Saturday, July 23, 2005

Events without causes

I woke up this morning to an excellent letter in the Ottawa Citizen, from one Abubakar N. Kasim, whom I shall freely quote:

As a Muslim, I am ashamed of Canadian Muslim leaders for surrendering to the pressure from the media and apologizing for what has taken place again in London as if they were complicit in the crime.

The media has been putting tremendous pressure on the Muslim community to apologize for something we did not know about or help plan. Why do we have to apologize for a crime that we have nothing to do with?

Did we ask the Irish community to apologize when some of its members were alleged to have terrorized London a few years ago? Why did not we ask the Christian community to condemn and apologize for the atrocities committed by Christian extremists within the Serbian community against Bosnian Muslims?

What happened in London is a crime that everyone should condemn, not only the Muslim community.

My joy was short-lived. Rex Murphy was going at it again:

We temporize with terrorism when we look for root causes. The attacks will continue until they are stopped. Terrorists will inflict misery with exponential fury when they can. On the one question that counts, the sentence so many are appalled to hear applies: George Bush was right. It is a war.

And Murphy quoted the Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard:

I think we lose sight of the challenge we have if we allow ourselves to see these attacks in the context of particular circumstances rather than the abuse through a perverted ideology of people and their murder.

Now, let’s try to pull all this together. The events in London and elsewhere simply have no causes, and it’s a mistake, indeed, to even look at them in a context of “particular circumstances.” At the same time, and correspondent Kasim is entirely correct in his observation and in his reaction, Muslims everywhere are expected, if not to apologize, at least to hold themselves accountable for these causeless events.

We aren’t looking at the news, here. We’re watching something quite different, which explains the impatience, in fact antagonism, when commentators dare to look for root causes. People want their enemies demonized, not analyzed. Caught up in high drama, as they are, they want a morality play, not the news. Historical events do have causes that can be discerned with much toil and trouble, but the struggle of good against evil needs no such analysis. Evil is just evil, and good is good, and next scene, please, where the devil's wily plans are thwarted once again by the forces of truth and light.

It’s so much easier to substitute this kind of thing for the hard work and soul-searching required to deal with the obvious global problem of which the London bombings are a symptom. It reminds me of the religiosity surrounding the Holocaust, a dreadful historical instance of mass-murder on an unspeakable scale, now elevated to the realm of pure metaphysics: it was a "singular event," somehow distinct from other genocides and other mass murders.

As Heather Mallick points out today, does anyone seriously suggest that, had Britain stayed out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and just minded its own bloody business, bombs would be set off in London anyway by resentful young Muslims?

What is this "war" that Murphy goes on about? Who are "the terrorists," and how do we stop terrorist attacks? Can we get to the root of this, if I may put it that way, or are we going to go on looking at endless re-reruns of Everyman? How does Murphy propose to fight and win this war? What strategy does he have in mind? Who is the enemy?

We won’t, of course, get any answers. That's the problem with causeless events. "To beat terrorism," the Globe and Mail averred in an editorial yesterday, "Western countries have to overcome the notion that they are somehow to blame for it. Instead, they must see it for what it is: the product of a deadly idea run amok." Last word to a correspondent today: "That’s just an excuse to stop thinking."

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