James Bloodworth, Islamism, and a fallacy to watch out for

March 30, 2016

Every now and then someone desperate to ‘prove’ that X is not causally responsible for Y – e.g poverty is not a cause of crime, will commit the following fallacy. They will argue that as X has occurred without Y following, therefore X was not the cause of Y in this case.

Back in 2011 many right-wingers were desperate to show that poverty was not the, or even a, cause of the London riots. In order to try to show that, they pointed to poor people and areas where no rioting occurred. UK Prime Minister David Cameron said: “These riots were not about poverty. That insults the millions of people who, whatever the hardship, would never dream of making others suffer like this.” A letter to Newseek magazine argued: “Saskia Sassen blames conditions in disadvantaged areas for the UK riots, ignoring urban areas for the UK riots, ignoring that other deprived regions – Glasgow, Tyneside, South Wales – didn’t riot.” That was fallacious reasoning. Compare.

Bert smoked 40 a day for 40 years and didn’t get lung cancer. Joe smoked 40 a day for 40 years and didn’t get lung cancer. Therefore Jim’s smoking 40 a day for 40 years did not cause his lung cancer.

Clearly, Jim’s smoking could very easily be a – indeed the cause – of his lung cancer. True enough, smoking that much is not causally sufficient to produce lung cancer. Various other factors have to be in play too, including genetic factors, etc. However, the fact that only a minority of those who smoke 40 a day for 40 years end up with lung cancer does not show that smoking does not play a – perhapseven the – key role in producing the lung cancer of those who do smoke that much.

Now journalist James Bloodworth makes the same mistake, arguing ‘The West is not responsible for Jihadist violence, Islamist ideology is.’ His argument? It’s as follows:

“Yet if, as some suggest, American imperialism really is the “root cause” of modern anti-Western terrorism; if the West really has brought terrorism on itself, there are several questions that urgently require an answer. First of all, where are the Cuban, the Argentinian and the Chilean suicide bombers? Where are the Guatemalans and the Brazilians intent on the random slaughter of “unpure” populations and the mass capture of sexual slaves ? If fanatical religious ideology isn’t the main driver of the spate of recent attacks, where are the masked Latinos rampaging through parks and shopping centres with Kalashnikovs?

As any good anti-imperialist ought to know, outside of South East Asia there is arguably no part of the world that has suffered more under the heel of American imperialism than its own supposed back yard. The Middle East certainly hasn’t. Where, then, is the supposedly inevitable blow back .” Source.

Now, as a matter of fact, I don’t doubt for a moment that Islamist ideology is a root cause of Jihadist terror attacks on the West. But that doesn’t mean the West is not causally or morally to blame. The West may still be a, perhaps even the – root cause, as the smoking example illustrates.

In my view, the causal and moral responsibility for the recent jihadist attacks is complex, and cannot be boiled down to a simple formula: “It’s all the fault of so-and-so”. Such simple-minded explanations are attractive because they can create the illusion of there being a comparatively simple solutions. But they are rarely correct.