I have been an anti-imperialist since I was 16 years old, when I protested against the first Gulf War. I have been implacably opposed to every British military venture since then, including the ones everyone else loved, like Tony Blair's bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999. Western militarism makes me angry.
So, if I were to go outside right now and stab to death a British soldier, would that be understandable? Legitimate, somehow? A natural if OTT expression of my longstanding opposition to Western militarism? If I were to make a bomb, put it in a rucksack, and use it to kill both myself and other commuters on the London Underground, would that "make sense"? Would journalists, stroking their chins, say, "See, this is why we need to change Britain's foreign policy", like many did after 7/7?
No. None of that would happen. Why not? Because I'm white and non-Muslim, and therefore I don't have to lower myself to expressing my anti-war sentiments through mad, bloody hacking at a soldier's neck or random bomb-planting on the Tube, like those hotheaded brown Muslims do.
That, at least, is the ugly implication in the spate of articles claiming that the murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich and other recent Islamist attacks are "driven" by British foreign policy. The suggestion is that Muslims are less capable than the rest of us of expressing their opposition to foreign policy in words or street demonstrations, and thus find themselves "driven", like overgrown Pavlov's dogs, to kill both themselves and others in an orgy of wordless and senseless fury.
More and more commentators and campaigners are describing the murder in Woolwich as an "inevitable" consequence of Western military ventures in Afghanistan and Iraq. Islamist terror attacks are apparently an "inevitable outcome" of British interference overseas.
These are intended as radical critiques - but they feel reactionary, and have more than a hint of racial superiority to them. Because when observers claim that mad knife murders on the streets of London are the inevitable consequence of the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, what they're really saying is that the people who carry out such killings are incapable of stopping themselves; they're incapable of thinking rationally or acting morally and instead are compelled to lash out violently just as surely as a dog is compelled to maul someone's arm when its owner shouts "Attack".
To claim that Western politicians bear true responsibility for what happened in Woolwich is to argue that the killers themselves do not bear responsibility, presumably because their ability to exercise moral judgement was overridden by... what, precisely? By a peculiarly Muslim fury? By some kind of Islamic anger gene? By an opposition to war which for some reason is more unhinged and demented than your average non-Muslim's opposition to war?
When radical observers heap responsibility for Woolwich on to Western leaders, they're saying that the killers themselves are suffering from diminished responsibility, from diminished capacity, not as a result of insanity but as a result of some strange, fuming, anti-war bloodlust that lurks within Muslims' hearts but not within the hearts of us lucky non-Muslims.
The idea that it is understandable that Muslims should respond to foreign wars by killing themselves and others implies that there is something different about these people, something alien, a propensity to unpredictable, reactive, automaton-like violence. Commentators talk about young Muslims as having reached a "tipping point", strongly implying that Muslims are not fully rational beings, certainly not on the level of non-Muslims who are capable of being angry but not murderous about foreign intervention. If violent actions by Muslims are "inevitable", should we trust these people at all? In suggesting that Muslims are driven inevitably to murder by external events and forces, liberals unwittingly nurture the same idea promoted by some EDL supporters: that Muslims are a potentially violent virus in Britain, liable to explode at any minute.
In truth, there was nothing remotely "inevitable" about the killing in Woolwich. Like the rest of us, the two men who committed that murder are moral agents, responsible for their decisions and their behaviour. They could have stopped themselves at any moment. David Cameron is no more responsible for their barbarism than JD Salinger is responsible for Mark David Chapman's murder of John Lennon.
These white, erudite commentators sitting in their offices writing tear-drenched articles about how Muslims are "driven" to kill by world events that have upset them... this isn't radical commentary; it's liberal racism.Suggest a correction