Monday, July 18, 2005

"Apologists," the Iraq War, and the London Bombing: Rajnaara Akhtar Independent Op Ed.

Rajnaara C. Akhtar has an op ed in the Independent that makes the following point:

There is an argument which claims that Tony Blair's disregard of the unified dissent by a million people, who marched in solidarity on the streets of London, has culminated in an attack against us all from the very extreme elements of our society who saw no benefit from our peaceful protests against an unjust war. This needs to be seriously assessed.

OK, let's seriously assess this argument, which joins an empirical claim about the motivations of the bombers with a responsibility-shifting (i.e. an "apologistic") judgement about Tony Blair. It's worth noting that many people, including Tony Blair himself and Jack Straw, who are troubled by "apologists" --i.e. those who shift responsibility away from the bombers themselves-- feel the need to attack the empirical claim about the motivation of the bombers. But here it's important to recognize that it's possible to hold without contradiction the following two beliefs:
(i) UK involvement in the Iraq War increased the likelihood of it being a target for terrorists; and

(ii) UK involvement in the Iraq War was legitimate.

Claim (i) is clearly true. The Muslim bombers, like many in the UK Muslim community, were especially incensed by UK involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. This has been confirmed by the bombers' friends, family and acquaintances. The views of the UK Muslim community on the issue have been documented by opinion polls. These views were quite predictable back in 2002.

Yet to recognize the truth of claim (i) does not entail any sympathy whatsoever with those--Muslims or not--angered or incensed by UK involvement in Iraq. Nor does it entail that UK involvement was illegitimate or unjustified.

Britain went to war after a parliamentary vote and at a time when a majority (admittedly a slim majority) of the British public were in support of the war. The unified dissent of a million people--and they were not that unified, as I recall--is of no more relevance than the unified dissent of the pro-fox hunting lobby is to the law prohibiting blood sports. (A damn silly law, in my opinion, but no matter.) No government worthy of the name ought to trim its policies to the whims of street demonstrators, no matter how sincerely and solidaristically they rally to their cause. In a parliamentary democracy, a parliamentary vote alone settles the legitimacy of governmental action.

Perhaps what Rajnaara Akhtar really meant to say is that "the unified dissent of a million people" tips the scales in any overall assessment of the justification of the Iraq War. But that argument also has little validity. Whether you approach the Iraq War from a just-war perspective (like, say, Norman Geras) or from a consequentialist perspective (like, say, John Quiggin), the million marchers do not count for much. Seriously assessed, there's nothing in Akhtar's argument.

Site Feed