Murder of Steven Vincent:

OpinionJournal's Best of the Web writes:

The Scotsman has an explanation for the murder in Iraq of journalist Steven Vincent. See if you can finish this sentence:

An American journalist who was shot dead in Basra last week was executed by Shiite extremists who . . .

. . . had been worn down by grinding poverty?

. . . were angry over Israel's treatment of Palestinian Arabs?

. . . resented the presence in their country of foreign troops?

. . . sought to avenge the abuses at Abu Ghraib?

If you said any of the above, you're wrong. Here's the full sentence:

An American journalist who was shot dead in Basra last week was executed by Shiite extremists who knew he was intending to marry his Muslim interpreter, it has emerged.

That's right, Steven Vincent was killed to prevent him from intermarrying. Those Westerners who side with the "Iraqi resistance" against America and its allies are defending the equivalent of the murder of Emmett Till.

UPDATE: Some people interpreted the OpinionJournal item, and this one, as criticizing all opponents of the Iraq War. That's an interpretation that's in the mind of the interpreters -- I see no support for it in the text of the post.

The item is quite clearly a criticism of those Westerners who do endorse the Iraqi "resistance," or at least explain its actions in ways that lessen or eliminate the killers' culpability (poverty, supposed desire for "self-determination," supposedly justifiable anger at various American, Israeli, or other Western sins). That's the group the item identifies. It's the group against which the item's argument makes sense. The item doesn't criticize any broader group of Iraq War opponents.

Fortunately, the group being criticized is not a vast group. So? They're still worth condemning.

Westerners Who Defend the Iraqi Insurgents:

In response to my recent quote of an OpinionJournal post, some people questioned whether there really are a substantial number of Western commentators who defend the Iraqi insurgents, or at least justify their actions as being a supposed campaign for self-determination, allegedly justifiable rage at Western misbehavior, and so on. I think this is a good opportunity to collect examples of such people, to show that they do exist, and are worth criticizing.

If you have some such worthies in mind, please post the following in the comments:

  1. The name and brief description of the person (e.g., columnist for this or that newspaper, official in this or that prominent organization).

  2. An exact quote in which they defend the insurgents or seek to justify their actions.

  3. The URL of the article where the quote can be found. Please refer to original sources, rather than copies of the sources on other sites, copies of copies, and so on. (If you have LEXIS access and found the article there, but the article is not available online, include the name of the newspaper, magazine, or broadcast, the date, and the name of the article.)

Please also

  • Stick with quotes that are pretty unambiguous — no need to dilute the clear stuff with questionable material.

  • Stick with journalists, officials, or at least famous people; avoid comments by unknown people on others' blogs.

  • Check the thread before posting, to avoid duplication.

Many thanks — this should be a useful resource for people who want to respond to questions about whether such people actually exist. (For a sample of where I've done this once before on another topic, see my page on calls for total bans of handguns or all guns, which I posted in response to the common argument that supposedly "no one is talking about banning guns, so your slippery slope concerns are just paranoia.")

People Who Falsely Claim That Their Opponents Support the Bad Guys:

Henry Farrell (Crooked Timber) is running, in response to my query about Westerners who defend the Iraqi insurgents, a query about people who "make egregious claims that a substantial section of those who opposed the war are, in fact, rooting for the other side."

Falsely claiming that someone (or the majority of some group) is rooting for the bad guys in a war is indeed pretty egregious misbehavior. (Accurately claiming that, of course, is not egregious.) I haven't followed the responses, so I can't speak to their merits, but to the extent that they uncover and condemn such false claims, they are doing reasoned debate (and basic decency and fairness) a great service.

As to whether it is indeed accurate to say that a "substantial section of those who opposed the war" is rooting for the other side, I can't speak helpfully to that, since "substantial" is pretty vague, and since I haven't followed closely the range of public commentary on the subject. My tentative guess is that the percentages of Americans and Europeans who want America to lose in Iraq may be quite different, though I'm not sure. But whether the number is "substantial" in either place is hard to tell in any objective fashion.

Defending the Bad Guys?: If I can put just a toe in the water on the debate as to whether there are a susbtantial number of Western critics who "support the insurgents," or, as the WSJ put it, "side with the Iraqi resistance," I have two quick comments. Or rather, one quick comment and one longer comment. The quick comment is that at least on the question of identifying American (as opposed to Western) critics who have voiced such views, my sense is that the search doesn't seem to be finding much. Based on the evidence so far, at least, there seem to be only a handful of critics in the U.S. who have clearly and unambiguously expressed such views.

  Second, I wonder if the question doesn't generate more heat than light given the different ways that people might perceive what it means to "support the insurgents" or "side with the resistance." In particular, I wonder if our different best guesses of the likely outcomes in the war are exerting too much of an influence on our perceptions of what "side" people are on.

  Here's my thinking. To simplify things, let's assume that we can break down the possible futures in Iraq into four basic possibilities:
  1) The U.S. beats back the insurgency and democracy flowers in Iraq (call this the "optimistic stay" scenario),
  2) The U.S. digs in its heels, spends years fighting the insurgency, loses lots of troops, and years later withdraws, leading to a bloody and disastrous civil war (the "pessimistic stay" scenario);
   3) The U.S. decides that it's no longer worth it to stay in Iraq, pulls out relatively soon, and things in Iraq are about as best as you could hope for, perhaps leading to a decent amount of democracy (optimistic leave), and
  4) The U.S. decides that it's no longer worth it to stay in Iraq, pulls out soon, and plunges Iraq into a bloody and disastrous civil war with the bad guys assuming control eventually (pessimistic leave).
  Let's assume that all of us want the best for the United States and democracy in Iraq, but that we are also deeply divided on wisdom of the war in Iraq. Because we all want the best for the U.S. and the prospects of democracy in Iraq, we will all rank options (1) or (3) over options (2) or (4). But because we are divided on the war in Iraq, and therefore are divided on whether U.S. troops are likely to help or hurt things, we will likely split on our perceptions of the likelihood of the different scenarios coming true. If you were for the war, you are likely to see the realistic choice set as between scenarios (1) and (4), and to prefer (1); if you were against the war, you are likely to see the realistic choice set as between scenarios (2) and (3) and to prefer (3).

  The insurgents, on the other hand, seem to want something more like option (4). (At least as far as I can tell — others are much more expert on this than I am.) The problem with claims that one side "supports the insurgents" or "sides with the resistance" then, is that it doesn't clearly distinguish between those who want option (4) over (1) and those who want option (3) over (2). For example, imagine a commentator announces that he wants the U.S. to leave Iraq immediately, but doesn't explain why. Those who are against the war are likely to construe it as advocacy for (3) over (2), as they see those as the two basic options. Those who are for the war may see it as advocacy for (4) over (1), as they see those as the two basic options. And if you're against against the war and favor (3) over (2), you're like to be pretty ticked — and reasonably so — by the suggestion that you're actually in favor of (4) over (1).

  Anyway, all of this is pretty oversimplified. There's a lot more to it that this. But in the end, my sense is that the question may end up generating more heat than light.
Supporters of the Iraqi "Resistance":

The Volokh post asking for names of respectable people who support the Iraqi resistance (that is, support the totalitarian terrorists trying to destroy Iraqi democracy) has, so far, yielded an apt quote from Michael Moore, and not much else. As a result, Orin suspects that there may not be many such people--although, as one of Orin's commenters points out, some people who hold the position may not articulate it in polite company.

Well, I just ran "support the Iraqi resistance" through Yahoo, and looked at some of the top hits. Among the supporters of the so-called "resistance" are James Petras (an emeritus professor at the State University of NY), the famous Indian novelist (and winner of the Sydney Peace Prize) Arundhati Roy (who waffles about whether she personally is urging people to engage in violence, but is unequivocal about wanting the "resisters" to take over the country), comedienne Janeane Garafolo analogizing the Iraqi resistance to Americans resisting an illegitimate Russian-Chinese invasion of the United States, and Virginia Rodino (Green Party candidate for U.S. House in Maryland in 2004), who declares herself "in solidarity with the courageous Iraqi resistance.” This is obviously not a comprehensive list, just what was easy to find in a few minutes.

An interesting thread on Democratic Underground shows that among rank and file activists (not the more famous types that Eugene originally asked about), there is a substantial diversity of opinion about whether anti-war activists should support the "resistance."

Don't Let False Imputations of Bad Motives Stop Legitimate Arguments:

Some reactions I've gotten to last Friday's posts on the supporters and justifiers of the Iraqi "resistance" have pointed out that opposing the war in Iraq isn't the same as supporting the enemy.

In fact, I've made exactly the same argument myself in the past (see, e.g., my post criticizing the locution "objectively pro-Saddam" for wrongfully imputing bad intentions; see also this op-ed defending the rights of dissenters, and speaking disparagingly of "the natural tendencies of governments and their allies -- tendencies that are only exacerbated in wartime -— to assume that they're right, and that their opponents are traitors"). There's no need to persuade me of this. And this is precisely why I am criticizing not all opponents of the war, but rather "those Westerners who do endorse the Iraqi 'resistance,'" or who try to justify their actions.

Critics of the war should certainly not let themselves be browbeaten by false imputations that they support the other side.

Likewise, critics of the Iraqi insurgents -- and of those who defend or justify the Iraqi insurgents -- should not let themselves be browbeaten by false imputations that they are trying to unfairly condemn all opponents of the war.

More shortly on this topic.

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.


Some posts have accused me of a "witch-hunt" for trying to identify people who support or justify the Iraqi insurgents. (See, for instance, some comments here.)

I've long been quite troubled by the casual use of the term "witch-hunt." First, the most obvious thing that's wrong with witch-hunts is that there are no witches. If you're trying to identify supporters of Iraqi insurgents, supporters of the KKK, neo-Nazis, anti-Semites, or whatever else, you're trying to identify people that most certainly do exist. (More details in a forthcoming post.)

Second, some people seem to suggest that it's just impermissible or McCarthyite to come up with lists of people who have certain reprehensible views. Well, I was challenged to try to come up with such lists, by people who seemed to suggest that there were no such supporters, at least in positions of any significance (see, e.g., this comment, among others). But beyond this, it is perfectly legitimate to identify people who have expressed reprehensible views, and to publicly condemn them.

Third, Eric Muller (IsThatLegal?) says this -- apparently, my posts and David Kopel's -- "is turning into a witch hunt." It's not completely clear why he says this, but I take it that he's using "witch hunt" to mean allegations based on inadequate evidence. Prof. Muller actually acknowledges that two of the examples David Kopel gave are accurate; he disputes a third, Arundhati Roy, about which Kopel himself noted a caveat; and he points out that the fourth is based on hearsay, though hearsay from a seemingly quite sympathetic source. Yes, if we were actually hanging supposed witches, that would be pretty weak evidence; and even in general discussion of the matter, one can certainly legitimately point to the weakness of the evidence, and suggest that the report is not dispositive of Ms. Garofalo's views. But if this is really a "witch hunt," then Salem must have been a pretty mellow place.

More shortly.

Westerners Who Support and Justify the Iraqi Resistance:

Thanks to some search of my own, and posts from others, here are some: Recently reelected Member of Parliament George Galloway, author, former Cabinet Secretary, and recently reelected Member of Parliament Clare Short, filmmaker Michael Moore, cartoonist Ted Rall, British and Australian journalist and filmmaker John Pilger, Canadian author and journalist Naomi Klein, and the World Tribunal on Iraq, whose statement was signed by several apparently notable people (including the somewhat ambivalent Nobelist Arundhati Roy and Vagina Monologist Eve Ensler) and was endorsed by, among other things, several European academics and a Spanish judge. There are quite a few considerably smaller journalists that people pointed me to, as well as some Socialist and Green writers and activists (see links in the recent posts and comments on this thread).

These people deserve to be condemned, and I'm happy to do so. What fraction of public opinion do they represent in the West (whether Europe, America, Australia, or other relatively Western countries)? I can't say, but when politicians such as Galloway and Short make statements, and get reelected after making them (despite how incendiary the statements are), that's good reason to think that at least some voters — quite likely not even a majority in their district, but a substantial number — endorse their views. Likewise, while I'm hesitant to infer much from comments by random posters on various Internet fora, the presence of those comments, coupled with the views expressed by more prominent people, suggests that there is a considerable number of people who take this position.

In the past, I've criticized Klansmen, neo-Nazis, and anti-abortion terrorists. Are there vast numbers of such people, or even of their sympathizers? I should hope not. Do American political leaders endorse these people? I don't think so. Should they still be condemned? You bet. Likewise with those who support and defend the Iraqi insurgents.

I've now spent far more time on this subject than I should have, given the press of real business. I hope to give it a rest. But it struck me as important to defend the legitimacy of the condemnations I was voicing, and to respond to the denials that there are indeed considerable numbers of people out there who merit such condemnation.