Thursday, March 18, 2004
More Alike Than They Know

One of the strongest themes that has emerged from reaction to 3/11 is the desire of individuals and governments to act in concert, presenting a united front. The motivations for these calls for unity differ in tone and content, depending upon the ideological context of the speaker. In the United States, it is an exhortation to avoid any sign of appeasement towards terrorism whilst the European elite has fallen back on solidarity - the value that promotes integration.

Both of these approaches have sieved perceptions of the atrocities through an inflexible moral prism, preventing an empirical evaluation of the effect of the bombings. One example will suffice: the condemnation of the Spanish electorate as a symbol of appeasement towards Al-Qaeda. Ian Murray's psephological shorthand attributes the Socialist victory in Spain to an increase in voter turnout. The overall support for the right did not decline as much as the results indicated. They were outvoted:

It is clear, therefore, that the Spanish elections hinged on the feelings of those 3 million extra voters, less than a tenth of the voting population. They were, it appears, overwhelmingly young, something that in Europe at least invariably favors left-leaning parties. It seems likely that the PP's unwise move to pin the blame for the bombings on Basque separatist terrorists ETA before the evidence was in contributed to a feeling among this group that it had been lied to. The group's vengeance was terrible for Spain and the war on terror, but its effect was disproportionate.

As a consequence, the initial reactions to the Socialist victory in Spain on the left and the right should be discounted as the cries and indignation of frustrated Pharisees. However, the appearance of unity is another harmful trend with serious consequences for British foreign policy. The United States has demanded a "with us or against us" approach which has entwined the war on Iraq with the "war on terror". Now the European Union is starting to demand that collective continental security requires centralisation of strategy, defence and intelligence gathering in the name of European nations fighting terror.

These reactions favour a herd mentality, the creation of new bureaucracies that will prove unequal to their tasks and the prevention of countries acting in their national interests (including the engagement and pre-emption of terror). The 'war on terror' is completing what the Cold War started in Europe: the establishment of authoritarian bureaucracies, wedded now to an emergent military-industrial complex, and further degrading democratic institutions and liberties in the name of security.

(21.57, 18th February 2004)


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