Anti-NSA crusader Glenn Greenwald published an article on Wednesday morning where he explained that the recent murder of a Canadian soldier by a radicalised Muslim convert was down to Canadian foreign policy. The important sentence in Greenwald’s piece is this one:
‘A country doesn’t get to run around for years wallowing in war glory, invading, rendering and bombing others, without the risk of having violence brought back to it.’
To put it another way, it was inevitable that the jihadists would come after Canadians, given that Canadians had meted out some fairly ripe treatment to the jihadists – first in Afghanistan and now against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (I’m being generous to Greenwald here, I grant you).
Greenwald in not alone in treating the ‘blowback’ theory as the de rigueur explanation for any terrorist attack on the West. Shortly after 9/11, the New Statesman famously ran an editorial that appeared to blame Americans themselves for the attacks, for preferring ‘George Bush to Al Gore and both to Ralph Nader’. The Americans ‘had it coming’, as Mary Beard wrote in the London Review of Books.
According to this argument, nobody in the Middle East has any agency and everything that happens leads straight back to the West. In an inversion of the old imperialist mantra that everything good starts with us, today we are to blame for everything bad. ‘We’ made them do it.
But let’s say for the sake of argument that in this instance Greenwald is right, and that the Islamic State-inspired murder of the Canadian soldier on Monday (and if it turns out to be related, Wednesday’s attack on the parliament) really is ‘blowback’ for Canada’s part in the airstrikes on IS and the earlier overthrow of the Taliban.
The only principled answer is – so what if it is?
I’m not being flippant here. I say this because, underneath all the pseudo-humanitarian verbiage, Greenwald and co are essentially saying that the people of the Middle East should deal with the threat posed by the Islamic State alone lest it threaten our comfort here in the West. After all, if we don’t lift a finger there can be never be any blowback, right?
And this isn’t necessarily a shameful position. If you believe that the Kurds are best left to sort out their own affairs, and if you can live with the odd genocide from time to time – well, at least you’re honest.
But this isn’t the Glenn Greenwald brand. In fact, it sounds a lot more like the reactionary right than the liberal left.
If Greenwald were honest he would tell his readers where the pontificating about root causes ultimately leads: to the argument which says the West should wash its hands of the problems in the Middle East lest the fanatics come after us too. In other words, woe betide the nation that risks ‘having violence brought back to it’ for the sake of a few hundred thousand Kurds, Iraqis or Syrians.
James Bloodworth is the editor of Left Foot Forward