Monday, August 14, 2006

Blackmail and Policy

Leaders of Islamic communities in England last week wrote an open letter pointing out that government policy and programs are infuriating young men and are in part, the cause of terrorism. British leaders responded that that was blackmail, and that governments couldn't possibly make decisions in order to prevent terrorist attacks.

So...let's just unpack that interesting statement.

First of all, blackmail happens when someone secretly threatens an illegal or immoral action unless the receiver accedes to a demand. (pay money being the classic demand). Blackmail by definition doesn't happen in public. It by definition is an illicit activity, a kind of bloodless terrorism. And it only happens between two parties. If I say to you that if you don't stop doing X, someone else will take revenge, that's not blackmail, that's a warning. Warnings may be unwelcome communication, but they are not blackmail.

So it was plain old racist of British leaders to respond to leaders of the Muslim community's letter by calling it blackmail; that was implying that those leaders were themselves responsible for the illegal and immoral activity of a few young men. Nor do I think that Christian leaders would have been called Blackmailers under similar circumstances; such nasty words are used only for the despised.

And as to the question of whether a nation should take into account the activity of terrorists in forming and executing its foreign policy... in the "new normal," they should, do, and will. Not necessarily give in, of course, but count the costs, in advance.


Joel Monka said...


Pronunciation: (blak'māl"), [key]
1. any payment extorted by intimidation, as by threats of injurious revelations or accusations.
2. the extortion of such payment: He confessed rather than suffer the dishonor of blackmail.
3. a tribute formerly exacted in the north of England and in Scotland by freebooting chiefs for protection from pillage.

1. to extort money from (a person) by the use of threats.
2. to force or coerce into a particular action, statement, etc.: The strikers claimed they were blackmailed into signing the new contract.

Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Copyright © 1997, by Random House, Inc., on Infoplease.

Definition2, VT, fits the situation quite well- and you'll notice no requirement that "Blackmail by definition doesn't happen in public." Nowhere does it say "bloodless"- in fact, in the example given by Random House, with the history of extreme violence in the days of strikebreakers, there is the clear implication of threats of violence.

"So it was plain old racist of British leaders..." Just how does race play into this? Muslims come in all races. "Nor do I think that Christian leaders would have been called Blackmailers under similar circumstances;..." On those rare occasions when Christians have courted violence as a matter of faith, such as abortion clinic bombers, they have been roundly denounced in the past- why do you presume otherwise now? Do you assume that anyone who might take a different stand than yourself is a villain?

Christine Robinson said...

Well, we don't really have a good word for the 'ism' of assuming that all persons of a similar religion are in cahoots, do we? I thought of that when I wrote and chose racism over religious bigotry, because Calling respected Moslem leaders "blackmailers" when all they've done is state the obvious cause and effect relationship between British Foreign policy and the terrorism they've experienced, as if those leaders were the cause of the terrorism themselves, is more akin to racism than religious bigotry to my mind.

However you parse it, I maintain that when the Archbishop of the Church of England states that British Foreign policy is one cause of terrorism, there will no doubt be those who disagree, or who say that the policy must go forward in spite of the consequences, but he won't be accused of blackmail.

Clyde Grubbs said...

Racism is not a biological fact. Rather Racism is a social construction, that is a set of ideas that people accept and act upon.

German Jews were victims of German Christian's projecting "race" on Jewry. The British considered the Irish to be a different race, and developed policies based on this objectively false set of ideas. Christine is right is seeing the racist dynamic in British / mostly Pakistani dymanics which are mediatated through a Christian versus Moslem social construction of ruler and oppressed.