A lot of the mainstream media and many commentators on social networks are busily and scrupulously pointing out that it is wrong to jump to conclusions about the ‘motivation’ of the madman responsible for the carnage in Nice. According to this point of view, there is no link to be made between this latest outrage and any religious, political or cultural grouping and it is, at the very least, morally dubious to draw any conclusions from the ethnicity or religious affiliations of such a deranged individual.
Fair enough. I can see why that seems like a reasonable line to take. Just because the adherents of a certain politico-religious movement -in the cause of furthering some clearly delineated global ambitions- behave like mediaevalist savages doesn’t mean that everyone who follows a certain religion should be tarred by association.
I accept that premise, although I do struggle to understand why some folk will deny that such a link could possibly exist, even when the perpetrators of attacks make explicit claims about their motivations. To ignore or repudiate the avowed aims of these perpetrators (in effect, to deny them agency), requires quite an intellectual leap on the part of those doing the repudiating. Some might put it down to arrogance, but I’m not convinced that this is necessarily the case. I’d be more inclined to the view that it represents a conscious reaction to a sub-conscious wound; terrorism wins, not when it blows people up, but because -when it blows people up- it forces some otherwise rational minds to rebrand ‘fear’ as ‘conscience’.
As someone who generally tries to form my opinions around rational interpretations of the available evidence, I’d agree that it’s usually unwise to jump to conclusions from a base of flimsy evidence. But over the last few weeks, I have gathered the distinct impression that jumping to conclusions has become all the rage; some of the very same people and news organisations urging caution and restraint over Nice have been doing quite the opposite over the binary choice faced by the British electorate at the recent EU referendum.
First there was the disgraceful citation of the murderous actions of a mentally ill individual as ‘evidence’ that the Leave campaign had somehow unleashed dark and powerful forces. It was depressing to witness seemingly rational people choosing to interpret a psychotic episode in a way that satisfied their own prejudices. Since the vote, various attempts have been made to suggest, for example, that relatively minor examples of stupidity and nastiness (like someone posting anti-immigration graffiti) represent evidence of a gathering tidal wave of racist enmity in the UK. Anyone who can argue, on the one hand, that some racist idiot shouting ‘Paki go home’ (disgraceful as that undoubtedly is) is evidence of malicious intent among 15 million voters while, on the other, suggesting that the latest in a very long line of atrocities has got ‘nothing to do’ with Islam is, intellectually speaking, unlikely to pass go and unlikely to collect £200.
It is either acceptable to jump to conclusions from little available evidence, or it is unacceptable to jump to conclusions from little available evidence. Whichever side you’re on, you can’t pick one of those options when it suits your own particular prejudices and then pick the other option when it doesn’t.
Although … now that I think about, it’s obvious that some people can do just exactly that.
The kind that you shouldn't take seriously.