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.