Reading the small print (crossposted at CT)
This morning’s email included one urging me to sign a statement headed “United Against Terror”. As the email said
The statement begins:
Terrorist attacks against Londoners on July 7th killed at least 54 people. The suicide bombers who struck in Netanya Israel on July 12 ended five lives including two 16 year old girls. And on July 13 in Iraq suicide bombers slaughtered 24 children. We stand in solidarity with all these strangers hand holding hand from London to Netanya to Baghdad: communities united against terror.
The statement ends:
We invite you to sign this statement as a small first step to building a global movement of citizens against terrorism.
Based on these extracts, I would have been happy to sign the statement, for what such gestures are worth. Having read the full statement, however, I decided not to, and concluded that the statement tended more towards disunity in the face of terrorism than unity. After reading some of the supporting statements on the website, I was very glad of this decision.
Briefly, the text omitted from the email summary included a lengthy argument to the effect that the attacks are the work of ‘terrorist groups inspired by a poisonous and perverted politics that disguises itself as a form of the religion of Islam’, and the gnomic, but easily decoded, statement that â€˜these attacks did not begin in 2003′.
These claims are factually false or misleading. I don’t know the details of the Netanya and Baghdad attacks, but many terror attacks in Israel have been the work of secular Palestinian nationalist groups, and many terror attacks in Iraq have been organised by secular Baathists. And, while terror attacks did not begin in 2003, it is clear, at the very minimum, that recent terror attacks in Baghdad are a direct consequence of the invasion of Iraq in that year (whether or not you think good consequences outweighed the bad ones).
More importantly, the implied argument is either morally irrelevant or morally perverse. The emphasis on the specifically Islamist characteristics of the attacks we are asked to unite against suggests (if it is relevant at all) that other forms of terrorism, in support of other causes, might be morally justified. Would the organisers accept signatures from, say, Gerry Adams or Luis Posada? If not, why be so specific about the kind of terrorism that is being condemned here?
There’s no need to list the dozens of organisations (including governments) that currently engage in one form of terror or another. A simple statement that terrorism, whatever the purported cause and whoever the perpetrator, is a crime against humanity, would have been much more valuable than the tendentious analysis presented in this statement.
The implication of the statement, read as a whole, is that unity against terrorism requires unquestioning support for the Bush Administration, and denunciation of its opponents. When you read the supporting statements linked on the website, it quickly becomes apparent that this is the way the proponents themselves understand it. For examples, look here, here, here and here).
Moving as I did, from the email summary to the complete statement,and then to the supporting statements of the signatories, is a highly unpleasant experience. The email summary is one all decent people would endorse. The full statement, while tendentious, is within the bounds of civilised discourse. The supporting statements (at least most of those I sampled) drip with venomous hatred that would not be out of place on a jihadist website.