Geras: Apologists Amongst Us

Norman Geras has an excellent piece on the modern appeasement movement in today’s Guardian, “There are apologists amongst us.”

[…] It needs to be seen and said clearly: there are, among us, apologists for what the killers do. They make more difficult the fight to defeat them. The plea will be – it always is – that these are not apologists, they are merely honest Joes and Joanies endeavouring to understand the world in which we live. What could be wrong with that? What indeed? Nothing is wrong with genuine efforts at understanding; on these we all depend. But the genuine article is one thing, and root-causes advocacy seeking to dissipate responsibility for atrocity, mass murder, crime against humanity, especially in the immediate aftermath of their occurrence, is something else.

Note the selectivity in the way root-causes arguments function. Purporting to be about causal explanation rather than excuse-making, they are invariably deployed on behalf of movements or actions for which their proponent wants to engage our indulgence, and in order to direct blame towards some party towards whom he or she is unsympathetic.

A hypothetical example illustrates the point. Suppose that, on account of the present situation in Zimbabwe, the government decides to halt all scheduled deportations of Zimbabweans. Some BNP thugs are made angry by this and express their anger by beating up a passer-by who happens to be an African immigrant. Can you imagine a single person of left or liberal outlook who would blame this act of violence on the government’s decision or urge us to consider sympathetically the root causes of the act? It wouldn’t happen, because the anger of the thugs doesn’t begin to justify what they have done. The root-causers always plead a desire merely to expand our understanding, but they’re very selective in what they want to “understand”.


More at the link. A much longer version of the argument appeared at normblog July 13.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. anjin-san says:

    I would be interested in hearing more about Geras’s strategy for defeating suicide bombers who are willing to sacrafice their own lives. Isreal has not been able to do it, despite an overwhelming military advantage.

  2. Zim says:

    If a city is being attacked by 100 bombers and 99 are shot down, would you term that a “defeat”? The fact is that Israel now prevents virtually all suicide bombings from taking place. That’s the very best you can hope for. An absolute victory is out of the question.

    However, your question has absolutely nothing to do with Geras’ brilliant article.

  3. Don Bacon says:

    Is Geras talking about our killers or theirs? Or both?