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Statements Justifying the Bad Guys:

Throughout these posts, I've criticized both those who expressly support the Iraqi insurgency, and those who justify their actions. My original post quoted an OpinionJournal piece that did this: The piece gave examples of people justifying the insurgents, and then spoke broadly of "Westerners who side with the 'Iraqi resistance' against America and its allies." I understood "side with" as referring both to express support and to the justification of the insurgents. But just to be explicit, in the update and in later posts I made clear that I was speaking of both categories.

Why do I treat the two similarly? Well, imagine that we were talking not about the Iraqi insurgents, but about anti-abortion terrorists, or violent Klansmen or neo-nazis, or other murderers. And say someone said things like:

Well, you've got to understand the situation: The Southern resistance fighters see outsiders trying to control how they live, trying to destroy cultural institutions that have existed for decades, and taking the side of one ethnic group against another. It makes sense that they lashed out against those three Northerners who came down to impose their Northern views on Southern whites.

Imagine that instead of unborn babies, the law allowed the killing of Jews or the disabled or the poor. Wouldn't many of us join the resistance, and be willing to kill those who are doing the killing, and to save innocent lives? We've always depended on resistances to get rid of oppressors.

It is simple. If someone in the building right in front of you kills an unborn baby without any reason but that it's convenient to do so, what you will do? You retaliate. It's what I'd do. It's probably what you'd do too.

Sure, as to each of the statements one could come up with some interpretation that suggests the speaker doesn't really support the killing. Maybe they're just impartial observers of human nature, offering useful psychological insights.

Or maybe not. It seems to me that in such situations, we can quite reasonably infer that the person really is in substantial measure on the side of the bad guys — maybe not completely (people's views are often ambivalent), but to a considerable extent.

Of course one shouldn't draw such an inference lightly: As I mentioned in my previous post, one certainly shouldn't infer sympathy with the killers simply from a criticism of the other's policies. "Abortion is murder" isn't the same as "Anti-abortion terrorism is justified." "The war in Iraq is wrong" isn't the same as "the insurgents' killings are justified." But when a statement goes much further, for instance analogizing the killers to respected people (e.g., the French resistance, the Minutemen), or suggesting that we'd do the same (and rightly so) in a situation that the speaker is suggesting is morally equivalent or at least quite similar, then it seems to me perfectly legitimate to lump such justifications together with outright support.

Still more to come shortly.

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