but it happened, hardly surprising really. Primarily outside civilian areas. Primarily?

As for me forgetting moral codes etc. Are you serious?! Do you really want me to list the breaches of moral and legal codes made by my country? We could be here a very long time.

Again, what do you mean by 'postmodern relativism'? How on earth does saying a war and expansionism is wrong class as postmodern relativism? I have tried to make causal claims, something not big in postmodern thought, to explain what is going on. I may be wrong or right but it is not to be dismissed as postmodern relativism for a very simple reason: it is not postmodern relativism. We are both working with the assumption that both of us are right. That is not postmodern relativism. As for describing it as a fit, well...

As I said religion is the surface. Religion is the justification given, I quite agree, but underlying it all are very real social, political and economic problems without which there would not be so much resentment and hatred. Do you really think all these events of the past few years would happen if the West had not behaved as it has in the Middle East over the past century or if the Palestinian issue had been resolved? Or is the hatred towards the West just irrational? This is not to justify: nothing can justify bombing innocent civilians, putting bombs on buses or trains or flying planes in to towers. But if we try to understand why then we may be able to contribute to stopping these things happening again. Surely that’s worth trying. As for the pre-9/11 Taliban, who helped them get where they were?

You said that Bush/Blair would be happy with a peaceful resolution and questioned my facts. Well, Hans Blix was never allowed to finish for a start. But there is other evidence that is perfectly well documented. Unsurprisingly Saddam desperately tried to avoid war. Iraqi intelligence was reported to have approached the CIA’s former head of counter-terrorism Vincent Cannistraro with an offer to allow US troops to enter Iraq to show there were no WMD, proof that Iraq had no connections with September 11 and internationally monitored elections within two years. These were rejected by the Bush administration as were similar offers (J. Borger, B. Whitaker and V. Dodd, ‘Saddam's Desperate Offers to Stave Off War’ The Guardian, November 7, 2003). Yet we were informed that the decision to go to war was Saddam’s choice (brutal though he was he’d have to be unbelievably stupid to choose war against the US) and that the US and UK made every effort at diplomacy. Saddam could have been lying through his teeth of course but would it not have even been worth trying a peaceful resolution? Clearly there was no serious attempt.

And of course the help for Africa. Well I don't want to stray too far off topic here but not all aid agencies agree (e.g. ActionAid). Reading the African Growth and Opportunity Act shows how much self interest there is, including the introduction of market based economies lacking state protection for home grown business and providing opportunities for US business.

July 26, 2005

 
Blogger James Crossley said...

Ok, back on topic.

You mentioned a disease in Islam. What precisely is this disease? Can it be defined? When I studied Islam as an undergraduate it seemed a perfectly decent religion, abused by some but what religion isn’t. Yet I never noticed it as inherently diseased or anything that could be described as such. Muslim students I knew seemed perfectly sane, pretty much like anyone else really. When I lived in predominantly Muslim areas in Nottingham I naturally had plenty of social interaction with Muslims. They did not seem diseased or anything that could be described as such, metaphorically or not, just perfectly normal human beings. Nor did I notice anything that could be seen as a disease in the community. I enjoyed interesting discussions with my Muslim landlord about the Bible and the Quran. He had great affection and respect for the Bible. I did not detect any malice, disease, or anything that could be described in such a way. Again I’m not really sure what you mean here as it is not something that springs to mind in my experience of Muslims. Now some Muslmis have done some horrific things but to say that this is due to some inherent disease in their religion does not hold logically together.

The supposed slander on Christianity is also mistaken. The whole point of my comment was to point out that to associate Islam with terrorism is as unfair as associating Christianity with US expansionism. Many, many Christians do not want to be associated with Bush or Blair so do I take it you see it as a slur on your version of Christianity and not on the forms of Christianity as held by millions of people? It’s fair enough if you see it as a slur on your version of Christianity but it is not a slur on other versions and it should be clear that the intent was in fact the opposite of a ‘slander'. I was actually trying to say that Christianity is infinitely better than the ideologies of Bush and Blair. Moreover, I know plenty of Christians who hold almost exactly the same views as I've mentioned here. Does this make them heretics?

July 26, 2005

 
Blogger Jim said...

James can hardly be accused of slandering anyone- or anything- including Christianity. The rhetoric from the right is generally designed to castigate and separate and in its lowest form to call into question the motives and even patriotism of those who oppose the right wing mentality and program. But that is, of course a rubbish filled red herring. The real, central, and utterly bypassed issue for the right wing is the fact, the clear and unquestionable fact, that George Bush invaded Iraq and set in motion a series of events that he is now utterly incapable of extricating himself or his country from.

As a result, and to divert attention, blame for the current world situation is placed on those ideologically different than himself. If diversion means denigration, then so be it, say the right wingers- because, at the end of the day, what matters to them is winning- not truth, or human dignity, or peace. The truth be damned- its victory they want.

July 26, 2005

 
Blogger Ken said...

It is a PC argument because it appears to me that you are arguing that all communities and all ideas are equally valid, that is there is no significant distinction to be made between the values of Islam and the values of Christianity. Yet, one of these religious streams has a proven history of promoting human freedom, democracy, and tolerance while the other has no history of this. Moreover, you have suggested that there is a moral equivalence between the terrorists and Bush/Blair's invasion of Iraq -- something manifestly untrue. You persist in this belief despite the obvious differences between the two and, though you claim facts in your favor, I do not see that you have made your point at all. The Newsweek article reinforces my point that it is impossible to attribute these deaths to Bush/Blair, which should be self-evident to any observer, and in any case I have also argued, consistent with the facts, that the western armies attempt to avoid civilian deaths (sometimes at great risk to their own) while the terrorists attempt to multiply them. By contrast, you make the preposterous allegation that these armies avoid civilian deaths only as a matter of public relations. Nonsense!

As for my reference to Moore-esque conspiracy theories... this was one of three common "dishonorable" motives frequently attributed to Bush/Blair that I listed. I listed these because you did not explain why you felt that the invasion was less than honorable and vaguely do so now with a bunch of questions rather than a clear articulation of your reasons.

One question you ask is about contracts and by that I assume you are referring to Haliburton. I'd invite you to look at this blog entry regarding this issue.

As for Uzbekistan, US relations with Uzbekistan have been severely strained since the Andijan incident and the US has repeatedly called for independent investigations. As a part of their aid to Uzbekistan, the US has also signed agreements that encourage and require democratic, economic, and social reforms. The agreements are remininscent of the type of policies used to engage China. I am not endorsing the US-Uzbekistan relationship but I am pointing out that it is much more multi-faceted than either you realize or you would let your readers believe and that it does include accountability structures.

The Project for the New American Century is an essentially honorable project because it advocates an end to America's support for tyranny and the promotion of freedom, democracy, and liberty, precisely the issue for which you condemn them. I find that your arguments against the US are very disingenuous because you conflate fifty years of policy as if one administration were responsible for it, that is the Bush administration, and you do so as if past policies were enacted in response to present events rather than considerably different historical circumstances. The foreign policy needs and aims of the US during the Cold War were considerably different than those required now. There is no question that their unqualified support for many dictators in the past has created much of their present problems but were their past policies justified, or at least understandable, in light of Soviet aggression and threats? Moreover, it is this unqualified support for dictators that the Bush administration has ended now. While the US continues to work with dictatorships, it does so with many different forms of incentive and accountability structures to encourage democratic, economic, and social reform. It appears to me that you are advocating a policy of isolationism and disengagement. If this happened, there would be widespread economic and social disruption and dislocation the likes of which you can only imagine. I don't think you realize just how much the US contributes to worldwide stability. In a world where a small group of disenfranchised people can acquire WMD and launch devastating attacks against civilian populations, this stability is essential.

Regarding the moral and legal codes, I am very much serious. Your government and the US government, while not perfect, generally hold their own accountable for legal violations and certainly do so with far greater consistency than the enemy to which you make these governments morally equivalent.

Regarding your suggestion that the Bush administration wasn't interested in a peaceful solution, you cite Hans Blix's inability to finish the inspections as well as Guardian article concerning Saddam's desperate last minute negotiations. In both cases, the end result would have kept Saddam in power. The ultimatum that Bush issued was regime change not giving up weapons at an incremental pace while still obfuscating and refusing the conditions of a cease-fire signed twelve years earlier. Short of resigning and fleeing, Saddam was playing games. This is self-evident to anyone wiho examines the history of US-Iraqi relations dating back to the first Gulf War. I recommend that you read the Duelfer report and look back at the events of 1998. Peaceful solutions had been attempted for 12+ years. Saddam was lying through his teeth; this was proven in those 12+ years. The fact that you did not pay attention those twelve years does not change the facts.

July 26, 2005

 
Blogger Ken said...

The rhetoric from the right is generally designed to castigate and separate and in its lowest form to call into question the motives and even patriotism of those who oppose the right wing mentality and program. But that is, of course a rubbish filled red herring.

I do call into question the patriotism of those who on the one hand claim they are patriotic and on the other say that the men and women in American/British uniform avoid civilian deaths only as a matter of public relations. I do call into question the patriotism of people who argue that a democratically elected President/PM, who has received congressional/parliamentary approval for all their military interventions, is morally equivalent to terrorists. This is no red herring, Jim. It is completely justified. The rhetoric of the left is profoundly unpatriotic. It is one thing to oppose the war in the Iraq and it is quite another to level the charges that James Crossley has leveled in his posts.

July 26, 2005

 
Blogger Ken said...

If diversion means denigration, then so be it, say the right wingers- because, at the end of the day, what matters to them is winning- not truth, or human dignity, or peace. The truth be damned- its victory they want.

Nonsense! I want peace, truth, and human dignity. I just don't believe your rhetoric offers it. Not by a long shot. It is typical that in the absence of arguments you have resorted to an attack on the "right-wing" and "right-wingers". Who is quilty of denigration and diversion? I have never alleged that you do not desire truth, human dignity, or peace, even though I don't think you offer a way that truly accomplishes this. My argument is with the nature and type of your arguments and I will use strongly worded about views that are nonsensical, ill-reasoned, and ill-informed. Occasionally, my phrasing may imply something I do not intend and comes across as a personal attack but I think on the whole this is rare and usually, in context, clearly designed to expose the fallacy of arguments used rather than to attack the reputation of the person who has made them. Indeed, my argument that James has slandered Christianity is not designed to attack James as a slanderer (though I see how it implies that) but rather it is designed to expose James' argument as one that has the effect of slandering Christianity. I apologize for any mistake I made in the presentation of my argument that unfairly impugns another. While I believe that you and James are sorely mistaken, you are nevertheless well-meaning and well-intentioned.

July 26, 2005

 
Blogger Jim said...

Ken,
We may disagree but I have always respected your diligence and your eloquence. If only you were on the right (meaning correct!) side of this issue! ;-)

Yours

Jim

July 26, 2005

 
Blogger Ken said...

Muslim students I knew seemed perfectly sane, pretty much like anyone else really.

Oh, how you have miscontrued and misrepresented me!! This is horrible rhetoric. I never suggested that Muslims are, by definition, diseased. I said there is a disease in Islam and a particularly severe one; I'm astonished you would not grant this. You need to read the writings of Sayyid Qutb or many contemporary Imams of the wahabist and qutbist forms of Islam. You need to pay attention to the way in which these militant ideologies have infiltrated Islam. You need to spend some time researching Islamic history.

Christianity has similarly suffered from diseases and still does. Some have been as severe as diseases afflicting Islam, most notably the anti-semitism that precipitated and ideologically justified, at least in part, the Holocaust. Others, while as distorted and evil, have not had the same consequences, most notably the extremes of American Fundamentalism that preach hatred of the GLBT and other such things.

To exonerate the religions from responsibility in addressing these corruptions of their teachings is dangerous and wrong, in my opinion. Also, to go back to my first rebuttal, it is part of what strikes me as very PC.

July 26, 2005

 
Blogger Ken said...

BTW, the postmodern relativism in your argument James, like the PC aspects of your argument, is your attempt to construe moral equivalencies where they don't exist. It seems to me that you are asserting that the truth claims of Islam and Christianity as well as the actions of Western governments and Islamic terrorists are equally valid. I never said your opposition to the war in Iraq is reflective of postmodern relativism. I think this distinction is abundantly clear in my previous posts.

July 26, 2005

 
Blogger Ken said...

As for your argument that selling weapons to Saddam was a reason to invade, there are problems with this too.

I said it strengthened American responsibility rather than lessened it. I didn't say it was a reason for the war, though arguably it could be. The twenty-two or so reasons for the war are captured in the Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq. While some of the justifications concerning WMD, at best, remain indeterminate and, at worst, inaccurate and/or sensationalized, this does not invalidate the core facts of the Duelfer Report that Saddam actively pursued WMD nor does it invalidate the fact that Saddam had significantly failed the burden of proof that lay upon him with respect to the cease-fire agreement and subsequent UNSCRs. Moreover, if you read the joint resolution, you will see that the case for war was built on far more than just WMD.

Cluster bombs were used against military targets primarily outside civilian population zones. They are an effective, albeit very blunt weapon, to attack large military units. The American military significantly restricted its use of this weapon in comparison with past conflicts and has taken some responsibility to dispose of unfired munitions from these bombs. It is to this point that my "primarily" referred as I made clear. James, you are arguing in a very disingenuous way by conflating the issue of cluster bombs, my points on this issue, with other types of attacks.

Regarding the mistakes made by the US/UK, they are a tragedy and regarded as such by those militaries. Moreover, these incidents only amplify the distinctions between the US/UK and our enemies. Did you know that the US alone has 390 criminal investigations in progress with 50 referrals to court-martial, 85 non-judicial punishments, and 26 administrative actions? As well as possible in a time of war, the US/UK is taking responsibility for these mistakes and holding its own to account. Has even one Islamic terrorist been held to account for killing a woman or a child or for that matter another Muslim rather than infidels? Not a chance. In fact, Osama Bin Laden has explicitly declared that these are legitimate targets for any jihadists; and, to prove the point, terrorists have, in fact, killed more of their own then they have coalition soldiers.

War is a blunt instrument. There is no question of this. But, the US/UK is working mightly to wage it with the greatest possible consideration for civilians. It is the tactics of the terrorists and the insurgents that inevitably lead to the bulk of the civilian casualties.

July 26, 2005

 
Blogger Ken said...

EDIT: In my 9:45 post, I should have written "equally valid or equally invalid".

July 26, 2005

 
Blogger Jim said...

Ken, you opine,

War is a blunt instrument. There is no question of this. But, the US/UK is working mightly to wage it with the greatest possible consideration for civilians. It is the tactics of the terrorists and the insurgents that inevitably lead to the bulk of the civilian casualties.

Are you suggesting that there is such a beast as "civilized war"? forget tactics. Forget ideology. Forget politics. Dead is dead and it doesn't matter if its at the hands of a terrorist or a soldier. No war is civil or civilized. War is evil. Pure and simple. There is no such thing as a good war. And whether we like it or not, a live tyrant controlling a country is better than a wasted country full of dead bodies.

I'm reminded by your comments of the "better dead than red" nonsense of the cold war. No. Better alive than dead is the saying every human being should embrace. And we should all do our best to ensure that those around us are allowed to live- even if we disagree with their politics, the way they run their own countries, and yes, even their religious choices.

I cannot comprehend the love of death that war brings out in people. War is systematic killing. It is death. And again, it is the only enemy we really have.

July 26, 2005

 
Blogger Ken said...

Jim: I mean what I said. War is a blunt instrument. It effects great cruelty and suffering but, sadly in a fallen world, it is necessary and sometimes the best option to preserve life. This is most certainly paradoxical but it is nevertheless true. For countries such as the US and the UK that value life, the goal in combat is to wage war as effectively as possible to minimize the inevitable cruelty and suffering. I believe the evidence shows the US and the UK do this as best as they are able, with the full recognition that mistakes are made, occasionally bad soldiers abuse their position, or collateral damage ensues as the result of a difficult command decision. These latter problems are horrible tragedies and the reason war should not be wage lightly but they do mean war should never be waged. I wish that we could live in a world without war but the only way that can happen is to end tyrannies. So long as the world tolerates tyrants in this modern age of WMD, terrorism will grow in its destructiveness and tyrannical genocides and oppression will persist. I consider that unacceptable in an era when we have the ability to effect an end to tyranny.

It is tyrants who use war without regard to the life, peace, and prosperity of their citizens and the citizens of other countries. It is tyrants who create the political and economic disenfranchisement that leads to terrorism. It is tyrants who abuse and oppress men, women, and children. It is tyrants who remain unchecked by the rule of law, constitutions, or democratic processes.

The US and the UK unfortunately operate in a world where they must make pragmatic decisions. They have only limited resources to apply to any given situation and so they must weigh the relative costs of their decisions as they seek to promote a world built on fundamental, basic rights to life and freedom. Their work would be greatly aided if countries such as Russia, France, and Germany joined them. Tyrants, just like a schoolyard bully, are essentially cowards and most would flee in the face of an international ultimatum backed up by the use of force. I am certain Saddam would have abdicated and fled had Russia, China, France, and Germany joined in the Bush ultimatum. But, Saddam came to believe, after twelve years of such crises, that divided international opinion would force the US and UK to back down as it had in 1998 and so Saddam played the game. The next tyrant America faces is unlikely to take that chance and risk suffering the same ignominious fate Saddam is presently facing. Moreover, if these countries joined the US in its vision, such an international coalition would be able to bring to bear far greater economic, diplomatic, and, when necessary, military resources that would in turn limit the human cost. It is a difficult road to be sure but I see it as the only feasible road to long-term peace.

I would never embrace your statement "better alive than dead." Some things are more important than life and worth the fight. My family and basic human dignity and freedoms are among the things that I would willingly die to defend. I believe these things were at issue in WWII and the Cold War and are presently at issue in the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq. Moreover, I believe that the route the Americans are taking is the best way to preserve the most amount of life. So, even if I accepted your ethic, I would still have to side with the Bush administration.

Saddam murdered, by some counts, nearly 1.2 million people. The number of deaths caused by tyrannical regimes far outweighs the number of deaths caused of WWI and WWII combined. When you take into account that most wars are initiated by a tyrannical regime (and in fact next to no wars have been fought between democracies), there is absolutely no room to doubt that the cost of permitting tyranny is far greater than the cost of bringing it down, especially now in an age where such superior technology can be brought to bear against these regimes so as to effect a quick end to wars. Keep in mind too that with full international cooperation, many of the problems encountered by the Americans in Iraq would not be taking place.

I have no love of death.

July 27, 2005

 
Blogger Ken said...

EDIT: Replace this: "These latter problems are horrible tragedies and the reason war should not be wage lightly but they do mean war should never be waged."

With this: "These latter problems are horrible tragedies and the reason war should not be waged lightly. But, they do not mean war should never be waged."

July 27, 2005

 
Blogger Ken said...

And whether we like it or not, a live tyrant controlling a country is better than a wasted country full of dead bodies.

Of the potentially 1.2 million people who died as result of Saddam regimes, through his wars and oppression, anywhere from 290,000 to 400,000 (or even more) were the result of cold, calculated democide. Read Iraq's Legacy of Terror: Mass Graves for more details.

Even if, for the sake of argument, we adopt the most preposterous claim that 100,000 civilian deaths have occurred since the invasion of Iraq (50,000/year) and laid complete responsibility for these deaths at the hands of the American Coalition, it would take 20+ years to equal the 1.2 million people who died as a consequence of Saddam's regime and 6-8 years to equal the death tolls from just his wanton acts of democide. That's, of course, further assuming that the current rate of deaths persisted; but, most people do acknowledge that the vast majority of these deaths occured during the invasion not in the occupation phase. Moreover, the study on which it is based does not effectively distinguish between the types of violence that caused these deaths.

Now, if we take the most conservative numbers of 8,000 civilian deaths since the beginning of the war; a number I think is more eminently reasonable. It would take 100 years before the death tolls reached 400,000 assuming the rates persisted. At the present rate of civilian deaths, post-war, it would take substantially longer.

So, Jim, would you care to rethink whether it is better to leave a tyrant like Saddam in power?

July 27, 2005

 
Blogger James Crossley said...

Ok, Ken has accused me of saying things and I'll have to respond to those.

Ken said: "Moreover, you have suggested that there is a moral equivalence between the terrorists and Bush/Blair's invasion of Iraq -- something manifestly untrue.You persist in this belief despite the obvious differences between the two and, though you claim facts in your favor, I do not see that you have made your point at all."

What do you mean by 'moral equivalence'? It is a meaningless term. I never used it nor I have I suggested it. It is nothing more than an abstract intellectual exercise to try to measure it, if that. Personally I think you cannot measure it. Do I think what the 9/11 or London bombers did was horrific. Of course. Do I think what Western foreign policy has done is horrific. Yes. Do I think they avoid civilians while Osama bin Laden doesn't? Yes, although I'm pretty sure if there was such public concern they would be less careful. Does that make a war morally right? Not necessarily. But how would you measure all this? Is there some scale I don't know about? So while you fire your polemic, it is aimed at a straw man. If my govt does something I think is morally wrong I have a right to say so in a democracy.

Ken said:"It is a PC argument because it appears to me that you are arguing that all communities and all ideas are equally valid, that is there is no significant distinction to be made between the values of Islam and the values of Christianity. Yet, one of these religious streams has a proven history of promoting human freedom, democracy, and tolerance while the other has no history of this."

Well if Christianity has been as you say then it took a hell of a long time to promote these ideals of democracy etc. that should tell you something.

What about Muslim and Arab culture over the centuries? In the south of Spain some spectaculr advncements in architecture, many of the designs borrowed by Western Christian architects (cf. the gothic arch). What about Arab and Muslim literature, mathematics, science, philosophy in the Medieval period, or if you like at the time of the Crusades. Or the transmission of classical philosophy, so important for the major Christian theologians and developments in western thought of the medieval period onwards? Maany Christians were engaged in some pretty backward things whilst this was going on (as no doubt were Muslmis too). Or Arab developments in writing, well before Western Eurpoe caught on? It wouldn't be going to far to say these were a peak of human achievement and contributed massively to subsequent western intellectual thought.

Now you could list Christian and Western acheivements and the chances are I'd probably agree with you. But to say that Christianity inherently pushed civilisation IN CONTRAST TO Isalm is not really a strong argument. Let's not forget that many democratic and libertarian ideas were developed by and intimately associated with athiests and non-religious types.

Now I'm not saying there is no significant difference between the two religions. All I'm saying is that to blame Islam as religion for the recent events misses the point. How is that PC? It is a pretty standard historical argument.

Ken said: "As for Uzbekistan, US relations with Uzbekistan have been severely strained since the Andijan incident and the US has repeatedly called for independent investigations. As a part of their aid to Uzbekistan, the US has also signed agreements that encourage and require democratic, economic, and social reforms. The agreements are remininscent of the type of policies used to engage China. I am not endorsing the US-Uzbekistan relationship but I am pointing out that it is much more multi-faceted than either you realize or you would let your readers believe and that it does include accountability structures."

The US and UK called for restraint. So what? If they had withdrawn the finiancal support in training these people would that not be of more help and send out a genuine message? Would not supporting democratic Uzkbek movements be more likely to encourage democracy? But as I said, this isn't the only country. And that leads me on to my next point...

Ken said: "The Project for the New American Century is an essentially honorable project because it advocates an end to America's support for tyranny and the promotion of freedom, democracy, and liberty, precisely the issue for which you condemn them. I find that your arguments against the US are very disingenuous because you conflate fifty years of policy as if one administration were responsible for it, that is the Bush administration, and you do so as if past policies were enacted in response to present events rather than considerably different historical circumstances."

Well I think they are connected but let's assume there is no connection. Leaving aside Uzbekistan. And Pakistan. And Turkmenistan. What about the profoundly uundemocratic and energy rich Equatorial Guinea?

Or Algeria. William Burns said the US had a lot to learn from the Algerians in fighting terrorism. Is this the hundreds of thousands tortured after democratic elections were cancelled?

Now you may come back and say that the US want them all to be nice democrats sometime in the future. I think this misses the point but let's assume it is correct. Well how many people must be murdered and tortured along the way? How much discontent is going to be created? Why not show true love for democracy but supporting the democratic alternatives?

Ken said: "Regarding the moral and legal codes, I am very much serious. Your government and the US government, while not perfect, generally hold their own accountable for legal violations and certainly do so with far greater consistency than the enemy to which you make these governments morally equivalent."

Not true. The Iraq war showed that. You may think it was the right decision but the US were perfectly happy to invade without the support of international law (which they did of course) and have gone on record to say it matters little to them. There are countless statements by US figures saying they will act as they feel and won't be restricted by international law. That's not controversial. You may think that's ok and necessary but it's not the codes of international law.

Ken said: "Peaceful solutions had been attempted for 12+ years. Saddam was lying through his teeth; this was proven in those 12+ years. The fact that you did not pay attention those twelve years does not change the facts."

Don't get me wrong, I think those 12+ years were a disgrace and personally I wouldn't call economic sanctions peaceful. UNICEF famously said these sanctions killed hundreds of thousands which Albrightinfamously saidwas a price worth paying. This breeds hostility too, unsurprisingly. Bin Laden used it in his rhetoric to recruit. As I say, cut out these things and you cut off the support for a bastard like bin Laden. If the US has decided to support rebels in Iraq after the first Gulf War and not pursued disgraceful policies then things might be very different now.

I said: "Muslim students I knew seemed perfectly sane, pretty much like anyone else really." Ken said: "Oh, how you have miscontrued and misrepresented me!! This is horrible rhetoric. I never suggested that Muslims are, by definition, diseased. I said there is a disease in Islam and a particularly severe one; I'm astonished you would not grant this."
No you invented that one again. I said I never recognised anything resembling a disease in my dealings with Muslims. You've just repeated that there is one. I never said you thought individual Muslims were diseased: I said I didn't know what you meant. You then give examples of bad Muslims (and Christianity) and tell me not 'to exonerate the religions from responsibility in addressing these corruptions of their teachings is dangerous and wrong, in my opinion. Also, to go back to my first rebuttal, it is part of what strikes me as very PC.' But I don't do this. I think preaching hate and death in the name of anything is utterly cruel and should be condemned outright.I am perfectly aware of some Islamic and Christian (and many other religions and secular movements for that matter) preachers who do this. But as I keep saying, it is the social and economic problems. propped up by Western forgeign policy which provides support for the Islamic terrorists. It is nothing inherent in the religion itself.

So please don't tell me that I need to spend more time researching Islamic history when you misrepresent what I say and have absolutely no idea of how little or much I know about Islamic history or even what I think about it. That's just polemical hot air and as an argument it is worth nothing.

Ken said: "BTW, the postmodern relativism in your argument James, like the PC aspects of your argument, is your attempt to construe moral equivalencies where they don't exist. It seems to me that you are asserting that the truth claims of Islam and Christianity as well as the actions of Western governments and Islamic terrorists are equally valid. I never said your opposition to the war in Iraq is reflective of postmodern relativism. I think this distinction is abundantly clear in my previous posts."

My Iraq war comments were to show I'm no 'postmodern relativist', although by its popular definitions very few people really are. As I said I do not think making moral equivalents is meaningful. I've made no real claim about the truth claims of either Islam or Christianity and I'm in no position to do so (that's not knowing, not postmodern relativism). All I'm saying is that religion is not the root cause of Islamic terrorism just as it would be unfair to say that Christianity is for Western foreign policy. I'm no Burton Mack. Bush and Blair may be Christians but there is nothing inherent in Christianity that makes you act like them just like there is nothing in Islam which makes you a terrorist. Very down to earth issues cause the problems and provide justifications for cruel theologies. Without these problems preachers of death in any religion would have a hard time persuading people. Is that really so controversial?

As for the Saddam and WMD argument, that was a response to your claim that it was a reason to get rid of him. I never believed for one moment that it was a main reason for invading in the US. Not once. (It was given as the major argument here at an attempt at legal justification to get the public support but that's another matter).

As for the use of weapons, war and restraint, I would strongly endorse what Jim said.

Ken said: "Has even one Islamic terrorist been held to account for killing a woman or a child or for that matter another Muslim rather than infidels? Not a chance. In fact, Osama Bin Laden has explicitly declared that these are legitimate targets for any jihadists; and, to prove the point, terrorists have, in fact, killed more of their own then they have coalition soldiers."

Well, why would I disagree with condeming bin Laden etc. or the treatment of women? Of course I think it is barbaric. But I think you are confusing my argument with moral equivalents again and it doesn't mean I should stop criticising Western govts.

July 27, 2005

 
Blogger Ken said...

It's becoming somewhat difficult to maintain focus in the argument as we are addressing several issues simultaneously now. But, I will make a go of it.

(1) My reading of your post and subsequent comments is that the actions of Bush and Blair are no different than the actions of Islamic terrorists. This is the moral equivalence that I have accused you of making and the argument I've addressed in the bulk of my comments. The actions are considerably different and to equate the former with the latter is horribly unjustified.

(2) It is this equation that I labelled as "a fit of postmodern relativism." Note... I did not say you are a postmodern relativist; it is the position I labelled as such. Moreover, I continue to think it is appropriate because you continue to assert that the actions of Bush/Blair are morally indistinguishable from those of the terrorists.

(3) I did not make up your grotesque misreading of my post. You wrote, "They [Muslims you've met] did not seem diseased or anything that could be described as such, metaphorically or not, just perfectly normal human beings." Again, I have never stated that Muslims suffer from a disease. I have stated that Islam suffers a disease. This is a significant and important distinction. Are you incapable of recognizing this distinction in my argument or can I take your denial in your most recent comments that you wrote what you wrote as a retraction?

(4) There are theological and doctrinal enablers inherent to Islam that lie behind the proliferation of militancy and terrorism among Muslims. These enablers have not been subjected to significant or pervasive critical analysis and remain popular within the religion among its teachers and adherents.

Moreover, Sharia law and its radical implementation throughout the Muslim world enable the opression and violation of women and children. Adherence to radical Sharia law remains prevalent even among so-called "non-radicalized" Muslims in the West, so much so that Muslims successfully received government sanction for a Sharia arbitration court in Canada.

Because your arguments seem to take none of this into account, I called into question your familiarity with Islam and Islamic history.

What's more, I thought it was self-evident to anyone with such familiarity that the militant interpretation of jihad is a major part of Islamic theological history, stretching back to times well before the age of colonialism or the modern age.

You can not simply dismiss this theology as a consequence of socio-economic disenfranchisement, especially when many of its prominent contemporary proponents and adherents come from the upperclasses of Muslim society and religion.

If you ignore all this, as it appears to me you have, then I do think you are making a PC argument in which you whitewash the culpability of the Islamic religion and a sizeable number of its often authoritative teachers.

Incidentally, check into the backgrounds of London bombers or the 9/11 hijackers; these were not exceptionally marginalized members of their societies. Indeed, Osama Bin Laden himself is part of one of the largest, most politically influential families in Saudi Arabia. To lay the roots of Islamic terrorism on colonialism, Western policies in the Middle East, or socio-economic hardships without recognizing the way in which Islam itself functions as an important, not merely superficial, enabler of its radical ideologies is profoundly ignorant.

(5) The US had justification both in international and their own domestic law for their actions. Saddam had been in clear and repeated violation of the cease-fire agreement, practically from the moment he signed it; ipso facto, there was already a state of war between the US/UK and Saddam Hussein. Though this should suffice as evidence, let me clarify even further the legal precedent:

Internationally, UNSCR 678, para. 2, authorized Member States to enforce its preceding AND SUBSEQUENT resolutions; this authorization was never rescinded. UN Resolution 1441 invoked Chapter VII of the UN Constitution and made note of the material breach of several UN Security Council Resolutions. As such, there can be no doubt that the United States was well within its purview to enforce the resolutions, even though other Member States expressed their disagreement. It is noteworthy in this respect that the General Assembly, which requires only a majority vote, did not pass any resolutions to condemn the so-called unilateralism of the United States nor did the International Court attempt to lay charges. This, despite the fact, that apparently the 'entire' international community was against American unilateralism.

Domestically, George Bush received congressional authorization for the war in Iraq. This authorization rested on twenty-two or so justifications.

This is far beyond any legal standard met by, e.g., Bill Clinton in the US/Nato action in the Balkans.

Incidentally, I agree with you that the US should have supported the internal uprisings shortly before the first cease-fire of the Gulf War. It is worth noting, however, that George H. Bush did not take the advice of his leading general to topple Saddam largely as a result of significant international and domestic pressure to end the war. Damned if they do; damned if they don't. Typical.

July 28, 2005

 
Blogger Ken said...

Oh, one more thing. You wrote:

If my govt does something I think is morally wrong I have a right to say so in a democracy.

I have not at all questioned your right to dissent; I would defend your right to dissent. Have at 'er! In my own country of Canada, I am the dissenter.

What I have done is used facts, figures, and logical arguments to demonstrate that your dissenting opinion has numerous flaws and inaccuracies.

July 28, 2005

 
Blogger Ken said...

I need to address another issue in your post that I shouldn't have initially left out of my response because it's quite significant.

You wrote, "Don't get me wrong, I think those 12+ years were a disgrace and personally I wouldn't call economic sanctions peaceful. UNICEF famously said these sanctions killed hundreds of thousands which Albrightinfamously saidwas a price worth paying."

So, am I correct to assume that you believe the economic sanctions were wrong too? That the US is responsible for the deaths that UNICEF claimed were attributable to the sanctions? Did you not follow the Oil for Food scandal?

The economic sanctions that were placed on Iraq addressed its ability to make weapons; they were not designed to nor should they have unduly harmed the civilian population. When it became clear that Saddam was diverting funds from essential services in order to continue funding his and his sons ostentatious lifestyle as well as his military goals, the UNSCR instituted the Oil for Food program, which, had it functioned properly, would have alleviated much of the suffering Saddam was causing. Unfortunately, Kojo Annan, the French, the Russians, the Chinese, various terrorist organizations, and Saddam created a multi-billion dollar scam out of the Oil for Food program through which front companies received the money from oil sales under the pretense that they were providing humanitarian services to Iraq. This scam allowed the French, the Russians, and the Chinese to acquire contracts to pump Iraqi oil for the program; all the parties received millions, in some cases billions, in kickbacks and bribes; Saddam acquired military hardware, primarily though not exclusively from the Russians, and support in the UNSCR for the removal of sanctions; and, al Qaeda and other terrorist groups received a new source of funding for attacks against Saddam's enemies. What's more, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Iraq helped Saddam generate ever greater sympathy and support in the court of international opinion for an end to the economic sanctions. Had it not been for 9/11, it is likely that Saddam would have succeeded in this and so ultimately been able to ramp up his WMD program once again. News reports on the Oil for Food scandal as well as the Duelfer Report extensively document all of this.

Your reference to Madeline Albright's attitude, however, brings up another point too about those twelve years. Though you are completely wrong to imply, if I am correct that you did, US culpability for deaths related to the economic sanctions against Iraq, the Clinton administration was arrogant and stupid in much of its foreign policy, such that its poor decisions and mismanagement likely contributed in some respects to the escalation of global terrorism. This is indeed a fair criticism.

The aborted attempt to deal with Iraq in 1998; the aborted Somalia fiasco and the failure to act in Rwanda; the cavalier and token responses to the first WTC attacks, the attack on the USS Cole, the embassy bombings in East Africa, and the Khobar Towers bombing; the illegal and arrogant bombing campaign in the Balkans (not to say action shouldn't have been taken); giving in to North Korean extortion demands; severe military cutbacks and a failure to implement an appropriate post-Cold War defense strategy; and, creating new laws to severely limit inter-agency intelligence cooperation were all colossal errors in judgment that only emboldened al Qaeda and tyrants such as Saddam and Kim Jong-il.

Also, I will readily admit that George W. Bush showed little sign of improving things and actually there were significant signs things were going to get worse under his administration. To his credit, though, Bush awoke to the international crisis after 9/11 and has implemented bold strategies. My only major complaint about his response to global terrorism has been the failure to address border security and national immigration issues.

July 28, 2005

 
Blogger James Crossley said...

Sorry Ken but you are no longer arguing with points I uphold so I can't really answer what you say.

E.g.

(1) My reading of your post and subsequent comments is that the actions of Bush and Blair are no different than the actions of Islamic terrorists. This is the moral equivalence that I have accused you of making and the argument I've addressed in the bulk of my comments. The actions are considerably different and to equate the former with the latter is horribly unjustified.

What can I say other thatn I don't believe in moral equivalence as a concept. I don't believe you can properly compare actions of Bush/Blair with terrorists. I never have thought this and I've said it absolutely explicitly. Really, what do you want me to say? That I do? If you want to argue that point find someone who believes in it. I DO NOT.

So also postmodern relativism. I defended my argument/myself as the one who made the argument. Makes no difference ultimately. I don't think the actions are the same. I said it clearly. I'll say it again: I do not believe in moral equivalence. I do not believe in the possibility of equating Bush/Blair with bin Laden etc. What more do you want to say on this? I really see no point in me defending things I don't believe in or don't say.

3) I did not make up your grotesque misreading of my post. You wrote, "They [Muslims you've met] did not seem diseased or anything that could be described as such, metaphorically or not, just perfectly normal human beings." Again, I have never stated that Muslims suffer from a disease. I have stated that Islam suffers a disease. This is a significant and important distinction. Are you incapable of recognizing this distinction in my argument or can I take your denial in your most recent comments that you wrote what you wrote as a retraction?

No. I never once thought you said Muslims were diseased. As I said previously, I never noticed Islam was diseased or anything of the sort in my dealings with Muslims or reading of Islam, or in papers on Islam. The distinction is there.

Of course, I never said you denied my right to dissent. I said I don't believe in moral equivalence (do I need to repeat that any more) and my arguments were based on a democratic right to dissent and criticise my govt if I think it is morally wrong. Hence I did. I'm sure you are a dissenter in Canada as you say and that's perfectly legitmate irrespective of whether I think you are right or wrong.

Look, you can find lots of cruel things in Islamic history and I'm perfectly aware of them and have mentioned them in passing. You can find lots of misrepresentations of Islamic history. You can find a lot of cruel things in Christian history, Jewish history, Buddhist history or whatever. That is one reason why many of us are not even remotely convinced religious traditions are not inherently evil (or good for that matter). The social, psychological, economic, physical etc. worlds are so vastly complex. We all grow up in these worlds and they impact in a whole variety of ways.

And as for the socio-economic class of miliants. So what if they are from middle-upper classes? What's that got to do with anything? There have been a massive amount of well known interdisciplinary studies of things like uprisings, rebellion, violent militant action, insurgency etc. in different historical periods and different geographical locations which have pointed out that people representing the oppressed or whatever (or claiming to) usually come from an outside and economically better off class. If the pool of discontent is there it can be exploited. That's a pretty obvious point.

Can you seriously tell me that if the Palestinian issue was resolved, if Iraq wasn't such a mess, if the US had not continually supported brutal dictators in the Muslim world we would have the problems we have. If the Muslim world as a whole was stable, democratic, wealthy etc., if Muslims were not a threatened ethnic minority in the UK (for example) we would have these problems? Incidentally, in a recent poll here in the UK the overwhelming majority of Muslims think that Iraq was the main reason for London not Islmaic theology. Now you may think the US are trying to stop this discontent (I don't) but that it is there and that is has a major role in the present problems is undeniable.

I think I agree with most of what you say on the Clinton administration (but not on the military spending etc.) and the sanctions and oil for food etc. but to deny any responsibility in the sanctions is not right. Of course they were going to be exploited - you've told us how Saddam obviously lies etc., the West backed him when he gassed Kurds etc. so they should know he was not a reliable person. Furthermore, the fact Albright could say those death were a price worth paying itself implies strongly that it was taken as a decision whereby lives would be lost. Some of the DIA reports in 1991 also knew that the cutting of clean water supplies would lead to epidemics (there are various DIA documents like this). So yes, you can show that there was abuse and blame can be a complex thing but it is undeniable that that US/Western played their part in the deaths of far too many innocent children. The risk was well known before the sanctions and it was acknowledged during them. Then let's not forget that UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, Hans Van Sponeck along with Denis Halliday resigned in disgust at the sactions which they felt was utterly monstrous.

As for Clinton increasing the terrorist threat this maybe so and I have no desire to defend that man but we now know that Bush and Blair were warned of the increased terror threat by invading Iraq. This came from the intellengent services, experts on Iraq, and politicians from the political right in this country at least (e.g. Ken Clarke). None of these are typical pacifist types but it was basic common sense.

You still haven't shown that the US had a legal backing for war. Rumsfeld was perfectly open about this being unnecessary. There are plenty of incidents whereby the US has been quite opne in saying it will and has breached international law. They are known. It is a question of whether you think it is right to do so.

Also you said this: "It is worth noting, however, that George H. Bush did not take the advice of his leading general to topple Saddam largely as a result of significant international and domestic pressure to end the war. Damned if they do; damned if they don't."

The decision the US made here was never based on outside pressure. The reasoning given at the time was that it would be more beneficial to have a tough figure in charge of Iraq rather than let potentially let chaos take hold. Whether you disagree with the morality or not, the US has been perfectly open that it will act in accordance with international law and pressure when it sees fit and that it will act alone when it sees fit. Whether you agree with the morality or not that's the way the US works and no one, esp. since the end of the Cold War, tells the US what to do.

July 28, 2005

 
Blogger Ken said...

You may not like the term 'moral equivalence' but it is precisely the argument you made in your original post. Your original post absolutely depends on it. In your exoneration of Islam, you explicitly make the point that the violence committed by terrorists who happen to be Muslim is really no different than 'the violence' committed by politicians who happen to be Christian. This, James, creates a moral equivalence between the former and the latter; it is essential to your argument. Initially, your subsequent comments have been equally explicit about this.

Now, you are backing away from this argument, apparently because of some objection to the way I've labelled it. But, if there is no moral equivalence between the violence committed by Muslims and that you which you allege has been committed by Bush/Blair, then everything in your original post is nonsense. Consequently, this means that you no longer have a clear point at all or you have, in stealth, accepted my rebuttal that the violence of Islamic terrorists is not at all comparable to the actions of Bush or Blair.

No. I never once thought you said Muslims were diseased.

I appreciate the retraction and denial that you wrote what you wrote. I am glad that you now appreciate the distinction I made. Thank-you.

The social, psychological, economic, physical etc. worlds are so vastly complex. We all grow up in these worlds and they impact in a whole variety of ways.

And yet, the primary cause of Islamic terrorism is socio-economic? The religion couldn't possibly have anything to do with it?!? Oh, come on. Such incredulity.

Can you seriously tell me that if the Palestinian issue was resolved, if Iraq wasn't such a mess, if the US had not continually supported brutal dictators in the Muslim world we would have the problems we have. If the Muslim world as a whole was stable, democratic, wealthy etc., if Muslims were not a threatened ethnic minority in the UK (for example) we would have these problems?

First, the underlying assumptions of this statement and question are wrong. The US is not solely responsible for all this; it shares some blame as an enabler but the Muslim world created many of its own problems.

Second, the Muslim world wouldn't be democratic and no I don't think it would be stable as its history prior to this largely shows. Also, seeing as many of the problems I have listed are pre-colonial in origin, yes I do believe we'd have much the same problems and possibly much worse because Islamic extremists--rather than more malleable dictators--would have control of these countries and so could finance their jihad more easily with oil. The incipient philosophies and theologies of Islamic terrorism and militancy predate every single one of the events in your question.

You still haven't shown that the US had a legal backing for war.

I showed exactly this; very clearly, I might add. Appealing to the opinions expressed by government officials, as you have done, doesn't in any way invalidate the clear, explicit evidence I provided you. Among other things, I gave you resolution numbers, paragraphs, and even a link to the domestic legal articles.

Mind you, I completely agree with Rumsfeld and others that the US does not need the approval of a corrupt international body whose dissenting members are receiving bribes and other incentives for their votes. Moreover, just war theory, which is one of my standards, requires that a legitimate authority declare war and the US itself is a legitimate authority; in fact, I'd argue it has far greater legitimacy than a supra-national, unelected, bureacracy whose regulatory bodies and committees are sometimes made up of the very countries who commit the grossest international violations.

...but to deny any responsibility in the sanctions is not right

I'm willing to grant your point that the US shares some responsibility in the sanctions. They did, after all, approve both the sanctions and the Oil for Food program in the UNSCR. However, it would beg the question what in the world you'd tolerate the US having done in that situation?

...we now know that Bush and Blair were warned of the increased terror threat by invading Iraq

No surprise here. Both Bush and Blair recognized this early on and talked about it in their speeches. It's like Batman and Commissioner Gordon discuss at the end of Batman Begins... by meeting the battle, the conflict naturally escalates. This hardly means, though, that the battle shouldn't be met. Moreover, by meeting it and fighting it in the Middle East, the US/UK have been able to deflect a lot of al Qaeda's attention from our home front on to the troops. They've also opened a front in Iraq that Osama Bin Laden sees as being as important to his cause as it is to our cause; we've created a place where we know Bin Laden will fight rather than run. This is very important strategically; it means we are actively engaged with the enemy, capturing intelligence, and at the same time removing sources of funding and support. Iraq and Afghanistan are helping us fight terrorism more than hurting us.

July 28, 2005

 
Blogger Ken said...

That is one reason why many of us are not even remotely convinced religious traditions are not inherently evil (or good for that matter).

This, James, is an unequivocal example of the postmodern relativism inherent in your argument. In fact, all you've done is restate exactly what I observed about your argument when I made this criticism: "It seems to me that you are asserting that the truth claims of Islam and Christianity as well as the actions of Western governments and Islamic terrorists are equally valid or equally invalid."

July 28, 2005

 
Blogger Ken said...

EDIT: "restate exactly" with "more or less restate"

My statement goes somewhat farther than yours because I'm addressing additional points in your argument while your restatement is more limited in scope but, in any case, the underlying philosophical assumption that I detected and elucidated in my statement has proven consistent with your restatement.

July 28, 2005

 
Anonymous steph said...

Take a few deep calms breaths. Thankfully you'll drop into the archives and intelligent discussion can continue on James' blog. Goodbye.

July 29, 2005

 
Blogger Ken said...

Amazing, steph. Truly amazing.

July 29, 2005

 
Blogger James Crossley said...

Ken, this is getting tedious because you are now just making things up and no longer arguing properly.

E.g. "I appreciate the retraction and denial that you wrote what you wrote. I am glad that you now appreciate the distinction I made. Thank-you."

That is an inaccurate piece of polemical rhethoric with absolutely no argumentative value. I'm sorry, and this is not personal or anything like that, but I really can't take arguments like that even remotely seriously.

You have also utterly misunderstood what I was saying about moral equivalence. Firstly you are the one who believes in moral equivalence as you seem to have found it in my post. Please could you explain to me what the concept of moral equivalence is. Also could you tell me how you measure it. As I said before, the reason for mentioning Christian violence was to say that it would be offensive to many Christians to question why Christian leaders engage in violence just as it is offensive to Muslims to question why some Muslims do. That is NOT moral equivalence. It is trying to show that many Muslims are peaceful just as Christians are. That cannot be measured or anything like that (unless you have a special scale I know nothing about) but it is a simple argument to show that neither is inhenrently bad or that the people who are violent in their traditions are necessarily representative. It does not measure to what degree either side is 'bad' violent or whatever, not least because it is impossible and ulitimately meaningless. So again, I don't believe in moral equivalence and my argument never tries to measure moral equivalence. It just shows the unfair media coveragre. There is no stealth, no changing of position. I was justtalking about unfair representation. I really don't want to have to keep restating the obvious.

And for goondess' sake, I never said religion was without is causal function only that it was far from being the most significant. With the various problems listed, a religious tradition can provide the justification and prompt. That is a fairly uncontroversial point. You can use as much empty rhetoric as you want, use as many phrases like 'such incredulity', but if you ignore what I say and deliberately misrepresent me they are ultimately meaningless.

As for the root causes I mention (Palestinian issue etc.) I do not assume that the US is sorley responsible or whatever. But the US has backed Israel and many in the Muslim world do not like this. The US have a role in various of the other issues. Now let's assume the US is entirely honourable here (I don't think that at all but let's assume it), the PERCEPTION that the US is to balme for the problems I menetioned is undeniable. Without these issues no extremist philosophy could get any significant support. I find your comments on Islamic history, by the way, completely misguided and one sided. The Islamic tradition has provided many civilising traditions. All religions have cruel traditions which could justify anything and have. It is no coincidence that bin Landen frequently uses sufferings of Muslim peoples as a way of encouraging uprising. If he said that thos nasty people of Sweden are far too liberal and un-Islamic and that was that I seriously doubt he would get much support.

That is not postmodern relativism, that is based on very obvious facts. Just because I say that a religious tradition is not inherently good or bad does not mean postmodern relativism. One may ultimately be the truth but I don't know. As is absolutely clear I largely use social, political, and economic reasons to explain what is going on with the given religious traditions. This is not postmodern relativism whatsoever. What about Marxism (I'm not a Marxist myself I should make quite clear)? Many classical Marxists would argue that history of ideas plays little role in such things but certain economic and class structures do. And of course Marxists were one of the biggest targets for postmodernist attacks on metanarratives. By denying one cause DOES NOT MAKE YOU A RELATIVIST. And I have not said all religions are equal, and don't feel I am in a position to make such a statement. But if anyone does that would not necessarily make them a postmodern relativist.

As for denying an inherent good or evil in a given religion, that does not make me a postmodern relativist. It just means that I do not think there is a mysterious good or evil in the religion. Let's say for the sake of argument that I thought religion was often the result of social and economic issues but not inherently good or evil. That is an explanatory argument it is not postmodern relativism. It is quite an old fashioned type of argument as it happens. It may be utterly wrong. But it is not postmodern relativism.

Yes you gave some pointers to legal stements but you gave NOT ONE which allowed the US/UK to invade. Not one.

But as I say this is getting tedious and I am getting sick of having to defend myself against things I don't believe in, cases I never made, etc.

That said, feel free to make as many more comments as you wish of course.

There is a good case (as Steff implies) for paying attention to the other parts of the blog which are now getting neglected. Still it's been an interesting discussion and I've never come across a fully paid up neo-con (I assume you'll take no offense in that label) in discussion before.

July 29, 2005

 
Blogger Ken said...

James:

Your original post has these components, paragraph by paragraph:

(1) Premise. People think Islam is evil; this is reflected to some degree among Christian scholars.

(2) Rejection of the premise by appeal to the nature of the discussion and the consequences of these views.

(3) Rejection of the premise by appeal to the absurdity of the counter-argument and by appeal to "Christian violence."

(4) Rejection of the premise by comparison of Christian violence and Islamic violence; and, a comparison of Christian and Islamic responses. Essentially, you argue that Bush and Blair, who happen to be Christian, commit wanton acts of unjustified violence as evil as anything the Islamic terrorists do, perhaps even more so. These acts of violence have been supported and opposed by Christians just as Muslims have supported and opposed Islamic terrorism.

(5) New Premise. Ergo, religion is not the issue; Islam is the surface of more deeper issues.

Is this or is this not the content of your original post? If this is not the content of your post, could you please correct me?

July 29, 2005

 
Blogger Ken said...

Also, did you or did you not write:

Muslim students I knew seemed perfectly sane, pretty much like anyone else really. When I lived in predominantly Muslim areas in Nottingham I naturally had plenty of social interaction with Muslims. They did not seem diseased or anything that could be described as such, metaphorically or not, just perfectly normal human beings.

Throughout these sentences, it is obvious that you are attempting to refute an accusation that Muslims are diseased. However, I never said that Muslims are diseased. I said that Islam is suffering from a disease or diseases. If you had addressed my point, your rebuttal would have had to discuss Islam, not Muslims, and so you would have had to address the problems of Qutbism, Wahabism, and radical Sharia law not provide anecdotal stories about Muslims you've met in Nottingham.

In a subsequent post, did you or did you not write:

You then give examples of bad Muslims...

Yet, in the context of that discussion, I appealed not to people but to the writings, theologies, and practices within Islam that enable Islamic terrorism. Most immediately, I never said Sayyid Qutb was a bad Muslim; I appealed to the writings of Sayyid Qutb as evidence of disease within Islam.

I'm quoting you, James; I'm not being malicious but rather defending my own integrity against a very clear, intentional or unintentional, misrepresentation. I'm definitely reading your posts in great detail. You repeatedly confused my statement that diseases afflicted Islam by talking about Muslims rather than Islam. I did not make this up; that you are pretending that I did is very obviously disingenuous. If you meant something else, then you need to retract these statements or, less honestly, deny you wrote them.

July 29, 2005

 
Blogger Ken said...

Yes you gave some pointers to legal stements but you gave NOT ONE which allowed the US/UK to invade. Not one.

First, I gave you a link to the "Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq." Even if you hadn't read the resolution, the title itself makes it absolutely explicit that its content provides the legal justification for war in Iraq. In the UK, Blair received similar authorization from Parliament.

Second, I referred you to para. 2 of UNSCR 678, which authorizes member states to enforce all previous AND SUBSEQUENT security council resolutions regarding Iraq. This resolution, and UNSCR 1441, invoke Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which allows for armed, military intervention to effect compliance.

Third, I noted that if the United States and the United Kingdom had contravened domestic and international laws, then the United Nations General Assembly or the International Court could and should have pursued the appropriate forms of censure that they readily apply in such circumstances. They did not.

These three points are clear and straightforward. Please, by all means, illuminate me as to why these very specific and explicit legal statements do not allow the US/UK to invade when it seems very plain that they do?

July 29, 2005

 
Blogger Ken said...

That is not postmodern relativism...

You make a relatively :-) sound argument in this paragraph. It seems I may have been mistaken to assume that your religious relativism or, perhaps better religious and moral pluralism?, was postmodernist. But, if it's not postmodernist or, as you preemptively deny, Marxist, what inspires it? Crossleyism?

By the way... I do not object to being labelled a neo-conservative. In foreign policy and international affairs, I am a neo-conservative. Economically, I'm a classical liberal. Socially, I'm a classical conservative.

July 29, 2005

 

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