Thursday, August 04, 2005

Whose side are you on, Nosemonkey?

I think it is time Nosemonkey came clean. There is a pattern emerging of hand-wringing and apologism which is not what we need right now.

When I took him to task in this piece, I assumed he was just a bit cross. However, after some to-ing and fro-ing, it is clear from his final comment that he genuinely believes that there is some equivalence to be had between Bush and OBL.
... but I believe you misunderstood me (largely due to me not making myself clear). I wasn't comparing Bush/Blair to the bombers - the bombers are just the footsoldiers, not the commanders in chief, after all. I said "those they are supposed to be fighting", meaning the A-Q leadership.

Don't know if that clears it up at all. Probably not. This is why I generally try and avoid writing about terrorism - frightfully high emotions around the thing.

No Nosemonkey, it does not clear it up. You were offered the chance to retract and to measure your statements (4 or 5 times) and you have failed. High emotions cannot excuse this continued failure to see the difference.

Ask yourself the pertinent question one more time: in a presidential election between Bush and the AQ leadership and/or the loons who masterminded/planned/supplied the materials/brainwashed the footsoldiers, for whom would you vote?

This is not a tricky decision.

To make myself absolutely clear: the people who masterminded the attack deliberately set out to corrupt the minds of the footsoldiers. They specifically targetted innocent civilians. The murder of non-combatants in the tube was not "collateral damage" or even "unfortunate" - not only was it the only conceivable outcome, it was its entire purpose.

The same goes in spades for the AQ leadership: OBL et al provide "spiritual" leadership for these lunatics. They rejoiced in the 9/11 slaughter. They endorse the policy of the murder of innocent civilians.

On the other side of the coin, when a president or PM or whoever issues orders for an military operation, they do so in the knowledge and expectation that every single officer and NCO right down the chain of command will inspect it as to its legality or otherwise [an officer is NOT required to obey an illegal order. If the superior officer persists, one has a duty to tender one's resignation. To do so would take enormous amounts of moral courage, but then that is practically the only yardstick by which the worth of an officer is measured.], square it with their own conscience and then carry it out to the best of their ability whilst striving to minimise any collateral damage.


Now we get this. Browne's substantive point - that apologists and "root-causers" serve as "useful idiots" to the fundamentalist nutcases - is entirely ignored by the articles Nosemonkey quotes. That is as maybe.

But Nosemonkey's casual assertion in the comments thread that, although he has been increbibly slack throughout his article, Browne carefully and specifically used the term "Islamist" so that the uninitiated might think he meant "Islamic" is just so vile that it beggars belief.

I, like "Devil's Kitchen" in the comments to my first piece, was holding off commenting on this until I had simmered down, but I am spurred into action by the this piece by Scott Burgess of the Daily ablution, who seems to agree with Browne's substantive point. Scott Burgess is hardly a raving neo-con and it is good to see some sense coming through from the "left".

So let's ask the question again Nosemonkey: if you had to choose between Anthony Browne's world view and that of Dilpazier Aslam, which would it be?

To be honest, I really don't know which he would prefer. And that is really scary.


Nosemonkey said...

I would have thought it was fairly obvious. Terrorism sucks. And in an election in which Bush and OBL were standing, I'd vote for whoever the third party candidate was. Unless it was George Galloway, in which case I'd likely abstain. The joys of democracy (unless you're in Australia, I suppose) - you can vote for who you want to, or not at all if none of the candidates appeal. In that particular standoff, neither would.

It must be said, though, I had you down as more sensible than the regular crowd who equate criticising the response of Britain and the US to terrorism with actively supporting the terrorists. It's a fairly major leap of logic.

I also really don't get this whole "moral equivalence" thing. Which is propbably the root of the problem. Yes, the people Bush is ordering his people to kill are (usually) considerably less innocent than the people OBL is ordering his people to kill. But they're both ordering their people to kill. That's the only verifiable fact. The relative worthiness of the deaths is a matter of perspective, surely? Morality is not constant - that's all I was initially suggesting.

With the Browne thing, my problem was that "Islamist" is still a fairly new term, the definition of which many are still unsure, yet at no point in his article did Browne define it (something that could have been done in a short sentence). As such, confusion was more than likely - and that confusion could lead to readers inferring that Brown was likening Islam as a whole to Nazism, which is not just silly, but in the current climate (especially with the utter lack of knowledge of Islam the majority of the public posess) potentially dangerous.

And if I had to choose between the views of Browne or Aslam I'd have thought it was fairly obvious I'd choose neither. I find both highly distasteful.

Aslam's, if carried out to their logical limit, would (from what I understand them to be) naturally be rather more unpleasant. But they have no hope of getting anywhere due to the fact his views are that of a tiny minority of a minority. Browne's are closer to being mainstream, and as such - again in the current climate - have more potential to cause trouble.

Highlighting Aslam's stupid views merely give them more publicity; highlighting more mainstream stupid views can help to reduce their already large potential impact. Which is why more time is spent slagging off silly policies from Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems than those of the BNP, UKIP or the Greens. Likewise, if some bloke in the pub threatened to drop a nuke on my house and some other bloke threatened to stab me in the face, I'd be more worried about the bloke threating to stab me as it'd be rather more plausible that he'd succeed.

This is why generally speaking the blogosphere latches onto silly articles in the mainstream press with readerships in the hundreds of thousands rather than those on the interweb with readerships merely in the hundreds. It's very sweet that you're so concerned, but I really very much doubt that my views - rarely fully formed - influence anybody.

Devil's Kitchen said...

I take it that you enjoyed my comments on Mr Nosemonkey's post then, P-G?

Still trying to blog about it but stupid clients keep getting in the way and expecting me to do some work for them...

Chin chin!

dearieme said...

Dereliction of duty, P-G, because "largely due to me not making myself clear" should read "largely due to my not making myself clear". Tell him about verbal nouns, old boy.

The Pedant-General in Ordinary said...


I also really don't get this whole "moral equivalence" thing. Which is propbably the root of the problem. Yes, the people Bush is ordering his people to kill are (usually) considerably less innocent than the people OBL is ordering his people to kill. But they're both ordering their people to kill. That's the only verifiable fact. The relative worthiness of the deaths is a matter of perspective, surely? Morality is not constant - that's all I was initially suggesting.

Gotcha! Your position was so absurd that your continued defence has could only serve to make things worse, as indeed it has.

No Nosemonkey - this is not just a matter of perspective. Furthermore, they are not both ordering their people to kill. This is why your position is indefensible.

Let me explain:
Is this just a matter of perspective? Only if you believe that there is no moral difference between the celebration of death caused on the one hand (OBL) and remorse and regret for deaths caused on the other (Bush, Blair, every single civil servant and officer in between them and the frontline). I suggest that this is a verifiable fact.

Is there a difference in the relative worthiness of the deaths caused? Yes. Evidently: OBL considers that the lifes of those killed by his head-hackers and nutcases were worthless and that their deaths were of no consequence. Everyone else abhors deaths however caused. I suggest that is a fairly sharp difference of perspective?

I suspect that your confusion results largely because the first part of your thesis is wrong. Whilst you are absolutely correct that OBL and his chums do indeed order their people to kill, that same order - a deliberate order to kill - would be illegal for our armed forces. That is also a verifiable fact.

A soldier may have to kill and he must be prepared for that, but it is NOT inevitable. Faced by a "western" conventional army, you can expect that a white flag will be respected. You do not have to die, because the "no prisoners" order is illegal.

This is such a staggering obvious difference that I am just stunned that you do not get it.

With that in mind, let us return to the substantive point. You state that really don't get this whole "moral equivalence" thing. which is a pretty staggering admission.

Presumably you will agree - but I am getting less certain by the minute - that there are degrees of goodness and badness. Let's take some examples:
- At the top we might have Mother Teresa,
- then Harry Potter's mum, who died in order to save her child, somewhere below her.
- Moderately good, but perhaps not a saint, you might stick those sorts on VSO or the medics who give up their hols to do healthcare work in desperate regions of the world, medecins san frontiere that sort of thing.
- Somewhere in the middle are the vast majority of us who are generally nice people and wouldn't really want to do wrong, but occasionally tell a white lie or hide stuff we accidently broke at a friends house.
- Below us you have petty criminals
- and below them the corrupt politicians and so forth
- I'm sure that we can all think of all sorts of degrees of nastiness but eventually there comes a fairly solid line
- below which we get people who plan, finance, organise and execute bombings on the tube.
- There may even be some seventh circle of hell reserved for even more dastardly scum that that but I somehow doubt it. Feel free to offer suggestions.

We get the idea that there might a continuum of goodness and badness. It is jolly tricky to place an individual or specific act onto a particular point of this continuum, but it is often possible to draw some pretty broad brush distinctions. In the real world, people use this sort of analysis to form opinions and to decide whether or not someone is worth doing business with or inviting round for dinner or whatever.

Now, moral equivalence is when you suggest that two people or acts at very noticeably different parts of this scale are in fact more or less the same. To take an extreme example, I would be guilty of moral equivalence if I suggested that the ned/chav surreptiously slipping a cheeky mars bar into his pocket as he leaves the post office is as bad as the kung fu trained elderly postmistress who vaults the counter and beats him about the head with a crowbar until senseless to relieve him of it.

Got it? Not a tricky concept.

At the other end of the scale we have a sort of "evil overload". To ask the question "Who is worse, Hitler or Stalin?" is an exercise in futility because they are both SO ghastly almost to the point of total inhumanity that there is nothing to be gained from point scoring.

However, you suggested that Bush was "as bad as the leadership of AQ". I suggest that, whilst we all have our views on Bush, he is comfortably above the solid line of terrorism and OBL is comfortably below, as the analysis of the orders to kill shows. To suggest otherwise is moral equivalence.

Now, in this context I will turn to your unfounded accusation that I - of all people for goodness sake - might be guilty of a form of moral equivalence:

I had you down as more sensible than the regular crowd who equate criticising the response of Britain and the US to terrorism with actively supporting the terrorists. It's a fairly major leap of logic.

Errrmmmm..... You are absolutely correct that it is a major leap of logic. It is also one that I have not made. I haven't caught you in either of these two cases criticising, sensibly or otherwise, UK or US policy. It is your tendency towards moral equivalence which I am questioning, because that is what has got us into this mess in the first place, and in which context the article by Browne is so relevant.

You will note that when I originally took you to task on the Bush moral equivalence issue, I had absolutely no issue with the truth or otherwise of the allegation levelled at Bush (that he blew an intel source for political gain). I sought only to get you to correct your assertion that Bush was as bad as OBL et al.

This is important because, whatever we think about the management of the situation in Iraq or the terrorist threat or whatever, suggesting that our leaders will stoop as low as OBL is not exactly going to help.

Worse, by suggesting that Bush is as bad as OBL, you are giving OBL moral legitimacy. How is that being on our side?

In the second case, you wilfully ignore the substantive point raised by Browne in favour of some very dubious point scoring, which appears to be more based on prejudice than clear analysis of the text. In particular, your original suggestion is that Browne deliberately set out to misrepresent. When challenged, you quibble that Browne did not define the term "Islamist". This is ludicrously weak. The subtitle of the article is "As the rest of Europe acts, extreme Islamists take advantage of British naivety". The first mention of the term in the text is here:
Islamic radicals, like Hitler, cultivate support by nurturing grievances against others. Islamists, like Hitler, scapegoat Jews for their problems and want to destroy them. Islamists, like Hitler, decree that the punishment for homosexuality is death. etc etc

The inference that Islamists are Islamic Radicals is completely unavoidable, unless of course that statement conflicts with your world view and cognitive dissonance is forced to step in.

From where I stand, it is crystal clear the entire article is solely concerned with extremists, their views and the latitude that they are given by the useful idiots at the graun and the Beeb.

Islamic Radicals are the problem for us all and they are not being challenged - worse, in some cases they are actively supported - by the useful idiots of the left.

Crucially however, you know in your heart of hearts that you are wrong because you refused to answer flipside of the moral equivalence question. I posed the "who would you vote for question" specifically to challenge your equivalence of Bush with OBL: faced with a direct comparison with no get out clause or third party option - which is what your original "Bush as bad as OBL" assertion was - you can see that your position was ludicrous. You just haven't the guts to admit it.

It is this context that your treatment of Browne is so dishonest.

Nosemonkey said...

No, dear boy. There is only a difference in the worthiness of the deaths caused if you subscribe to the same moral code as the people making claims of worthiness. The deaths are still deaths. I couldn't care less about the reasoning behind them - people are still killed.

And for the "ordering to kill" pedantry (living up to your name nicely there), if you go to war, you know that deaths are going to occur, just as if you order someone to hijack a plane and fly it into a building you know that deaths are going to occur. In neither case do you know how many, though wars generally cause significantly more. Different methods, same result.

But that's another diversion. To get back to the basics: I subscribe to the moral codes of neither Bush nor OBL (while being rather closer to Bush's take than OBL's, naturally), so see the civilian deaths resulting from their actions as equally unpleasant.

The worth of the deaths of coalition soldiers or Iraqi insurgents is almost entirely a matter of perspective. If you see the coalition troops as fighting for freedom and democracy (as I pretty much do) then yes, their deaths are tragic and unjust, while those they kill deserve it. But if you see the insurgents as bravely battling against a foreign occupier, as many in Iraq and throughout the Arab world appear to, then the soldiers' deaths are more valid. I can empathise with the latter view, even while being closer to the former.

The major thing is that there are no moral absolutes. to claim otherwise ignores the massive diversity in global cultures - especially religious cultures - and is absurd when discussing a situation in which two of these cultures are clashing.

(Oh, and your "verifiable fact" about the remorse of our boys and our side is somewhat undermined by the various bits of footage of soldiers cheering and whooping when they've killed someone - which I have seen, and has been broadcast on all major news channels - not to mention Abu Ghraib and the triumphalist tone of various backers of the war whenever they hear that insurgents have been killed - see the likes of Little Green Footballs for innumerable examples...)

But either way, your "moral equivalence" thing assumes moral absolutes - especially your "solid line" concept. There are none that are universally applicable. Which is why for me the only constant is the deaths themselves - not how they were caused, or why, or the reaction to them, merely that they occur. The hows and the whys and the wherefores are all matters of perspective. (Hell, even deaths being bad could be seen as a matter of perspective, as some religious nutjobs would spout the usual "they're with God now" platitudes, and turn it into a good thing.)

To give you some concessions, at least - yes, intentions do matter to me when it comes to killing. Deliberate murder is worse than manslaughter, and should be treated as such. But both cause death. When you get to the numer of deaths that Bush and OBL have respectively (and in both cases technically indirectly) been the cause of, I'm not sure if good intentions are enough to warrant bunking Bush's deaths down to the manslaughter level. (And when saying "Bush is as bad as OBL" - or whatever it was I said - I was referring to their relative death tolls, not the entirety of their existences.)

You may disagree - and that's fair enough. But it just goes to show once more that moral equivalence, as you describe it, only works if you deal in moral absolutes.

Devil's Kitchen said...

My dear Nosemonkey,

Cripes! Moral equivalence and moral rlativism in a single comment: this is turning into a philosophical discussion indeed!

I think that you are both wrong to an extent; you cannot measure worth of deaths. (Personally, I don't subscribe to the view that any animal has a right to life (or else, how could I eat meat?) and man is an animal like any other; being an atheist, I also do not subscribe to the sanctity of human life. That is my personal view.

However, I am also not a moral relativist. I think that there are a huge number of disgusting regimes around this world—Burma, Iran and Zimbabwe, to name but three—and I happen to think that the British and US regimes, whilst being far from perfect, are infinitely better than them.

One of the things about the Lefty anti-war lot that really annoyed me were the ones who basically said, "The Iraqis are happy enough. They don't want democracy; they need a strong ruler". That is, essentially, racism as well as being incredibly sodding patronising. Also, I'd tend to differentiate between "strong" (Thatcher) and psychopathic (Saddam) but that's by-the-by; I digress.)

I do think that indiscriminate killing is something to be avoided, however (if only to make my life more pleasant). The point is not the worth of the deaths involved; the point is who is targeted.

In Iraq we target combatants; as far as this is possible, this should be a recognised army. We recognise that in any war, some civilians are going to be killed (what has become termed "collateral damage") but, bound by the Geneva Convention and international rules of war.

Contrast that with the suicide bombers in Iraq who, like AQ, deliberately target non-combatants.

Whilst we tend to regret the loss of civilian life in particular, OSL and numerous vocal Muslim clerics (not to mention Galloway and Michael Moore) rejoice in, and encourage, it.

More in my posts here and here.

Anonymous said...


mass graves, national athletes tortured for losing, 12 yr old daughters whisked off at midnight for sex games with Uday, political opponents imprisoned and tortured or just shot, babies starving while Saddam used money from oil for FOOD to buy weapons and bribe Frenchmen and Germans...


hasn't YET killed as many innocent Iraqi citizens as have the terrorists. and they haven't killed NEAR as many innocent Iraqis as did Saddam. So Bush finishes a distant third in the competition to kill the largest number of innocent Iraqis. So if you condemn Bush for the deaths which our war has caused, you simply HAVE to condemn Saddam a hundred times more, and the terrorists ten times more, than you condemn Bush.

But you won't do that, because in your eyes they're EQUIVALENT.

The Pedant-General in Ordinary said...


A little simplistic, perhaps, but it is always useful to remind us of the context.

Devil's Kitchen (on the one hand) and Nosemonkey (on the other): I see NM's issue with the moral absolute in the "solid line", and would like to pull back from this a little. But only a little.

This is where DK is closer to the mark. The everything is relative/nothing can be compared is, I suggest, even more ridiculous than the moral absolute viewpoint. Being absolutely absolute is silly, but I would suggest that being 70% absolute and 30% relative is a more sensible position that 70% relative/30% absolute is worse.

However, I shall use your own argument against you if I may: "all lives are equal" is in itself, a moral absolute position.

You then go on to say: "No, dear boy. There is only a difference in the worthiness of the deaths caused if you subscribe to the same moral code as the people making claims of worthiness. The deaths are still deaths. I couldn't care less about the reasoning behind them - people are still killed."

This is precisely my point. I completely agree with you here when you say that "all lives are equal". It is precisely because of the difference in the moral codes that I object to your equivalence between Bush and OBL.

It is precisely because OBL does NOT believe that all lives are equal that we believe he is evil.

It is not by the relative numbers of deaths that we may measure the relative worths of Bush and OBL: it is their moral position. Bush does not set out to cause the maximum number of deaths possible. OBL does. What do you think would be the scale of destruction in Iraq had Bush subscribed to OBL's moral code?

Oh, and as for Browne: presumably you will now brand Nick Cohen (see,6903,1544111,00.html for details) as a racist. His thesis is probably stronger than Browne's. His subtitle is "The liberals who say I have deserted the left should ask themselves where they stand on Islamism " and never even begins to explain that term. but presumably the guardianista readership of the Observer is au fait with these terms so that is Ok.

Oh and Dearieme: I have little further need to educate NM on verbal nouns, when I have such erudite commenters as yourself. Many thanks for doing my diry work for me.

Toodle Pip!