This thought-provoking posting at Norman Geras' blog, Apologists among us, made me think about something that has often occurred to me after one terrorist outrage or another. My reaction, when I hear of a terrorist attack, in Israel, the United States, Britain, Russia, Iraq, etc., is usually first of all shock and sadness, and then anger and often a desire for revenge against the terrorists (not that I'm advocating revenge, but it is one of my first feelings - I would advocate cool analysis, investigation, and measures to find the attackers and defend the vulnerable, instead). I feel helpless. I can't understand why people would do such a thing, especially to innocent civilians (the attack in Baghdad yesterday that killed many children was particularly appalling). I am interested in having a political understanding of how such things occur, but I don't view this as an explanation or excuse for why people commit such atrocities.
A month or so after September 11, I went to NYC to visit friends, and made a trip to the World Trade Center site. I couldn't see much, because of the fence around the whole site, but between the slats I could see the pile and the skeleton left of part of the buildings, a couple of stories high. I also saw another building that wasn't destroyed but had obviously been hit by falling debris and a huge gash in it (I think this was the Deutsche Bank building). It wasn't as horrible a sight as it would have been earlier, but it was still stunning. As I looked at it I was trying to figure out why people would do this - how they could possibly bring themselves to do this - and I had no answer. I took the train back uptown still baffled and shaken.
It didn't occur to me right after the attacks, or at any point thereafter, what the U.S. had done to "deserve this." I thought it was completely undeserved, as I think is true for every terrorist attack. It made me angry that people had attacked our country this way.
For this reason, I'm baffled why people react to terrorist attacks by searching for "root causes," as Norman says. It seems to be part of the whole ethos of blaming the victim, even if the victims include oneself. I think it's important to understand the political framework for these attacks, but that framework includes a lot more than the usual suspects - all the purportedly evil things the U.S. (or Britain) has done in the Middle East.
And I'm even more baffled when people's reaction is that since the attack was caused, for example, by Britain's participation in the Iraq War, that this means that Britain should pull out of Iraq. Isn't that simply giving in to the enemy, declaring defeat? Is the correct answer to an attack surrender, or preparing better defenses and going after the attackers? Even if one opposed Britain's participation in the Iraq war, isn't it simply giving in to terrorists to do what (you think) they want? And why would someone who opposed the war want to give in to terrorists, whom I hope he or she also opposes?