Another Terrorist Attack, the Same Faulty Arguments

Another Terrorist Attack, the Same Faulty Arguments November 14, 2015

Another terrorist attack happened. First, there was one in Beirut. Then in Paris. People are understandably upset and shaken, and the sad events overshadowed the good news of the week, such as the liberation of Sinjar and the first democratic election in Myanmar. Basically it’s the same old news: the world keeps marching forward while the anti-enlightenment forces do their best to prevent it. And the other thing is the same: people keep bringing up faulty and simplistic arguments.

“In case of a terrorist attack, pick up the nearest simplistic argument and drop nuance immediately.” That must be in some safety guidebook based on how quick people act on this advice.

There are those who blame religion as the only cause of these events. There are those say it’s not about religion but about politics. Some say the main cause is the economy. There are those who jump and collectively blame Muslims, and there are those who are quick to ex-communicate the terrorists as if they are the ultimate arbiters of Islam. They are those who blame the West for its history of intervention and go so far that they deny agency of Middle Easterners, and those who place the blame at the feet of Saudi Arabia and its history of wahabbism.

All of these arguments have merit in themselves, but ultimately all of them are false because they try to elevate one factor above the others. The truth is that all of these factors are equally important, and everyone arguing “it’s x it’s not y” is simplifying this very complex problem.

Without religion, we would have a completely different situation. It’s the doctrines of traditional Islam and some parts of its scripture, and how some people interpret it. Without those religious ideologies, everything would be different. It’s also the rift between Sunni and Shia and Alawite. It’s also politics. Without the policies of the countries in the region there would be a completely different situation. It’s also the ethnic divides. It’s Arab and Kurd and Persian. Many acts of the Western countries has changed the history irrevocably, and many acts of countries in the region has done the same.

Of course most Muslims are horrified by this situation. But we need to look deeper than that. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks I wrote a piece and in it I argued while collective blame is lazy thinking, shrugging off collective responsibility is also lazy thinking. The majority is ultimately responsible for the behavior of the minority. Not in the simple-minded manner of the Islamophobe blamer, but in a more structural and cultural manner.

It’s simply false to say which one of these factors is more important. In an example unrelated to terrorism, there are those who say Iran and Saudi Arabia are enemies mostly for power and use the Sunni/Shia divide for that. There are those who read everything based on the religious conflict. But it’s both. Really, it’s both. One accelerates the other. Simultaneously.

And more importantly, how can you even separate these factors? Religion shapes politics. Politics shapes religion. Economics shapes both and is shaped by both. They inform each other and change each other. This is the ultimate flaw of those who elevate one factor: it doesn’t make sense to say this is mainly about politics not religion, because politics is shaped by religion, and vice versa. Even this very separation is a mental exercise: these factors are too intertwined for us to be able to intelligently separate them.

Your diagnosis is wrong. In the wake of a terrorist attack we need solidarity, and courage, and a historical perspective. We don’t need simplistic arguments.

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