Monday, August 01, 2005

Gwynne Dyer's Fundamentalism Nouveau

Gwynne Dyer is at it again. The Gwynne Dyer, that is, responsible for such marvels of absurdity as the notion that, at one point in time, there existed a bunch of honest, workaday (and, apparently, peaceful) terrorists that only became, as he put it, “radicalized” as a consequence of various “grievances” they had against the West.

I refuse to be fooled by the ostensible appearance of a reasonable (qua Reason) argument here; or, as he puts it, (and meters his column regularly with its refrain) a “discussion of cause and effect.” I won’t dispute the suggestion that the terrorists responsible for 9/11, Madrid, Bali, 7/7, etc. carried out these actions explicitly as a response to Western military and political intervention in Middle-Eastern (that is, Muslim) countries. But where his argument uses this rather basic, if incomplete and largely indifferent analysis as proof positive (and proof, as it were, exclusive) that the attacks are only significant insofar as they reflect the West’s responsibility for terrorist activities, one can’t help but bark a little.

Bear with me while, for a second, I imagine myself getting brutally shot trying, say, to stop a thief from stealing a car. And, as I lie there, bleeding out my last, having Gwynne Dyer casually stroll up and tell me that I have only myself to blame for ever having interfered in the first place; that my actions—those, arguably, of a good and conscientious citizen—were the direct cause of the thief’s effect: the introduction of a hollow-tipped bullet into my solar plexus. Which analysis, of course, is quite literally true. But in a society that (I am constantly being told, anyway) is able to distinguish between the inevitable complexity of apparent causes that result in a given effect, the suggestion that my actions, as such, were The Cause of my being shot, would rank pretty low down amongst the wine and spirits. Compared, that is, with that redemptive vintage that, all at once, recognizes the essentially correct motivations behind such actions as (albeit, abstractly so) a form of defensive reaction; and the rather obvious fact that, in the first place, I did not try to steal a car, nor did I pull the trigger of a gun.

(I can’t help thinking too that, were Toronto Mayor David Miller present, he would in his own turn reassure me that the offending gun, and of course the United States, would, with all due expediency, be tried for their central role in this crime.)

The basic problem with the line of reasoning Mr. Dyer takes in his column is his inexplicable misunderstanding of the word “obscenity” as it was used by the English PM in a speech he gave last Tuesday. The “obscenity” that Mr. Blair was getting at was not, as Mr. Dyer suggests, a denial of the causal relationship between British foreign policy and terrorism. To be sure, Mr. Blair said, “let us expose the obscenity of these people saying it is concern for Iraq that drives them to terrorism.” To say, as Mr. Dyer does, that this is “nonsense” is (not so much to misunderstand as) to misrepresent the intrinsically judgmental sense of the word, given that it was used quite concertedly in lieu of others (like error, fallacy, or lie). Mr. Blair was (really quite obviously too) making a moral judgment condemning the particular spirit of violence of the terrorists. That is: how utterly incommensurable it is with its stated reasoning. (Which, incidentally, is sound—if a trifle subtle (God forbid!)—reasoning. After all, we do reason towards judgment.)

To take my analogy a step further—to make it, that is, a little more applicable to the subject at hand—let us say, in the hypothetical case of my trying to stop a gun-wielding thief from stealing a car, that: rather than shooting me, he shoots an innocent third party who happens to be nearby. The rule, I’m sure Mr. Dyer would acknowledge, of cause and effect works here too. But the act is a manner of perversion of the rule. And so it is, then, obscene. There can be no question of this. Indeed, let us be clear on the point, it is obscene enough as to be quite evil (—and, of course, deeply unsettling to anyone who takes it for granted that he won’t be shot for something he hasn’t done.)

And herein, I begin to see, lies the problem. Mr. Dyer still hasn’t reconciled in his own mind the perversity of the initial crime! In the case of my imagined heroism: I deserved to be shot, not the mother of three who happened to be walking by, not the tow-headed teenager innocently hacking a forbidden butt, not the nun. And he just can't get over this! And so, ironically, he holds me a grudge for the very existence of a perversion of facts, and not for my inability to face them at all. That is to say, he holds me a grudge not for my perverting them—which, of course, I didn’t (I am very virtuous hypothetically, in case you hadn’t noticed)—but for their inherent perversion. For, in effect, their being facts! How could these, his friends (facts), so invested with natural justice, go trampling all over his beloved rule of cause and effect (also their friend; and close relative, moreover)?! It must be a mistake!

Likewise, the fact that 50 odd innocent commuters died for decisions made by men who don’t even likely use public transportation! (Which victims, moreover, probably didn’t even vote for such men!) It’s not fair! They died for your crimes, you bastards!

With all due respect to Mr. Dyer: the terrorists and the gob-smackingly high number of terrorist sympathizers (not justifiers, Mr. Dyer—I get your little distinction, and I’ll see it) that exist the world over, are not as dumb as you don't bother giving them credit for. And they know only too well that Liberal fundamentalism will be as quick to point its crippling finger at Messrs. Blair and Bush as Muslim fundamentalism is. Indeed, they count on it. Not, that is, because of the Liberal fundamentalist’s ability to face facts (which, apparently, he doesn't even do that well), but because of his inability to render judgment in anything but a black and white situation; that, alas, exists only in the fantasy world he's devised for himself on the opinion pages of the Star, and in the minds of the gullible.