Blaming the Victims of Terror

There is a theory that says you should never blame the victim of a rape. I agree with the theory in so far as the victim does not need more pain and suffering. The majority of rape victims are women, and they should be able to wear what they like, get as drunk as they like, stay out as late as they like, and behave as foolishly as they like, without having to fear rape from anyone, whether a friend, husband, or stranger. And yet, I would say it is in a woman’s interest to recognize when her actions increase the risk to her, just as I would warn a newcomer about the worst neighbourhoods of my town. The word ‘blame’ is emotive, but there must be a degree of precautionary advice that can be addressed to people in general which is not misrepresented as blaming victims and potential victims. There will be a grey area between genuine advice and hateful blame, which will be hard to discern because we are unsure of the motives of the speaker, and because the meaning of their words may not align to the tone they take. Nevertheless, we can distinguish advice from blame. It is with this in mind that I want to discuss many public reactions to the terrorist atrocity that recently occurred in Paris.

It seems to me that some people are guilty of blaming the victim – which they perceive to be the nebulous construction that we call ‘the West’ – in ways they would never blame an individual, or a gender, when they fall victim to violence. Their words are presented like they are giving advice. The advice is that if you ever engage in violence, you will reap what you sow. I do not think these people really have much idea why the West engages in violence around the world. Nor do I, at times, but some people who know very little are happy to believe they know a lot, as it gives them an undeserved feeling of superiority.

There will be times when the West needs to engage in violence, in order to avoid a greater harm. All Western countries have a police force, and all have a military, because we recognize that violence can sometimes be necessary, in order to protect us from malice both domestic and foreign. It cannot be the case that violence is never the correct course of action. If you genuinely believe that, please let me know your location, and I will personally come and punch you in the face until you change your opinion. I will do that not because I want to hurt a pacifist, but because pacifism is morally wrong, and needs to be challenged instead of indulged. There are times when the best overall moral outcome requires violence, whether it is to subdue a rapist, or to forestall an invader. Of course it will also be possible to engage in an excess of violence, even when well-intentioned, and the right balance will never be a well-defined line, but will always fall within a murky field of grey. But we have to accept that inflicting violence is sometimes necessary in order to reduce violence.

Currently many are using mainstream media, social media, and every other opportunity to express their disdain for the West, and its violent ways. They treat the atrocities of ISIS as justified revenge for Western adventures in the Middle East. That is bunk, and cannot withstand scrutiny. That is blaming the victim, not giving useful advice. ISIS kill far more of the people close to them, then they kill from afar. Their goal is to realize a single conformist planet where everybody obeys the rules they would impose. These rules permit them to kill homosexuals and rape little girls. Their rules are not rules which can be tolerated by the West, and it is facile to suggest they are only motivated by revenge. Nobody in ISIS took a young Yazidi girl and raped her as a way to inflict revenge on the West. The leader of ISIS did not repeatedly rape an innocent American aid worker to punish the West for invading Iraq, or bombing Syria. The motives of these men are clearly more complicated, and yet more simple, than simply hurting and undermining the West in revenge for its perceived transgressions. They may be glad to hurt the West, to terrorize and befuddle its citizens, but rape is not a policy pursued by men whose sole goal is education and correction. They also rape for pleasure.

So when terrorists follow the orders of these rapists, and blow up a music hall, or a restaurant, we should not indulge their fantastic claims about wanting to live in a peaceful world where everybody will be safe, whilst demanding that we wade through a bloodbath to reach it. These people want to do bad deeds, and are the apologists and defenders of others who do bad deeds. They use violence to get things they otherwise could not: power, money, and women. They would always force a confrontation, on anybody who seeks to curb their bestial instincts. As such, the idea that they will let us live in peace, if only we are more peaceful to them, is a dangerous nonsense.

The story that the West deserves retribution is repeated so often, that we lose sight of how contradictory it can be. The French government bitterly opposed war in Iraq. The majority of British people have often opposed the policy of its government. American aid workers do not travel to the Middle East because they want to make it easier for Islamists to torture and murder them. If violence only begets violence, then criticism of violence should begin with those who resort to violence without hesitation, not to those who live in democracies where we must go through prolonged debate before violence can be officially sanctioned.

If we only focused on those who instigate violence, then nobody would have apologized for the murderers of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists. A cartoon is not even a slap in the face, never mind a bullet from an AK-47. However, many Westerners were apologists for the terrorists who attacked Charlie Hebdo. Did the cartoonists draw pictures that upset some people? They did. But insult and offense never justifies violence. Short skirts upset other people. Some people say it is provocative for a woman to show her body, or her hair, in public. However, in the West, we do not believe we should blame the victim of rape, no matter what she wore. So why did some rush to blame the cartoonists for the physical violence that was done to them? The only answer I can think of is that the Western apologists for terror are morally weak and simplistic, prone to seeing conflict in terms of generalizations about which ‘side’ somebody is on, and so unable or unwilling to focus on where blame really belongs.

The West has received a lot of advice recently, mostly from people who live in the West. But when the advice is to be docile, to agree to vapid justifications for terrorism, to demand that their violence never be challenged by our violence, it sounds like blaming the victim. In the West, we aspire to a society where women can walk, talk and dress freely. That is just one of many reasons why the radical Islamist vision of peace is not compatible with our own. They will fight ferociously to realize their vision; we must sometimes fight to realize ours.

In one respect, it was natural that so much of the formal and informal media commentary was directed at the West. It is the West that has most television stations, most newspapers, most computers connected to the internet. Most of those commenting cannot speak the preferred language of the terrorists. So these commentators want to give advice, to people like them. And the advice is to be better than our enemies, by avoiding a fight. But that is bad advice. We are in a fight now. History is irrelevant, because it cannot be undone. The only freedom we possess is to make choices as we move forward in life. However the fight started, we are in a fight, and we must fight it.

It is natural that Western pacifists and apologists prefer to direct their advice to Westerners, and not to the terrorists. There are many Westerners, and few violent jihadis. Some of us will listen; most of them will not. We speak the same language; they may not. But if the pacifists and apologists really want to give good advice, they should concentrate on talking to the terrorists, because terrorists also live in West. Every Western town will possess at least one wannabe terrorist, whether it is somebody who has actually received training in Syria, or a fantasist who spends too much time on the internet. Those individuals need good advice more than the rest of us do. They need to hear that God does not support them, and their violence will not be rewarded in heaven. Instead of trying to correct the supposed faults of the victim, it would be better to change the minds of those who really deserve blame.

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