Politics, philosophy, religion, and other things

Friday, May 18, 2007

Giuliani and terrorism

I sometimes struggle to understand the average Republican perspective on an issue. I can understand the logic behind their denial of reproductive freedom. I can understand why many of them feel it is necessary to claim that homosexuality is sinful or are afraid of losing their cultural identity through immigration. However, I find myself bemused by what seems at times the most common Republican response to Islamic-based terrorism.

I don't think that the average Republican is consciously racist towards Arabs. However, since most racism plays at the unconscious level that tells us little about the reality of their attitudes. In general, if we wish to treat all peoples equally it is necessary to engage in self-examination. I would like to assume that this is not an exclusive characteristic of the liberal mindset. But sometimes Republican rhetoric gives me cause to wonder.

The most recent example of this was in the Republican primary debate last Tuesday. There were two main highlights--the advocacy of torture (albeit by other names) by most of the field, and Giuliani's outrage at Congressman Paul's claim that we should seek to understand the motivations of those who are attacking us.

I will admit that I find it astonishing that we need to argue that torture is immoral as I considered the repudiation of such practices one of the distinguishing marks of Western liberalism. However, I will acknowledge that many countries with authoritarian leanings have felt that the so-called pragmatic benefits make it worthwhile (and we have certainly become more authoritarian since the terrorist attack of 2001). But I honestly do not understand how a responsible public figure arguing that he is best qualified to lead our country can be willing to claim that the reason that we were attacked on 9/11/01 was simply, or only, because they "hate us for our freedoms."

It is perhaps possible that some Saudi Arabs do "hate us for our freedoms." However, to claim that that alone is an adequate motivation for an entire civilization threatening movement is transparently absurd. If they do "hate us for our freedoms," it behooves us to ask us why they resent the fact that we are free. It is true that the citizens of the U.S. have many opportunities that are not open to other people around the world. But why is it that it was in the Middle East that this inspired a movement of people willing to sacrifice their own lives in protest against these freedoms?

Some have suggested that it is because Muslims dislike the idea of freedom in general. Let's suppose this was true. Then why would they resent the U.S.? The U.S. best partner in the Middle East is Saudi Arabia, by no means a free or democratic state, while our greatest enemy has been Iran, which is one of the more democratic (albeit with a strangely theocratic flavor) countries in the Middle East. So shouldn't Al Quaeda be then supporting our attempts to weaken the Iranian government?

However, even more importantly, to seriously claim that Muslims do not desire themselves to be free is to ascribe an attitude to them that even their holding it would defeat the American notions of government. The U.S. Constitution is based on the notion that ALL humans have certain inalienable rights, one of which is liberty. Thus, to claim that these entire groups of humans in fact do desire to live without freedom would be to claim that the U.S. ideals of government should be given up.

No. What must be done is to attempt to understand why it is that some groups have grown to resent the U.S. Acknowledgement or understanding of the causes of resentment is not the same as claiming that this resentment is justified (as any parent should know). And that is why Giuliani's attempt to paint Congressman's Paul remarks as claiming that the U.S. "invited" these attacks is completely false.

This is not that difficult. Osama Bin Laden and Al Quaeda did not just appear out of nowhere in 2001. They had been claiming for years that the U.S. should be punished for having troops in Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, there had been clear resentment because of the bombing of Iraq for the previous ten years (as noted by Paul).

It is occasionally a temptation to treat our political or military opponents minds and attitudes as completely ineffable. This is convenient for us, because it prevents us from having to worry whether we are acting in manners that justify their actions or whether we are doing things that might be viewed as provoking violent responses that, when directed against us, we will immediately condemn. But, giving in to that temptation comes at the price of losing the liberal ideas of human rights and, furthermore, of giving up intellectual respectability for the ideas we replace it with.

Update: Daniel Larison has, as usual, a thoughtful conservative rebuttal to the notion that we were or are attacked because of our freedoms.

Update 2: To be a clearer about one of my points. Western democracy arose from the Enlightenment assumption that all people desire to be free. If you give up this belief, which is what Giuliani seems to do, then we have no justification for any intervention in international affairs (which some conservatives would welcome) and challenge whether the U.S. federal government has the authority to rule over its citizens. Philosopher types can and do argue these points, but I would be, to say the least, disconcerting for one of the major parties to espouse such a rejection of core American ideals.

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