Foreign policy and skimpy skirts

August 31, 2006

As I don’t live near anywhere that can receive BBC 2, I won’t be watching Peter Taylor’s programme, but I did read his article in the Guardian in which he says that the US/UK policy in Iraq is ‘the reason’ for the London attacks. I began to wonder whether claiming UK policy in Iraq is responsible for terrorism in this country is not like arguing that a woman wearing a short skirt is responsible if she is raped. My first thought was that a rapist is always a rapist, who will use whatever opportunity is presented to him. It’s not the skirt that is the reason for the crime but the individual’s deep criminal tendencies. But what about that specific rape, on that specific person, in that specific place and at that specific time? Would it have taken place if the victim had been dressed differently? Difficult to say- some researchers have argued that rape statistics show young and sexually attractive females are particularly vulnerable. Personally, I think you have to distinguish between a pretext, which may provide an opportunity for a crime and an underlying mindset which provides the roots from which the crime will emerge. The first may provide some clues as to why the crime took place when it did, the second explains why it took place at all, the reason, if you like, why such events occur. My commonsense tells me, though, that there is a third element which is simply that some people are potential criminals and that without this demon lurking inside them, neither the pretext nor the reason would lead to the crime.
Do we actually know what ’causes’ a suicide terrorist to act? Robert Pape, for one, thinks he does, having studied 462 suicide attacks. “His conclusion is that “what nearly all suicide terrorist campaigns have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland… Religion is rarely the root cause”. (this was contributed to the debate on radicalisation on the BBC wesite by David Wearing.) I suspect, however, that if you scratch a few other experts they will probably say the opposite so I suspend my judgement on that. I find it illuminating to read what experts have to say on the motivation for rape. “Those who profile rapists say there are many types of rapists … and many motivations, including “power-assertive”, “power-reassurance” and “anger-retaliatory” rapists” (thanks to Wikipedia). Perhaps the motivation for suicide terrorists is more varied than Mr Pate allows? I just hope researchers will not have enough cases to find out for sure.
According to at least two theories of rape, there is a parallel with terrorism in that both exist in a culture which to some extent encourages or at least allows them to take place. The so-called feminist theory of rape, for example, argues that “rape is nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear”. Terrorism also implies a culture, however small, that encourages or at least tolerates terrorism. That’s why Peter Clarke stressed that there were thousands of people in this country “who might be tempted to support or encourage or assist.” This is where I drift away from the rape analogy as I think the pretext and the culture play a more important part in particular instances of terrorism than they do in rape cases. I suspect it is more than likely that the thinking of some of the people who assist terrorists has been influenced by their perceptions of UK foreign policy and that therefore this policy has contributed indirectly to helping the terrorists. In fact, I would have thought it reasonable at the outset to anticipate some sort of backlash which might spill over into the terrorist pool. Which does not mean that the policy was wrong because of that, just that some of its possible implications need to be factored in. But that’s a long way from saying the policy provides the reason, just as it would be an abomination to say the short skirt was. And what is absolutely clear is that even if the short skirt proved to be the trigger, the entire moral responsibility for the act lies with the perpetrator. And no woman should be forced to change the way she dresses for fear of rape.

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