Do Iraqis Have Free Will: Dalrymple on the Gaurdian on the Iraqi “Resistance”

Ted Dalrymple has the following meditation on what Charles Jacobs calls “Human Rights Complex.” One wonders how people like the Guardian (not what I would call a “liberal” newspaper) don’t blush for shame at their idiocy, but I guess American Derangement Disorder explains/excuses everything. The first time I noticed this appalling tendency was back in the days of South African Apartheid resistance, when the NYT ran an op-ed along similar lines about black-on-black violence with an illustration of a disembodied black arm holding a knife being weilded by a white arm. The unconscious (?) racism inherent in such low expectations is nothing short of breathtaking. (HT: Andrew Melnick)

Do Iraqis Have Free Will?
By Theodore Dalrymple
18 December 2006

A headline in the British liberal newspaper, the Guardian, caught my eye recently: IRAQIS CAN’T BE BLAMED FOR THE CHAOS UNLEASHED BY INVASION. The writer was that newspaper’s veteran foreign correspondent, Jonathan Steele (another immortal headline to one of his articles, in May 2002, read: NEW YORK IS STARTING TO FEEL LIKE BREZHNEV’S MOSCOW).

Let us grant, for argument’s sake, the article’s premise: that American policy in Iraq has been naive, rash, foolish, precipitate, and culpable. Yet still it would not follow that “Iraqis can’t be blamed” and so forth, unless one also believed what not even the severest critics of the Bush administration have alleged–that the American army, or other agents of the American government, have desired, planned, and even executed the ongoing terrorist attacks in Baghdad.

The only other explanation of the non-culpability of Iraqis would be that they were not really full members of the human race–in other words, that they did not reflect upon their circumstances and act upon their reflections in the way that the fully responsible and therefore potentially culpable Americans do.

The headline makes clear that double standards are about to apply, double standards that are not flattering to the Iraqis’ capacity for independent action, despite the evident wish of the author to display as conspicuously as possible his sympathy with them by means of exculpating them. Forgive them, he invites all men of goodwill, for they know not what they do.

Like hell, they don’t.

Not even the most ardent, anthropomorphic dog-lover credits his pet with a fully developed moral sense, and he therefore regards its misdemeanors with an indulgence that he would not extend to a ten-year-old child. The author regards Iraqis as if they were in the same moral category as pets: for can one really say that people who travel to a different part of the city to explode bombs, resulting in scores of deaths of people chosen merely because they are (most of them) of a different religious confession, do not appreciate what they are doing, any more than a dog appreciates what it does when it knocks over a precious porcelain vase?

Is there anything in the American invasion, however deeply ill judged you might consider it, that makes these bombings as inescapable as the weather, and that therefore renders those who carry them out wholly blameless? Is not a prerequisite for these bombings that those who carry them out consciously decide to do so? And if it is not wicked to kill people in this fashion, it is difficult to know what is wicked. Not the Iraqis, but some of the Iraqis–presumably a small minority–can take blame to a very considerable extent for the chaos in Iraq.

Dare I say it: the inability to take seriously the culpability of men and women who, as a matter of policy or tactics, kill large numbers of passers-by and bystanders is a hangover of the late Victorian imperial sensibility, which viewed much of the world’s population as intellectual and moral minors. Special pleading of the kind encapsulated in the headline is not a manifestation of broadmindedness or generosity but of deep-seated arrogance.

And racism, and hatred of Americans (and self), and breathtaking moral idiocy. Oh, and did I mention contempt for the very people they supposedly support? Read Pascal Bruckner’s Tears of the White Man: Compassion as Contempt. What Dalrymple doesn’t mention is that Steele is echoing Iraqis’ own desire to avoid responsibility for their deeds and blame the USA, as if a nation whose only form of stability in the post-war era has been a Stalin-admiring and imitating dictator were innocent bystanders. What happened to the “people get the leaders they deserve”? Or does that only refer to us honkeys?

16 Responses to Do Iraqis Have Free Will: Dalrymple on the Gaurdian on the Iraqi “Resistance”

  1. Abu Nudnik says:

    This reminds me of Khatami’s remarks when he spoke at Harvard. He painted a picture of America holding a gun to its own head and pulling the a href=”This reminds me of Khatami’s remarks when he spoke at Harvard. He painted a picture of America holding a gun to its own head and pulling the trigger: that was his explanation of 9/11. The finger was America’s “ill conceived policies,” as Khatami understands them to be, and the gun was the Muslim world. Khatami, in this description doesn’t even afford his Muslim brethren with the free will of dogs: he pictures them as mere machines, literally in the hand of others who they see as living, deciding creatures. So it’s not only a Victorian arrogance, though that’s true enough on our part, but the depths of the self-degradation and self-hatred on the other side must be nearly unbearable. No wonder they “look forward to death the way [we] look forward to life!”

  2. RL says:

    very interesting comment. lots of layers of analysis.

    as i read, i was thinking, does Khatami believe this stuff, or is he just a good demopath knowing what kind of idiocy we moonbats are willing to swallow?

    but your final remark about self-degradation and self-hatred struck me as a-propos not only for Khatami but for our moonbats. i’ve often remarked on the pathological distortions of honor-shame that govern the palestinian appeal to the west — we poor weak victims of the mean (tiny) israelis, need your pity and help. of course behind the humiliating posture lies the smouldering hatreds. (interesting that they prefer that to the “humiliation” of acknowledging the legitimacy of israel, even as a ploy in a two-stage plan).

    put this together with the self-hatred and self-degradation of the moonbats (for whom the west has far surpassed all cultures in sin) and you get a Moebius strip of self-loathing that leads us to commit suicide and them to want to kill us. ouch!

  3. yankeewombat says:

    Wonderful to see analysis that explains the strange dynamic between the Muslim radicals and the Western left. A Moebius strip of self loathing – yes there is a twist and I find it as elusive to apprehend as an actual Moebius strip. The following helps me understand in a bit more depth the way the Western left arranges its thinking so it makes this connection with Muslim radicalism. George Galloways’s peculiar assignment of the role of the proletariat in Marxism to Islam is an overt expression of a dynamic on the left that is not usually voiced so directly. Nonetheless, I think this attitude exists very widely at a feeling level for those who see the world through a Marxist derived world view – What Arnold Kling calls ‘Folk Marxism’. Here is Gorgeous George perhaps revealing his own self loathing by the far fetched way he makes heroes of the Muslim radicals:

    Islam is the last unconquered territory. The Soviet Union is defeated. Socialism is defeated. Nationalism is depressed. But, Islam is unconquered. And because Islam commands the believer to reject injustice and tyranny, this makes Islam automatically in a collision course with these tyrants, Bush and Blair. And, Islam has millions of soldiers. Millions of soldiers to resist this globalisation. (Source: Normblog, 2/2006 link no longer available)

    This is fantastic material. In some senses Gallaway’s comments are a perfect illustration of the “true believer’s” addiction to hope, no matter how ludicrous. As every movement fails, don’t ask why… look for the next candidate, no matter how dangerous, vicious, and ultimately dystopic. The idea that Islam commands the believer to reject injustice and tyranny is nice as long as you don’t understand that the Muslim notion of justice differs markedly from ours (or even the Marxists, in principle). As Choudary pointed out: it’s Muslims right or wrong, and non-Muslims, by their very refusal to convert, have committed a crime against Allah and are deserving of death.

    The real issue is not reaching moonbats like Gallaway, but innoculated his audience from his folly.

  4. Cynic says:

    One wonders how people like the Guardian (not what I would call a “liberal” newspaper) don’t blush for shame at their idiocy, but I guess American Derangement Disorder explains/excuses everything… hangover of the late Victorian imperial sensibility, which viewed much of the world’s population as intellectual and moral minors.) which split tribes in Africa and shuffled the lots into nation states to create the following 20th Century chaos, attempt to distract attention from their own shame and project it on America, that punch drunk bag which won’t hit back.
    “The British/French Can’t Be Held Responsible For The Chaos Unleashed By Colonialism”.
    (Oh, those moralizing Spaniards, as well.)
    Where they “ethnically” cleansed Africa rearranging things, so they did in the Middle East creating circumstances for the consequent mess; instead of admitting their shame and reducing their arrogance, they point fingers at mirages.
    The British Crown chased the Dutch Boers and French Huguenots into the interior of South Africa to eventually corner them in a war which would exile some to Argentina while many Afrikaaner women and children would die of disease and starvation corralled in camps set up for the “scorched earth” policy thus creating a thirst for survival, and a hatred, that would later engulf the Native peoples. Shame never strong enough to temper the arrogance, which was warping into hatred, that would finger the Boer at a time of Ghandi’s sojourn in a land headed by a British Governor General. The Afrikaaner only came to power in 1948.
    Maybe the British media “understand and appreciate” the Honour – Shame culture in the manner of Islam?

    Certainly there is no honour but much shame in the manner that British media taday deal with the news.

  5. Cynic says:

    I seem to be having problems posting as:

    “Don’t forget that it is among the chattering class, and their “Jewish Derangement Disorder”, that one finds many readers of the Guardian, and its ilk.

    I think that the Guardian’s headline can be applied to those Brits who instead of accepting their inheritance” (

    should have followed directly after the opening four lines

  6. Abu Nudnik says:

    yes richard, I agree, and that kind of self-loathing is probably something that touches everyone in some way or other during life. switching radically from thinking about groups to individuals, death is our common enemy and many are loathe to face it. perhaps that reluctance presents differently to different individuals and the reason why so many look for the next shining knight (or any knight at all), as yankeewombat remarks, is that the real enemy is the reality principle, to put it in freudian terms. the thing that persists, that succeeds, proves to be, for many, a kind of magnet against which to rebel, to cheer against in favour of its underdog victims (real or imaginary).

    my sense is that human existence is a constant negotiation between the “hard realities” and the imagined possibilities. the challenge, it seems to me, is to identify what the “enduring realities” are (ie to register the negative feedback that comes when we indulge our fantasies — like Oslo), without giving into a sense of inevitability. for example, the enduring reality of the arab-israeli conflict that the optimists are in denial over is the powerful draw of honor-shame concerns to arabs. this is at the core of the failure of all negotiations. does this mean, as many “leftists” would say, that if you believe this then negotiations are impossible, and anyone who points this out is against peace? no. they’re the racists who think this kind of honor-shame behavior can’t be changed. so as they insist (implicitly) that the arabs can’t change, they pretend the arabs have already changed and we can negotiate with them. i think you need to look at the enduring realities and figure out how to work with them rather than either deny them or give up on them. the split between the “realist” vs “constructivist” schools of political thought illustrate how rather than combining, these approaches undermine each other.

    my question is, if this is true: why not identify with what persists and succeeds? we ourselves, as individuals, die; but life itself persists. we may as well feel positive about these inevitabilities. so I don’t know if khatami actually believes that he is a mere machine in the hands of the other. it’s just a guess but I suspect he does and it just happens to fit our moonbat minority opinion. but this isn’t surprising. he is their white knight by default. is it funny or tragic?

    i’m not sure i understand you here. i agree with your comments, altho i don’t think logic will take us far in the direction of affirming life. it seems to me that the kind of emotional orientation it takes to “chose life” are not easy to mobilize. it’s a lot easier to be nihilistic, esp when you’re surrounded by moonbats ready to commit intellectual and moral suicide just so they can a) indulge their own desires in the waning days of a civilization that spoiled them, b) indulge their moral Schadenfreude and resentment against people who disturb their sense of superiority, and c) avoid getting into fights with aggressive nihilists who delight in violence and destruction.

    somehow, these lines from eliot’s murder in the cathedral come to mind:

    They know and do not know
    what it is to act or suffer.
    They know and do not know
    that action is suffering and suffering is action;
    Neither does the agent suffer nor the patient act
    but both are fixed in an eternal action, an eternal patience
    to which all must consent that it may be willed
    and which all must suffer that they may will it
    that the pattern may subsist
    for the pattern is the action and the suffering
    that the wheel may turn and still be forever still.

    i’d be interested in at what point in the play this comes in. who is the speaker?

  7. igout says:

    selfloathing? No, I think these people like themselves very well. It’s the philistine West that failed to recognize their transcendent merit that they can do without.

    i’m not sure i agree here. maybe some of the zealots have broken the net and really become self-transcending haters. but i think that, esp given what i know about honor-shame, that the vast majority of the rage against the west comes from a humiliation that makes most arabs self-haters, esp in their weakness. that’s why such morally depraved operations such as sending a teenager into a group of Israeli civilians to blow him or herself up has such appeal. the frustration comes from the inability to regain honor, and without honor, a warrior is not a man. the fact that they have been forced to appeal to the hated west for help in fighting israel by playing the victim is the ultimate expression of self-loathing. no self-respecting warrior wd ever appeal to an enemy on the basis of inviting pity.

    Perhaps one particular and campy expression of late-colonialism is worth a look. Those pulp novels and movies where Europeans went more than native, they went to the top. Tarzan of the apes, Bwana of the Jungle, Shimboo the white goddess and so forth. They may have cast off the civilization of the West but, in their fantasizies at least, they all moved on to become absolute monarchs of apes, cannables, and pygmies; a more appreciative audience.

    absolutely! there’s a Peter Weir movie with Richard Chamberlain called The Wave, in which he’s a honkey who becomes a messiah figure to Australian aborigenes. we honkeys are always the key.

    Deep down inside, whether they realize it or not, our lefty friends have no intention of personally atoning for the sins of the white man.

    Apres le deluge, moi!

    quel bon mot… except that, after the deluge, moi is toast.

  8. Abu Nudnik says:

    I like that bit about Tarzan, igout, and Apres le deluge, moi. Funny, pithy. But, not to engage in a pithing contest, I doubt there is any such thing as “late colonialism” anywhere but the universities of a decaying West. Colonialism proceeds apace and will continue to. Consider the many Islamic colonies of France where the police will not go. So long as surplus populations are on the move, there will be colonialism.

    Your comments reminded me of Doug Coupland’s book Generation X, where in the glossary it defines “Pull the plug, slice the pie” as an activity a young person engages in while reclining, hands clasped behind the head, calculating its parents’ net worth. Much of socialism is summed up pretty neatly right there, along with certain feelings of inadequacy, guilt, sloth, and a self- and other-loathing which are intimately connected to a delusion of grandeur.

    Psychology! Love it or hate it but we may need every weapon in the book for the war we’re in. But let’s not be despondent. Many great things were accomplished while under fire. It may be just the thing the West needs to get its act together and move forward. Much of the critique of the West is useful regarding values and such: the enemy often forces us into worthwhile reforms that are preconditions for victory.

    absolutely. the chinese ideogram for crisis is a combo of the ideograms for danger and opportunity. we need to take advantage of this threat to rethink many of our mistaken but (until now) effective paradigms about democracy and civil society. just as the pomos tossed out objectivity even as it, for a brief period of several generations played a major role in the emergence of modern democracy and scientific thought, so we will have to toss out the notion that human rights are a birthright one can legislate and not an earned right. does this mean that some people should have (have earned) more rights than others? these are issues we need to examine, not dogmatically insist that our now suicidal answers are the only possible ones.

  9. igout says:


    Well said. Before this is over many a soft civilian will discover in himself a talent for the profession of arms, and it can’t come too soon.

    i still think that the pen/keyboard/microphone is a sufficient weapon. but we must use it courageously, not as moral and intellectual cowards. the fate of democratic nations and a free press is in the hands of people who will responsibly speak up, and those who listen to them.

  10. Lynne T says:

    It was interesting to hear the varied reactions on CBC Radio One to news of Saddam Hussein’s execution. There were a lot of the predictable, “things are even worse without him” sort of comments, but one Iraqi Canadian university lecturer said that the post-invasion dysfunction and sectarian violence was the product of 20+ years of Saddam’s rule, and not his removal.

    And clearly lots of it arises directly from the competing external interests, particularly Sunni Saudi Arabia which should carry the blame for the creation of Al Qaeda and Shia Iran, which is trying to establish its status as defender of the faith/resurrector of the Calipha.

  11. Abu Nudnik says:

    OK, I get it. I thought there was a problem with the posting since parts in italics are within my posts but aren’t my ideas. They’re yours, Richard! That was confusing. OK. Last first:

    …so we will have to toss out the notion that human rights are a birthright one can legislate and not an earned right.

    I do not believe in rights either as one or the other: ours by birth or by purchase: I believe in rights only as reciprocation.

    Has it occurred to you that both Christendom and Islam have a problem with Judaism because it is a covenental religion that makes everyone equal? I’m thinking of the shame/honour thing you recognize in, say, the West Bank but which is just as easily seen in the chivalric epics of the West for which Chaucer is such a great antidote. Scott, Spencer and all that rot.

    The bit from Murder in the Cathedral comes in two places! Firstly, it is Becket’s response to an underling’s shooing away the very worried women of Canterbury who forsee a tragedy (“They speak better than they know, and beyond your understanding”) and secondly it is spoke to Becket by a fourth slimy tempter who he had not expected, who knows Becket’s innormost thoughts and delights in tempting him with his own highest (and lowest) ambition. In quoting Becket he delights in mocking him. I forget the names of all the wonderful actors. I know Glenda Jackson (with that inimitable voice of steel) is one of the women. Paul Scholfield might be Beckett.

    I’m going to re-read the other comments and answer later. I have to go. Nice talking to everyone. This is really an excellent blog. The only thing that would make it better would be to have a “preview” so as not to make embarrassing errors. I always need a spell checker to reminds me that “embarrassing” has two “r”s and two “s”es.

  12. Abu Nudnik says:

    Wrong I am. Robert Donat appears to play Becket. And it could be that Glenda Jackson’s voice is imitable after all. But maybe I have another recording. I have no notes and I dubbed it from the Vancouver Public Library.

    By the way, by chivalry I’m talking about honours afforded moral behaviour whereas it should be taken as minimum. I once thanked Robert Fulford for a particularly well-worded defence of Israel and he wrote back to say he wished such things would one day not be out of the ordinary: so it is with rights. We don’t deserve praise for being decent and it must be demanded that we and others reciprocate recognition.

    Not sure I meant to speak of logic on the point of identifying with what survives us. In my experience it seems to survive through symbols, which is true in science as well as art, through the passing down of increasingly inclusive principles. Science deals with the order of the facts of experience (Whitehead), Art with its content. Religion also offers this: the universal body of man, for example, i.e. brothers in Christ; sons of the covenant; those who submit to the will of God.

  13. igout says:

    Chivalry has a military dimension, and ought to. The epics served our fathers well and who knows? perhaps our kids too. “Rot” they’re not.

    If I may speak for others of the Red Stateish persuasion, while Israelis might wish to be admired for their passion for equality and justice and reason and reasonableness and whatever, our sympathy is in more due to the valor of her arms.

    What can I say? Israel hasn’t that many friends, and can’t be picky about the motives of the few she has.

    I don’t think this is an either-or. Civil society is dedicated to resolving matters through a discourse of fairness and an effort to reach positive-sum solutions. That’s always the preference. The problem we face — and here I speak of the “we” that, as far back as the 60s, insisted that the foreign policy of democracies, be as civil as our domestic policy. That’s the idea behind the Marshall Plan – not vengeance but reaching out in friendship.

    Our problem today — Israel and the West — is that we are in a war with forces that despise the very principles. So defending themselves is actually an act of justice, and refusing to out of some misguided notion that placating the implacable will at least preserve our moral purity even as we allow ourselves to be destroyed, is a betrayal of all the values we try so hard to embody. I think Israel can be admired for both, and only the insane split between right and left that has the red and blue states more at odds with each other than the enemy — who is protected by politically correct taboos on talking about an insane culture of hatred and genocide — makes the two seem incompatable.

    If I am not for me, who will be? If I am only for myself, who am I?

  14. igout says:

    True. It isn’t either/or. In civil society we discourse, but in incivil society we chop.

    Our Red/Blue quarrels fall somewhere in between, which makes them so difficult to mend. Perhaps the real enemy will do something sufficiently horrible to accomplish this. Hope not and hope so.

  15. Abu Nudnik says:

    “convenental” should have been “convenantal” above. People of the Covenant.

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