Neo-Con Abstractions and Sleight of Hand

We have heard a fairly consistent chorus, since September 11th, castigating the Islamic world for their supposed failure to denounce Islamic extremists. Unable to blame all muslims directly for terrorism, some find it plausible to blame all muslims for complacency, and an ever-present suggestion of complicity as well, with terrorism. This enables those thinkers who are so disposed to conceive the world in abstractions and to pose its problems in terms of wars among and within “civilizations.”

Krauthammer has a particular love of this neo-con trope. Today he again draws on it to help explain Europe’s problem with terrorism (Source: NYT 7/15/05). For Krauthammer the phenomenon that needs to be explained is that the terrorists in London (and the murderer of van Gogh in Netherlands) are “native-born Muslims.” (Of course, the terrorist acts in Madrid are the unmentioned exception here.)

>The fact that native-born Muslim Europeans are committing terrorist acts in their own countries shows that this Islamist malignancy long predates Iraq, long predates Afghanistan and long predates Sept. 11, 2001. What Europe had incubated is an enemy within, a threat that for decades Europe simply refused to face.

This is an extremely interesting rhetorical move. It rests on a certain ambiguity in the author’s intention. If he aims to show that there was a radical Islamic movement advocating violence prior to the last 5 years, then one wonders who doubts such a thing. That claim seems uncontroversially true and does not need additional evidence. This makes the argument look very strong. But Krauthammer’s intention is more devious. He wants to suggest that these acts would have been committed even without, and perhaps more likely without, America’s war on terrorism. The fact that radical Islamic movements pre-exist the last five years, of course, does nothing to show what Krauthammer wants to suggest. It is only the difference between a proximate cause and a more remote cause. Though there would be good reason to suggest this if we limited ourselves to the Dutch case–though that is not probably a case of terrorism even if it was violence committed by a muslim with fundamentalist beliefs.

This is a complicated fallacious argument. This seems to be something like a ignoratio elenchi (the fallacy of missing the point) with the conclusion unstated but suggested by the context. His choice of the three American events (9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq) suggests that the relationship between these events and the continued terrorism is Krauthammer’s real though not explicitly stated concern.

a) native-born Europeans are committing terrorism
shows b) that Islamist malignancy pre-dated 9/11 etc.
c) (implicitly) therefore the “war on terrorism” is not the cause of these acts.

Granting that (a) provides evidence for (b) (unnecessarily of course), it is hard to see that (a) or (b) provides any reason to hold (c). It might provide reason to believe (d) the “war on terror” is not the *sole* cause of these acts (even if it might be the precipitating cause). But that last claim is also uncontroversial I would think.

But setting aside this deceptive argument, Krauthammer wants to use this to explain Europe being “weak” on terrorism.

>One of the reasons Westerners were so unprepared for this wave of Islamist terrorism, not just militarily but psychologically, is sheer disbelief. It shockingly contradicts Western notions of progress.

>Our first response was, therefore, to simply sweep this contradiction under the rug. Put the first World Trade Center bombers on trial and think it will solve the problem. Even today there are many Americans and even more Europeans who believe that after Sept. 11 the United States should just have done Afghanistan — depose the Taliban and destroy al Qaeda’s sanctuary — and gone no further, thinking that would solve the problem.

Again Krauthammer suggests something that he does not actually assert–that the war in Iraq was and is a necessary part of the response to terrorism–and which his argument does nothing to show. Like above, this is a sort of sleight of hand, whereby an argument that might support a particular conclusion is actually being used to suggest the truth of a much stronger conclusion. This is combined in an interesting way with a version of the straw man argument. Presumably very few thought that we should *only* go after Afghanistan and do absolutely nothing else to combat or prevent terrorism. The question has always been whether our intervention in Iraq is contributing to terrorism.

>But the problem is far deeper. It is essentially a civil war within a rival civilization in which the most primitive elements are seeking to gain the upper hand. Sept. 11 forced us to intervene massively in this civil war, which is why we are in Iraq. There, as in Afghanistan, we have enlisted millions of Muslims on the anti-Islamist side.

>But what about the vast majority of European Muslims, the 99 percent who are peace-loving and not engaged in terror? They must also join the fight. They must actively denounce not just — what is obvious — the terrorist attacks, but their source: Islamist ideology and its practitioners.

And here we get the Neo-Con’s penchant for abstractions revealed. Rather than a historically determined political phenomenon, we are treated to a child’s tale of conflicts within and among civilizations. And one wonders whether, in Kruathammer’s mind, all Christians and Jews must denounce not just Christian and Jewish extremist terrorist acts, but the Christian and Jewish fundamentalist ideologies and their practitioners as well.

One thought on “Neo-Con Abstractions and Sleight of Hand”

  1. Just in general Krauthammer has continued to insist that Iraq is a part of the war on terrorism and that Iraq has done nothing to inspire terrorism. It’s entertaining, however, to see him try to put up an argument for patently false positions. Nice work.

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