Everyone who participates in political debates sometimes has their arguments publicly misrepresented. Like many writers, if I noted and refuted every case where that happened to me, I would have time for nothing else. But sometimes the distortions are so fundamental and obvious -- as well as pernicious -- that they are worth examining. I had intended to write today about the reaction to this week's War on Terror speech by President Obama, but will postpone that until tomorrow so that I can instead discuss what Andrew Sullivan (and others) did yesterday. Beyond my wanting to correct their glaring distortions, the episode raises some interesting broader points that drive debates on these issues.
On Thursday, I wrote about the London killing of a British soldier by two men using a meat cleaver. The sub-headline, which I wrote, called it a "horrific act of violence," a phrase I repeated in the very first sentence. I described that event as one where the solider had been "hacked to death." In the second paragraph, I wrote:
"That this was a barbaric and horrendous act goes without saying."
I then proceeded to raise two main points about the attack. First, given that the person killed was not a civilian but a soldier of a nation at war (using US standards), it is difficult to devise a definition of "terrorism" that encompasses this attack while excluding large numbers of recent acts by the US, the UK and many of their allies and partners.
Second, despite the self-serving bewilderment that is typically expressed whenever western nations are the targets rather than perpetrators of violence -- why would anyone possibly be so monstrous and savage as to want to attack us this way? -- the answer is actually well-known and well-documented. As explained by the CIA ("blowback"), the Pentagon (they "do not 'hate our freedom,' but rather, they hate our policies"), former CIA agents ("we could try invading, occupying and droning Muslim countries a little less, and see if that helps. Maybe prop up fewer corrupt and tyrannical Muslim regimes"), and British combat veterans ("it should by now be self-evident that by attacking Muslims overseas, you will occasionally spawn twisted and, as we saw yesterday, even murderous hatred at home"), spending decades bombing, invading, occupying, droning, interfering in, imposing tyranny on, and creating lawless prisons in other countries generates intense anti-American and anti-western rage (for obvious reasons) and ensures that those western nations will be attacked as well. In the London case, the attacker cited precisely such anger at US/UK aggression as his motive ("this British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. . . . the only reason we killed this man is because Muslims are dying daily"). Those are just facts.