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Logic and Terrorism

One of Blair's abilities that really does not help is his ability to argue contradictory cases in the same speech. The point about contradiction is that if you argue a contradictory case then you could be arguing anything.

The syllogism goes as follows if P and not P are both true. P or Q is inherently true. Not P implies Q is true. In other words the whole system of logical argument collapses and anything can be proven.

There is a simplistic reductio ad absurdam case dealing with Blair's speech of yesterday (linked) which unusually I watched thinking it might indicate something further about his position.

He argued that the battle against extremism was "not just about security or military tactics, it is about hearts and minds, about inspiring people, persuading them, showing them what our values at their best stand for."

The demonstration of the values is simple in the deaths of children through the conflict and particularly at Qana. You cannot isolate out one element from another.

The more complex argument requires quite a few more paragraphs.

Blair's basic error is to see some complex ideology behind the conflicts in the world. The main thing behind the pattern of global conflicts is actually human nature and in particular the behavioural patterns of human beings in groups. It is important to recognise that in any conflict these patterns of behaviour exist on both sides of the conflict (or even more sides when that happens such as in Bosnia).

Let us consider the group known in Arabic as Hizbut Allah Jihadi. This group has been responsible for human rights abuses, are dominated by a single leader who wishes to establish a religious state based upon his theological analysis and it has been responsible for a number of massacres. This might sound like an Islamic group, but that is only because the name of the group has been translated into Arabic. The name in English is the Lords Resistance Army and their theology is based on Christianity. There is also Hizbut Allah (Hizbollah) a translation into Arabic of "God's Army" which is a Christian Terrorist group based in Myanmar that fights Buddhism.

The fact is that people who are fighting like to feel that they have a solid justification for their acts. If they feel like fighting they will look for a cause. Generally people are happier if they feel that God is on their side. Hence they are likely to argue that case. What we need to look for is why conflicts develop and how to reduce conflict rather than be surprised that religion is used as a justification.

Blair is right to see that much of the world remains Feudal. A segmented society where the main pattern of loyalty is to the tribe or the clan rather than the class is the form of society that predominates nations which are not considered part of "the Western world". The Western World to a great extent had a class based society in which the main pattern of loyalty was to the class. In particular the loyalties within the trades union movement to the Labour Movement are strong bonds which have faded over the years, but still remain important. A key element of a class based society is that people can change class whereas they cannot change their parents.

The word "feud" comes from feudal because such persisting conflicts come from disputes between families or clans. It is important to note that generally in a segmented society religion follows the clan. All of the members of a clan are likely to be of the same religion and if they change religion then all are likely to change their religious allegiance at once. This was the case with Christianity in the British Isles in the periods from 900-1200 where frequently allegiance to then Catholicism was developed from the feudal leaders and spread to the clan members.

Disputes between clans, therefore, can quite readily end up also as religious disputes. The battles in the Ukraine between the Greek Catholics and Russian Orthodox are both ethnic (Ukrainian and Russian) and religious. The big battle over the government was, therefore, more feudal than ideological.

One challenge that Blair and his colleagues are not up to is understanding that within segmented cultures there are many different patterns of behaviour that would rankle in the pseudo-rational western devolved class based society. It is far more important in such societies to avoid causing offence. This can mean that people don't bluntly tell the whole truth to everyone - they are normally more subtle. Whereas being blunt and truthful and sticking by your word is an important part of the western culture it is more important to be polite in segmented cultures. This causes quite a communication problem as regardless of the language people speak people misunderstand the subtleties of communication.

Human nature has a drive towards group loyalties. People support football teams. They also tend to support their own country in a conflict beit sporting or military. Emotionally they celebrate victoris and viscerally they feel the pain of defeats.

It is this pattern of group loyalty that leads towards people developing hatreds. People whose family members died in attacks such as 7/7 can develop a desire to seek revenge. That is a natural process that happens in similar situations. The more remote the victims are the less of the demand for revenge, but if people identify with the victims there is a tendency to want to see revenge. This happens with politicians as well as people who are not elected to govern. There is a tendency to divide people into "them" and "us".

Normally in any situation the number of people directly affected by any incident will be relatively small. It does, however, become possible to widen the conflict and bring more people in. The mishandling of the Easter Uprising by the British in Dublin in 1916 was a good example of how to widen a conflict. With the unjust and disproportionate acts of the British Government they turned far more people against the UK and made Independence a demand rather than Home Rule.

Interational Humanitarian Law (the Geneva Conventions etc) have been developed to avoid the events that cause anger that lasts generations. There is a form of acceptance that soldiers will die in wars. There is less of acceptance that large numbers of children should die in wars. Collective punishments have, therefore, been excluded from "civilized" conflict.

Fedual conflicts historically involved attacks from one clan on another. This involved things such as collective punishment and kidnappings. Such uncivilized conflicts, however, tend to last generations. The reason for that is that those people who survive have a greater demand often for revenge than peace. That is what leads to suicide attacks.

When Blair claims to want to be "showing them what our values at their best stand for." he should be remembering that actions speak louder than words. In endorsing the continuing conflict in Lebanon he is implicitly endorsing atrocities such as that at Qana.

He is demonstrating through his failure to support a ceasefire that his values allow for the murdering of children by irresponsible use of force. The longer this conflict goes on for and the more atrocities that occur the wider the ripples of anger will spread throughout world opinion. He and Bush have managed to unite Shi'a and Sunni in anger and with a desire for revenge.

His language indicates his desire to divide the world into two groups: "them and us". George Bush has already said that people are already with them or against them. It is always possible to change direction. However, the problem is that the government don't recognise that their direction is wrong. In their personal emotional desires for revenge against terrorists they are losing the objectivity that is needed for effective political leadership.

It took centuries for people to learn the lessons of the outcome of uncivilized conflict. It has taken less than a generation for those lessons to be forgotten.


Simon said…
A very interesting essay.

However, the logical conclusion I draw from your analysis is that if killing innocent civilians in war always equates to "collective punishment" (regardless of whether that killing was intended or inadvertent), then no war can ever be fought in the ordinary meaning of the word by a "civlised", western, liberal democracy which wishes to uphold "civilised" values.

This would, of course, have meant that we would not have been able to fight the Second World War, nor - more recently - would the air-raids on Serbia in the Kosovo conflict have been acceptable. More to the point, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq where thousands of innocent civilians died make Israel's actions in Lebanon look like a minor skirmish by comparison (Jonathan Freedland makes this point very well in today's Guardian).

Of course, it also means that if you have no regard for international law or human rights (cf. Hizbollah) and you wish to attack a nation-state that does, all you need do to render yourself invulnerable is to embed your militias and their mobile rocket launchers among the civilian populace. Just as Hizbollah have attempted to do.

I'm afraid John that the paradigm with which you so eloquently discuss war has been superceded by the asymmetry of the contemporary world.
john said…
Not "always". It remains, however, that Hezbollah are winning the "battle for hearts and mind" and Israel has lost it.

Where that ends up is unclear.
Simon said…
This may be true (and it may not - time will tell, and Arab opinion of Israel has never been high in any event), but it is also clear that when Israel has acted honourably in accordance with international norms (for example, in the wthdrawal from Lebanon in 2000) that this this has not the won the hearts and minds of Islamists to accept Israel's right to exist behind internationally accepted borders.

What I find worrying is that Hizbollah are winning hearts and minds among some people in this country who seem to view them as a "resistance movement" and seem incapable of directing opprobrium in their direction over two heinous moral and legal crimes: unprovoked and indescriminate attacks on Israel, and the use of human shields in Lebanon.
john said…
Outcomes are important. They are a better indication of intent than expressed intent. The fact that Hezbollah are not that effective has an impact as well.

To a certain extent and with some people (but not me) Israel's actions have legitimised the actions of Hezbollah.

I do understand the theory of the more "right wing" people in Israel that force is required to get acceptance of the existance of Israel amonst Palestinians and the wider Muslim community. That approach, however, fails on the basis that as people get more and moreso to want revenge then Israel's position is weakened.

There was some developing support for this position amongst Muslims in the UK. There was even some capacity for compromise on the Temple Mount issues. That has now, however, gone.

It takes time for things to calm down.

The really difficult aspect to judge is the impact on the wider Middle East. It is fair to say that it will not be good, but it is not clear how bad it will be.
Simon said…
Outcomes are important. They are a better indication of intent than expressed intent. The fact that Hezbollah are not that effective has an impact as well.

Ahh.. a consequentialist? I take it, however, that it is not your intended meaning to imply that Hizbollah's intentions are not murderous because their weapons are a bit crap?

Otherwise, I agree that things will need time to calm down, and for the full impact of events to be felt.

This has been an interesting discussion. Best, Simon.
john said…
Actually mens rea is important. However, if someone in a war claims their intentions are not to kill innocents and continually end up killing significant numbers then very few people will believe them.
shaz said…
Talking of "group loyalties" how would you explain George Galloway's comments "I glorify the Hizbollah national resistance movement, and I glorify the leader of Hizbollah, Sheikh Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah."
Manfarang said…
The boy twin leaders of the Karen 'God's Army' recently surrendered to the Myanmar government authorities.
The Karens are a minority group in Burma that fought against the Japanese WW2 occupation only to be betrayed by the British.
john said…
Part of Galloway's approach is to deliberately attempt to contravene the "glorifying terrorism" part of the Terrorism legislation. Hizbollah are not, however, on the lists of terrorist organisations.

Secondly he is "taking sides" rather than taking an objective position against war crimes. Indiscriminate bombing is a war crime even if the rockets are not killing that many people.

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