Criminal Responsibility

by Quinn

Now a week has passed, is it okay to use the London bombs to make a political point? I would say not, that it is never appropriate to use such a tragedy to advance your political opinion, but we do, all the time. We comment on events to illustrate why our view of the world is correct, and often such events are by themselves tragic. People of all political persuasions will point to incidents in Iraq, for example, to justify their own opinion on the war on terror, so why not use the London bombs? Do we hesitate to use the killings as a political football just because they occurred in Britain, just over a week ago, and so feelings are still raw? If so, is that a good reason?

Some people are less concerned about grandstanding. George Galloway, of course, was quick off the blocks on the day of the bombings to say that he had argued “the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq would increase the threat of terrorist attack in Britain. Tragically Londoners have now paid the price of the government ignoring such warnings”. On Newsnight he defended his words by saying that Bush and Blair had already used the bombs to justify their war on terror. He was right to say that Bush in particular had stated that the bombs vindicated his foreign policy, but I am not sure that saying “he started it” has ever been a very good justification of ones own actions (the interview, with Gavin Esler, was amusing for the charge from Galloway that Esler lived in a “bubble”, whereas “almost everyone” else agrees with Galloway. What an irony).

My instinct is to say that we shouldn’t be using these events to bolster our own arguments. We don’t know, for example, if it was the Iraq war that angered the bombers so much that they decided to kill themselves and others (although the fact that they were British suggests to me that it is likely to have been an important factor in their reasoning, since the rights and wrongs of the war have featured so heavily in domestic discussions). However, one of the reasons I opposed the Iraq war was because it could make terrorism more likely, not specifically in Britain but certainly in the world. If it could be found that there was a direct link between the war and these murders in London why shouldn’t I make this point? If the bombs can be proved to be in part a consequence of the war, should Blair be held in anyway responsible, even slightly? Wouldn’t he happily claim responsibility if it could be proven that the war had reduced terrorism overall? Didn’t he stress when he argued the case for war in Iraq that he would be responsible if we did nothing and Saddam did link up with terrorists to attack the UK?

This discussion of “responsibility” reminds me of a post by Norman Geras a few months ago where he basically absolved the coalition forces of any blame for action perpetrated by the insurgents in Iraq. As an analogy he said

Were the Japanese themselves responsible for the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Adolf Hitler was responsible for many terrible crimes during the Second World War. But the fire bombing of Dresden?

In response I said

But can actions really be so separated from their consequences? Sure, Hitler and the Luftwaffe did not drop the bombs themselves on Dresden, and Bomber Harris and the RAF must take ultimate responsibility for this action, but did Hitler bear no responsibility at all? Were the seeds for Dresden not sown in the decision in September 1940 to launch the Blitz, and deliberately target the civilian population of London. Or do the roots not lie further back, in the invasions of Poland and Czechoslovakia, the anschluss with Austria, the desire for lebensraum.

Reading my words again feel I still have a point, but do I? Is it just perhaps very easy to burden Hitler with further responsibility for the actions of the RAF, when in fact that is not deserved. Similarly while I am unhappy about Islam being blamed in the aftermath of the London bombs, I am more comfortable with people criticising the BNP; but just because it is easy to shove more blame the way of the racist scumbags, it doesn’t mean they are at fault on this one.

The thing is that although I don’t want to try to pin the blame on Blair for the London bombs, I am not that happy about letting him of the hook either. Just because I don’t particularly want to hold Blair responsible, is that any reason not to, if the bombs were in some way a consequence of the war? Is it just politeness not to criticise him in the aftermath of horror? And if Blair cannot be held responsible, does that free him (and anyone) from the consequences of his (or their) actions?

Or perhaps the problem is that whole word “responsibility”. It just seems wrong to say that anyone else, other than those with twisted minds who constructed and detonated those bombs, is responsible. Yet if Blair is not responsible, even to some tiny degree, but his actions can be associated with the motivations of the killers, then is arguing about whether “responsibility” is the correct word to use just an argument over semantics?

Perhaps I am fighting shy of allocating blame elsewhere because it is still all so recent and raw. Perhaps in five years time I will blithely share responsibility far and wide. But will that be because I have been able to take a step back and view events more clearly, or will it be because the senses have been numbed and cynicism set in? Perhaps the way I feel now is the clearer, more honest and human reaction?

I have talked in circles here I know, and if you have stuck with me to the end then well done. More questions than answers in this post – I think the “?” button on the keyboard is about to go – and my head hurts now with all my cod philosophising. In the end, perhaps the reason I am not blaming Blair is just because I don’t want to. For now it just seems right to say that full responsibility for these appalling killings rests with the bombers and possible associates, that nothing anybody else can have said or done could possibly be considered responsible, even in part, for such an act; and that is the end of it.

I think.