One of the signs that we in the West have, as a people, lost the ability to reason is the increased tendency to rush to judgement whenever a catastrophic event occurs. We saw it a few weeks back when a man called Khalid Masood drove a car into people on Westminster bridge, killing three and injuring many more, before stabbing PC Keith Palmer to death. Within minutes of the attack, it was said to be a terrorist attack, linked to ISIS, even though nothing was known about the man, his motives or his connections at that time.
An even more insidious tendency has been to apportion blame to an individual, group or state, almost immediately after an event, and to then call for an investigation afterwards. One of the worst examples of this was the MH17 plane crash. Within hours, Western politicians and media told the world who was responsible, even thought they could not possibly have known that at the time, given that the plane was shot down over a war zone, with two military units facing each other. But after they had made the claim of culpability, they then went on to call for an investigation. Let’s hope they never get called up for jury service!
The latest in a long list of such incident is the alleged attack using chemical weapons in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Syria on Tuesday. Within hours, and before any impartial investigation, Western leaders and the media had already blamed the Assad Government for the attack.
As an aside, there are a number of good reasons for doubting that it was carried out by Syrian government forces, although I am not going to fall into the opposite ditch here and rule out that possibility completely. These are simply reasons to doubt:
- For one, there are no Western journalists on the ground in the area, and media reports have relied heavily on claims made by the one-man-band based in Coventry, known as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, and the al-Qaeda propaganda group known as the White Helmets.
- Secondly, both the US and Russia oversaw the destruction of Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons back in 2013. This of course doesn’t rule out the possibility that they may have kept some somewhere, or that they may have produced some since, but for what it’s worth, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-UN Joint Mission in Syria, concluded in 2013 that all chemical weapons have been removed from Syria.
- But the most compelling reason for doubting the claims being made that the Assad Government launched a chemical attack is simply to ask the question, why would they do this? Any such attack would be bound to be reported on around the world and equally bound to draw some kind of response from those nations who have been trying to find pretexts to get rid of Assad before this conflict even started.
The other thing to consider in these types of cases, as with any crime that has been committed, is that old chestnut known as “any other plausible explanations.” With the Westminster attack, were there any other plausible explanations than terrorism? Of course there were. A lone wolf attack, rather than an attack by a terrorist organisation, for instance. What about MH17? Again, of course there were, especially given that the Ukrainian forces had BUK missiles in the area on the day of the crash.
What about the Khan Sheikhoun attack? Of course there are other explanations, including the possibility that the Syrian airforce destroyed a terrorist munitions depot which was producing chemical weapons, as the Russian military have alleged.
But if other possibilities exist, and if an investigation has not even started, let alone finished, why have the likes of Nikki Haley and her boss, the increasingly belligerent Donald Trump, coming out with statements saying with certainty who was behind the attack? And furthermore, why do they now seem to be threatening military action?
As a general rule, when someone comes out with a cast-iron accusation without either knowing the facts or bothering to explain why they are so certain in the absence of evidence, that’s a rat you can smell. And when you hear them coming out and saying that they are going to take action on the basis of their unproven assertions, which probably means of a military type, be assured that you are now smelling a Trump-sized rat.
I know that some will think I’m an apologist for Bashar al-Assad here. So be it. I am an apologist for no one here. I simply believe too much in the importance of facts and evidence over assertions and hearsay to swallow at face value what the entire Western media and the likes of Trump and Haley are saying.
Maybe they’re right. Maybe Assad did gas his own people. Then again maybe he didn’t. They don’t know that. But rational people and rational countries do not rely on such assertions and assumptions. They wait for the evidence to come in, rather than making wild, unsubstantiated and dangerous statements. But we can scarcely be called rational anymore. This whole thing may well lead to a huge and very devastating war unless we regain our ability to reason quickly.