A critique of the sloppy excuse-making by Labour MP Hazel Blears in light of last week’s atrocity.
By Richard Elliott
The wake of last week’s attack on Drummer Lee Rigby at the hands of two radicalised Muslim converts has raised many questions about religious motivation, the effects of multiculturalism and integration. All such topics warrant discussion, and there will of course be many factors which can come into play before any consensus can be ascribed to the event itself. There is one unanimously agreed upon element to this attack, however: that the attacking of an off-duty soldier and the brutal death which Drummer Rigby suffered is ethically intolerable, and that anyone who engages in such horrendous acts, with or without political or religious mandate, is “fundamentally unsound”, as P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves might phrase it.
It is for this reason that it troubled me to read of Hazel Blears, Labour MP for Salford and Eccles, making the excuse that the effects of the coalition’s cuts are forcing many more people towards religious fundamentalism. The government strategy known as Prevent, which existed as a cross-party effort to pre-emptively tackle radicalisation in communities with large percentages of Muslims, was redrawn in 2011, partly as a result of the austerity measures put into effect by the coalition government. As a result of this lack of pre-emptive strategy, Blears is in effect saying that the austerity measures bear some of the brunt of the responsibility for moderate Muslims becoming ‘radicalised’.
The problem with this kind of thinking is that Blears is undermining the fundamental concept of individual autonomy. To claim that the government must fund operations and strategies in case someone does something bad is not just a non sequitur, but also excuse-making for the inexcusable. Arguments such as this end up as a rod for one’s own back, in that simply blaming the government and the austerity measures enacted by them for someone else’s sickening actions threatens the very idea of how we deem actions to be ethical or unethical.
To counter the kind of argument made by Blears, consider the case of the mosque on Bull Lane in York, a very small (described as “ramschackle” by the local parish vicar, Tim Jones) place of worship for Muslims who, when the building was picketed by several confrontational members of the EDL, responded by offering them tea and snacks for refreshment. The mosque in York is hardly situated within an affluent area; those who attend it have no doubt felt the austerity measures more than most. The measures, however, have done nothing to dampen the moral responsibility that these Muslims have felt towards others. (An aside: it wouldn’t at all surprise me if the EDL found an excuse for this act of kindness: perhaps their “muslamic ray guns” weren’t working properly that day…)
There shouldn’t need to be any excuse-making for nutcases like Messrs Adebolajo and Adebowale simply because there is no pre-emptive paternalist strategy in place to monitor people’s behaviour; we can only make sense of such concepts as praise and blame if people are given the possibility to make their own decisions as autonomous beings. We can only blame these idiotic Islamists for this act of barbarism if we recognize that people are responsible for themselves, rather than putting the responsibility down to the lack of a paternalist strategy to monitor particular communities or as the consequence of austerity measures.