Monday, August 14, 2006
The latest terror scare is upsetting enough: It is bound to lead to havoc and chaos both domestically and internationally. It could damage the economy if fears on flying are sustained. It reopens the profound wounds of 9/11, a scab we should figure by now will never completely heal.
For the Daily News, therefore, terrorism is mostly a psychological problem; the greatest danger it poses is that it "upsets" us, that it "opens scabs." (I suppose Nick Berg and Daniel Pearl had scabs "opened" in a certain sense, so the DN may have a point).
And then they end with an entirely predictable point, as we duck from all the low-flying buzzwords:
Cheney's remarks underscore just how unsophisticated our understanding of terrorism is. We have no more understanding of the global forces at work that lead so many to want to bomb and destroy innocent lives than we did five years ago.
This is the "root causes" argument, and it never fails to sicken every time it's trotted out. There are major and minor forensic problems with the root causes argument, and I'll go into them here.
The major problem is that the argument is horses**t. No one ever wanted to examine the root causes of, say, why Timothy McVeigh wanted to blow up the Murrah building, nor should they have. But with anti-Western atrocities, we're supposed to take the murderers' arguments seriously, we're supposed to examine their grievances, not in the clinical way that Auden referred to in his famous line about Hitler
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
...but rather we are implicitly expected to view the terrorists' grievances with sympathy. The act of "addressing" the "root causes" requires us to treat these chimeras as if they were real. And that I refuse to do, any more than I would feel the need to fight Nazism by addressing "the evils of race-mixing" or "the pernicious influence of international Jewry" (though here again our friends in Iran would regard the latter as a legitimate "root cause," so perhaps I spoke too hastily).
Which brings us the the minor forensic problem with the root causes argument: No one seems to agree which "causes" are the most "root." Everyone seems to have a private root cause of his own, which he clings to with white knuckles, insisting that it and only it is the One True Root.
Shia terrorists will tell you that their root cause is when Ali was waylaid in 700-something AD. Sunni terrorists like Al Qaeda insist that it's because of the defilement of the holy Arabian peninsula with the presence of infidels. Liberals and Communists say that the root cause is poverty, internationalists say it's because we withdrew from the International Criminal Court, environmentalists say it's because we won't sign the Kyoto Treaty, etc., etc., etc. One of my most vivid memories from the morning of September 11th, 2001, was this stupid, stupid woman at work telling someone in the break room that the attacks were obviously due to our failure to attend the International Conference on Racism in Durban, South Africa the week before. This idiot really, really believed that. And I think the Philadelphia Daily News editorialists believe it too.