NT Wright fail

Apparently America is a Lone Ranger of justice. So says NT Wright in his second article for Guardians CiF in reaction to the killing of bin Laden. Its a real shame that he chose this issue to write about, particularly since his last piece was in defense of the resurrection and its importance to the Christian faith. Sadly he does not offer a robust theological response to how we are to view justice in a globalised world in which terrorism is a reality, rather he chooses the broad and easier task and berates America’s power in the world. Dear NT, I would rather be in Guantanamo Bay than in OBLs custody. That doesn’t make Guantanamo right, and America is not above criticism, but this article is just rubbish.

His criticism of American action in his article is misleading in its clumsy use of analogies, theologically weak (that’s a bold statement to make about NT Wright, but it is sadly true) and points to a type of cultural arrogance which could be equal to the very accusations he is making, namely that the act of killing OBL was an act of American Exceptionalism based on a need to fulfill the narrative arc inherent in the ideas drawn from American pop-culture. It is not made clear how, but somehow this need is embedded in the mind of the American psyche.

Pop-Culture? Does he really think American Presidents make decisions based on the narrative of the lone ranger? And apparently the myth is exclusively American, turning the prophet into the one propagating his self fulfilling prophesy. But I dare say the box office figure for Hollywood films around the world would seem to show that the myth of the lone ranger/superman is one which is very popular all around the world. Not least in the UK, so I fail to see why the accusation of such a need should be exclusively applied to the American “Volk.”

In his opening gambit he complains that the extradition treaty between the US and the UK is grossly imbalanced. He does this at the end of the first paragraph, before introducing the fictitious idea that because the US is harboring wanted IRA terrorists, and because there is no balance in the extradition treaty, the UK sends an aircraft carrier and some Chinooks carrying the SAS to serve justice. This he wants to equate with what happened to OBL and somehow it is supposed to illustrate how violated supporters of the American move should feel when Seals crossed over the Afghan border and killed one of the most wanted men in the world, not just in America, but all around the world for masterminding gross acts of terror.

First, to the problem of the imbalance of an extradition treaty. Too bad. The UK and EU did not have to agree to the extradition treaty. They did. That is how negotiations work. Because the US wanted to close its border to international online gambling operations, it was fined by the WTO. Treaties function that way. The US is notoriously strong on the negotiation table. Well? Man up Britain.

Second,  the situations are different. The UK doesn’t currently train US soldiers and equip them, to the tune of $1 billion a year in security assistance to deal with the people who have trained terrorists in the Pakistani/Afghan border, notwithstanding the other “soft” incentives Pakistan gets in aid. And before you say that these are just 30 coins of silver Pakistan is an ally of the US. US soldiers are already present on the ground in Pakistan. They are cooperating and jointly working with the Pakistani military to secure the end of armed conflict in the border with Afghanistan, where there is no rule of law. A place where women are subjugated and dehumanized in a horrific way, while minorities are regularly treated unjustly.

This reality compounds and weakens Wrights argument since he acknowledges that in some instances this “myth of the lone ranger” might even be appropriate: “Perhaps the myth was necessary in the days of the wild west, of isolated frontier towns and roaming gangs.” Well, Mr. Wright, want to take a walk down the Pakistani-Afghan border with your big cross dangling from your neck? Perhaps you might appreciate if “the boys in blue” are also accompanied by the FBI. They both uphold the rule of law, but some uphold the rule of law with more resources.

What is NT Wright thinking? It sounds more to me like he is a little boy who is complaining about a big boy, when the perceived big bully, just got the local drug dealer in a headlock. Just because you apply an analogy to a situation doesn’t mean the narrative of that analogy is true for the reality. It is a basic logical fallacy and he should know better.

Iraq, Afghanistan –what ever you think about the wars in those countries, as crude as some of them may have been, the narrative is infinitely more complicated than that of some sort of “extra-legal” actions perpetrated through “vigilante justice.” Whose Law?

According to Wright: “The US regularly casts the UN as the hapless sheriff.” Does it? Who is this “US” that he is talking about? Come on. It is this comparison, coupled with the spurious accusation of guilt by association he makes between the possibility that some american presidents have previously enjoyed comic book narratives of vigilante justice, and with the historically significant decision President Obama made, to “take out” OBL.

And then he ends with this: “And what has any of this to do with something most Americans also believe, that the God of ultimate justice and truth was fully and finally revealed in the crucified Jesus of Nazareth, who taught people to love their enemies, and warned that those who take the sword will perish by the sword?”

Yes, and? Saying that like he said it is as meaningful as me saying: Judge not lest ye be judged, Wright. What are we talking about here? I expect a lot more theology from somebody of Wrights background and intellectual strength. While I do not believe America is above criticism, this article offers a weak analysis of american geopolitics, it is limp on a polemical level, and flaccid theologically.

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13 Responses to NT Wright fail

  1. It seems sad that you would reject his critique for such odd reasons.

    There are many noble and good things about the USA but acting outside the respected understanding of international borders does not help the case for peace, freedom, or indeed justice.

    Firstly, it does not show a respect for international law. And saying that the USA is not as bad as others does not make the action sound.

    Secondly, it creates the right kind of environment for producing more extremists.

    We trust our police to act within the very law they uphold because to not do so weakens our call for justice.


    • Lauri Moyle says:

      Thanks for your response Al. But I think you miss my point. Wrights criticism is done via a logical fallacy which fails him and his argument. There is obviously more to say about the issue and he chose to use a rather feeble argument at best to illustrate the possible criticism you are seeking to articulate. You have made your mind up about a specific way of interpreting events, which may be valid but which I believe are not conclusive or even adequate to make a final, robust and theological response to what happened and what will happen. Given that it is NT Wright and not some other, fairly minor thinker or journalist, I would have expected more. As it stands there are a number of other very valid responses which are available and that is why I wrote what I did. Sadness does not come into it, neither does oddity for my rejections of his. Your assumption about “acting outside international boarders” assumes a particular view of reality, which Wright did not even mention. It is this I am writing about… As for international law, it was not mentioned in his article. As for Police… well, are you one? Do you know what the ambiguities of that job entail? I am asking honest questions here. I am learning. But I am not persuaded by fallacy, inconsistency and weak rhetorical arguments. Wright has more than that. I want to hear it.

  2. sam says:

    Pop-culture merely highlights the lack of maturity within US society. European culture take such difficult ethical dilemmas in a v different way. Killing OBL has simply not achieved anything other than revenge. The commonality of violence in the US could act as a support to the argument. Ignore fiction, its a marker towards immaturity and what the American citizens require in order to see its leadership as successful.

  3. I understand that people have a valid view point but the USA acted in way that is not helpful to the cause of peace.

    They have probably created a larger catchment of people who could be radicalised by the way they approached this.

    BTW I am equally critical of much of the UK action in thus regard too.

    I don’t need to be a policeman to know that obeying the law you are seeking to uphold is important.

    Thanks for your comments


    • Lauri Moyle says:

      Wright should have said that then. In stead he decided to talk about Lone Rangers and Pop Fiction. The jury is still out on the effects that this will have. For me this post was not about justice and the particulars of the situation but rather about an eminently smart and wise person choosing to say nothing of substance, where more substance and light is needed.

      With regard to the Police Man comment, it was about the fact that the police have to make judgments from time to time which are not easy to make. Where the law becomes gray. Here, more light is needed. Wright did not shine any onto the matter.

      Sam I think your generalizations are profoundly unhelpful. Did you see the Will Farrel skit lampooning Obama via Bush and the leadership of the US? Have you seen Team America?

  4. Steve says:

    I believe the war against Al Qaeda is just. I think Wright’s analogy is an interesting one. My response to that scenario — a terrorist hiding in the USA and our government not doing enough to catch or extradite him, and a suspicion that our government (at least some key people in it) would warn the terrorist if the UK told us what they wanted to do — is that the commando raid to the suburb of Boston would be justified. It would rankle my nationalistic pride, obviously, but in that scenario such pride would deserve to be rankled.

    Does N. T. Wright believe the UK should not have fought Hitler?

  5. Lee dogg says:

    You go in with both feet in this post, but I think you are snapping at particular points in this article and failing (perhaps willfully) to engage with what Wright is actually saying. The broad thrust of his piece seems to be that:

    1) the operation violated the soverignity of a nation state (i personally have no problem with this), but America is probably the only country in the world who could get away with carrying out such an action. Thus the point about US exceptionalism and the fair analogy with UK action against IRA terrorists. The point is not to say that Wright’s story exactly correlates to OBL and al q, nor do I think the substance of this point has nothing to do with the unfairness of the extradition treaty. It’s about America’s exceptional place in the world.
    2) he’s making a point about culture shaping politics – are you really suggesting this doesn’t happen – whether it’s high culture or popular culture, I think it’s odd to suggest that it’s not the case? Have you ever read Walter Wink on the myth of redemptive violence? You should before you slam Wright – again I think you simpify his argument to such an extent that you’re no longer critiquing what he actually says.

    Your, rather facile, point about whether Wright taking a walk down the Pakistani-Afghan border with your big cross dangling from your neck?” again shows that you’re not really engaging with the substance of his article. (It’s a nice piece of rhetoric as I can just imaging that cross and a worried looking bishop.)Does NT Wright value his own personal safety? I presume he does. But that hardly precludes him from questioning the role America plays in the world and making a point about what shapes America’s view of itself in the world. Again, personally I don’t feel critical towards the US in taking this step, but I do think Wright’s piece is not quite as shoddy as you make out.

    • Lauri Moyle says:

      Lee, thanks for your comment. Wrights piece never mentions directly point (1), moreover whether or not the US actions violated the sovereignty of a nation state is unclear. The comparison between the IRA and OBL is not a fair analogy for a number of reasons. They can be read here: http://defendingobama.blogspot.com/2011/05/challenging-tom-wright.html. The analogy only holds if taken on a purely faceless comparison. IRA being guilty of terror = OBL beind guilty of terror. But that is not the case is it. No. More needs to be said about both the IRA and OBL and Al-Q. Hence the analogy fails.

      As to your point 2. I agree that pop and high culture influence policy. Absolutely. What I disagree with is that it is the only or even main thing which would have influenced Obama’s decision. Perhaps that was not clear from my blog post. But after all, its my blog post not an article in one of the most widely read papers online in the world. If Wright would have said that it was one of the factors, would have elaborated and connected more substantially the analogy to evidence, and acknowledged that there was more going on than redemptive violence then I would have held my mouth. But he didn’t. I will say again. An application of an analogy does not mean it is true to reality. To do so without supportive evidence is a logical fallacy. Wright should know better. That is the thrust of my piece.

      In reference to my point about Wright walking in the area described: In what way is it facile? in comparison with what Wrights says? The region is obviously at least as dangerous as the wild west, and because I actually make factual claims rather than apply weak analogies I am illustrating my point (your right, as a rhetorical tool) but the point stands. The border region between the two countries is not safe. In no way was I saying Wright should not be allowed to critique or comment on how America views itself and its position in the world.

      Finally, Wright is a Theologian of some eminence. For him to end his article as he did actually angers me, because it abuses what he holds dearly, namely a thoughtful outworking of Gods word to the particular mess we find ourselves in now. I want more and better theology and Wright could have delivered. I know he has the goods. But he failed miserably.

      • Lauri Moyle says:

        And another thing Lee, the audacity to say that all Americans wanted and needed redemptive violence, is borderline racist and equal to the slur that Muslims are inherently violent.

      • Lee dogg says:

        I don’t understand how you can suggest Wright’s piece doesn’t mention point 1 (american exceptionalism). Here’s a quote from Wright’s article:

        “What’s the difference between this and the recent events in Pakistan? Answer: American exceptionalism. America is subject to different rules to the rest of the world.”

        I’ve read the ‘defending obama’ blog post. Referencing it doens’t make your analysis correct! As someone has commented on that post, his analysis is based on a strawman version of Wright’s position, as is yours. The point is not to dwell on the diffs or similarities between the IRA and Al Q. The point is about american exceptionlism and their ability/freedom to enter another country at will and carry out a raid of this sort. Again I poitn out I don’t necessarily have an objection to this, but I think it’s odd that you and the author of defending Obama are getting so caught up in the wood of the analogy that you miss the trees. You miss (ignore?) the actual point Wright is trying to make. Much better to engage with his point no?

        Wright’s concluding comment…:
        “And what has any of this to do with something most Americans also believe, that the God of ultimate justice and truth was fully and finally revealed in the crucified Jesus of Nazareth, who taught people to love their enemies, and warned that those who take the sword will perish by the sword?”
        …caused me to stop and think and I’ll admit to feeling some sense of ‘OBL got what he deserves etc.’ Sometimes the most profound and disquieting theological moments are wrapped up in fairly uncomplicated theolgoical questions.

        Oh and re: your ‘and another thing’ please elaborate. Who suggested that ‘all’ americans wanted or needed redemptive violence? Wright doesn’t and I didn’t in my comment so I’m not sure what you are refering to?

      • Lauri Moyle says:

        I was referencing re point 1: “the operation violated the soverignity of a nation state,” not exceptionalism. Those two concepts are not the same. The jury is still out and my rather lengthy attempt in my blog post to point out why this might not be the case, and why Pakistan and the analogy he talked about are not the same (violation of state sovereignty) are because there are joint security operations going on between the US and Pakistan on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border. Its getting a bit repetitive but I will say it again. An analogy does not equate to reality unless it is substantiated by factual arguaments. Wright fails in this department. That is what my post is about. He has no point other than to show he is engaging in an exercise of failed logic. I would expect more from somebody if his station. That goes with the next quote you mention. Bully for you. But he, and the ABC need to help articulate a sense of what the appropriate role of the state re Justice and how it relates to protecting others squares with how it acts in the world. It is their role to do that. Do that, or hold your tongue like the Vatican did.

        As to the forest for the trees point you make. I am not ready to engage with deciding how I feel about a host of issues and where I will end up coming down on the issues of justice. That is why I am not willing to engage with what you call the forest, but what I would call the substantial meat of articulating a robust theological response to what happened. However, I will say this. I am profoundly disappointed that Wright did not help me do that. I look to people like him so that I can learn from them. But what he offered in that article is limp, flaccid and weak.

  6. Pingback: HaHa Stewart Lee, HaHa–does it dead. Satire is back. | Fiction and the Reading Public

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