Non sequitur is Latin for “it does not follow.” In English, non sequitur can refer to a response that has no relevance to what preceded it, or to a conclusion that does not follow from the premises.
Wikipedia has a fun example of the first type of non sequitur:
A good example of this device can be seen in Season 2 of the Micallef Programme in which Shaun Micallef hosts a game show called Non-Sequitur Family Feud. He asks the question “Name ten things you plug in”, to which Francis Greenslade answers with a list of ten random words, including mules, Lewis Carroll, 1832 and ‘I like butterscotch‘.
An example of a conclusion that does not follow the premise — If I am in Tokyo I am in Japan. I am not in Tokyo, therefore I am not in Japan. Since there’s lots to Japan beside Tokyo, the statement is illogical.
I’ve come to believe that righties think entirely in non sequiturs.
REP. CHARLIE RANGEL (D) NEW YORK: I like to quote Rumsfeld, who said that he didnâ€˜t know whether we were creating more terrorists than weâ€˜re killing. And I think that the terrible way in which we have gotten involved in Iraq, have no clue about how to get out, inability to have any diplomatic policy, that we got young people who are Islam but of course have now found that people are being killed, and they are being recruited to do this terrorist work.
So weâ€˜ve created an atmosphere, not of diplomatic resolution of this problem, but thinking that we can bring peace and freedom at the end of a rifle. And itâ€˜s not working,
MATTHEWS: Your answer, Mr. Lungren?
REP. DAN LUNGREN Â® CALIFORNIA: Well, we werenâ€˜t in Iraq when we lost 241 marines in Lebanon,
Five-alarm non sequitur, that.
Khobar Towers, U.S. Cole. I donâ€˜t think we need to do anything to radicalize these elements of Islamo-fascism, who are bent on killing Americans. I donâ€˜t think we need to do anything to radicalize these elements of Islamo-fascism, who are bent on killing Americans. You can argueâ€”
MATTHEWS: In each case, Mr. Lungrenâ€”in each case, sir, we were in the country where we were killed. You say it wasnâ€˜t because we were in an Arab country, we were in Lebanon, we were killed by the Lebanese, we were in Saudi Arabia when we were attacked. And Saudi Arabia, some believe, was the trigger to bin Laden, who was in Saudi Arabia when we had 10,000 troops there.
LUNGREN: If youâ€˜re going to argue that weâ€˜re the ones that are radicalizing the Muslim world, I happen to disagree with you.
MATTHEWS: What is radicalizing them?
LUNGREN: This has been a commitment on the part of these radical elements for some decades. They donâ€˜t need any excuse. The Fatwa that was published in 1993, specifically called on them to kill Americans anywhere in the world.
If the genius is referring to Osama bin Laden’s fatwa — he’s issued several, actually, although I don’t believe he has the authority to issue official fatwas — the ones I found on the Internets refer specifically to American occupation of “holy places.” As I wrote in the earlier post linked above, bin Laden’s beef with Americans dates from 1990, when American troops were moved into Saudi Arabia in anticipation of the Gulf War.
Lungren’s logical fallacy, of course, is — Osama bin Laden is Muslim; Osama bin Laden hates Americans; therefore, Muslims hate Americans. There are a couple of other Muslims in the world beside bin Laden, I believe.
Of course, there are many factors that cause Muslims to turn against the West. The Wahhabi sect in Saudi Arabia indoctrinates its followers, especially boys, into a radical, militant, and anti-western Islam. Muslims who grew up listening to this stuff certainly are pre-disposed to hate Americans. But Wahhabism is just one sect of Islam. To assume that Wahabism exemplifies Islam is like assuming that Seventh-Day Adventism exemplifies Christianity.
Further, to acknowledge that the presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia incited bin Laden to issue fatwas against America is not to say that America “deserved” to be attacked on September 11. That would be another non sequitur. Bin Laden is a twisted bastard; just because he wants to kill us for something we did doesn’t mean that what we did was wrong. Certainly the Muslims of Kuwait appreciated us at the time, as I recall.
But it’s also nuts to deny that the 1983 deaths of 220 Marines and 21 other U.S. service members killed in a single truck bomb attack in Beirut had nothing whatsoever to do with what the Marines were doing in Beirut. As explained in this article by Max Bergmann,
In August 1982, Reagan sent troops to Lebanon to resolve an internal civil war and a wider regional conflict. About 1,800 Marines along with French and Italian troops formed a multinational force (MNF) to support the fledgling Lebanese government by acting as a peacekeeping force. After some initial success, however, the MNF became increasingly entangled in Lebanon’s sectarian conflict and soon was only exacerbating the problems it was supposed to resolve.
There’s a lot more to it, of course, and I’m not saying the Marines who were killed did anything wrong. The MNF suffered from muddled thinking on the part of the politicians about what the mission in Lebanon actually was. The troops dealt with the situation around them as best they could, I’m sure. But at the same time it’s illogical to offer Beirut 1983 to argue that what we’re doing in Iraq doesn’t matter; Muslims would hate us anyway.
Another brilliant Republican non sequitur is the one that goes If you don’t support the war in Iraq you don’t support fighting terrorism. Bob Herbert writes,
There was something pathetic about the delight with which Republicans seized upon the terror plot last week and began trying to wield it like a whip against their Democratic foes. The G.O.P. message seemed to be that the plot foiled in Britain was somehow proof that the U.S. needed to continue full speed ahead with the Bush administrationâ€™s disastrous war in Iraq, and that any Democrat who demurred was somehow soft on terrorism.
The truth, of course, is that the demolition derby policies of the Bush administration are creating enemies of the United States, not defeating them. It cannot be said often enough, for example, that the catastrophic war in Iraq, which has caused the deaths of tens of thousands, was a strategic mistake of the highest magnitude. It diverted our focus, energy and resources from the real enemy, Al Qaeda and its offshoots, and turned Iraq, a country critically important to the Muslim imagination, into a spawning ground for terrorists.
Almost three years ago, in the immediate aftermath of the bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, Jessica Stern, who lectures on terrorism at Harvard, wrote in The New York Times that the U.S. had created in Iraq â€œprecisely the situation the Bush administration has described as a breeding ground for terrorists: a state unable to control its borders or provide for its citizensâ€™ rudimentary needs.â€
Ms. Stern went on to say, â€œAs bad as the situation inside Iraq may be, the effect that the war has had on terrorist recruitment around the globe may be even more worrisome.â€
The situation has grown only worse since then. While Republicans are savoring the political possibilities of a foiled terror plot, the spiraling chaos in Iraq and other Bush administration policies are contributing mightily to the anger and radicalism in the Muslim world.
It’s true there were radical Muslims preaching hatred of America before we went into Iraq. But our presence in Iraq is making their sales pitch a lot more enticing. It’s like they’re air conditioner salesmen and we’re the heat wave.
In September 2001, most of the world clearly perceived that a monstrous crime had been committed against the United States, and that the defeat of al-Qaida was essential to global security. While many ordinary Muslims were by no means sorry to see American hubris punished, grassroots support for Osama bin Laden was still small, and remained so through the invasion of Afghanistan.
Today, of course, everything has changed. In the eyes of many Muslims, the actions of Bush and Blair have promoted and legitimised al-Qaida in a fashion even its founder could hardly have anticipated a decade ago.
Of course, it’s hard to make logical decisions without facts. But if you make illogical decisions, facts are just so much clutter.
Bush has chosen to lump together all violent Muslim opposition to what he perceives as western interests everywhere in the world, as part of a single conspiracy. He is indifferent to the huge variance of interests that drives the Taliban in Afghanistan, insurgents in Iraq, Hamas and Hizbullah fighting the Israelis. He simply identifies them as common enemies of the United States.
The Bush Administration: Fuzzy math, fuzzy facts, fuzzy logic. One would think the recent busted plot coming out of Britain would have highlighted the fallacy of “We’re fighting them there so we don’t have to fight them here.” The neocons talk about creative chaos, which is a pretty good term for rightie thinking skills. Last Friday’s Hardball gave us a frightening example:
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Does this foiled terrorism plot out of London help Republicans by refocusing the country on national security issues? Or will Democrats hammer home that the Bush administrationâ€˜s policy over in Iraq is encouraging hatred and terrorism? Our HARDBALLers tonight are here to answer those questions. Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now on the radio and itâ€˜s on Pacifica, and on television, also the author of â€œStatic Government: Liars, Media Cheerleaders and the People Who Fight Backâ€ and Heidi Harris is a radio talk show host with no book out right now. Heidi you start, who wins this discussion as to the object lesson of catching those bad guys over in Britain?
HEIDI HARRIS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I think the Republicans do, and frankly I think itâ€˜s a good thing some people have not forgotten about our national security, thanks to MI5, working in conjunction with America, we were able to catch these people before thousands of innocent people were killed.
MATTHEWS: Who has forgotten about our national security?
HARRIS: There are a lot of people who have, like those who want to see us pull out of Iraq instantly. They have forgotten about the fact that weâ€˜ve still got the terrorists on the run and thatâ€˜s the objective. Youâ€˜re not going to make people like us, but ultimately we can keep them on the run and keep them off-balance and try to protect ourselves.
MATTHEWS: So Iraq is making us safer?
HARRIS: Well I think it is because weâ€˜ve got them on the run. Weâ€˜ve caught people like Zarqawi. They hated us before we went there so the argument they only dislike Americans because of George Bush and because of weâ€˜re over if Iraq, thatâ€˜s a lie. They attacked us. We werenâ€˜t in Iraq.
MATTHEWS: OK, we were in Saudi Arabia however when bin Laden actually from Saudi Arabia decided he hated us, we were in Lebanon when we got blown up last time. There is a connection between our location and the anger that it causes, isnâ€˜t there?
HARRIS: Well thereâ€˜s a connection between our location and where they can below us up. You donâ€˜t see them blowing us up here since 9-11, because they would to come over here, but we have to be vigilant. So they blow us up in Lebanon because itâ€˜s easier than trying to come over here, thatâ€˜s why we have to be vigilant and stay on top of them. Theyâ€˜re not going to like us no matter what we do.
If this woman ever in her life were to put a logical conclusion after a premise, her head would explode. A plot originating in London is hardly vindication of the “flypaper” theory in Iraq.
The British plot underscores the weakness in Bush’s counterterrorism strategy of “Taking the fight to the terrorists abroad, so we don’t have to face them here at home.” Reports note that all of those arrested in connection to the plot were British citizens. Even though many of the suspects appear to be of Pakistani descent, this operation was launched from within the country, just like 9/11.
The rising number of attacks, failure to capture bin Laden in five years, and the persistent and unabated threat of terror underscores the fact that our nation is not safer than it was before September 11, 2001. Bush has relied too heavily on military action and panic planning in the aftermath of attacks rather than addressing the root causes of terrorism, supporting effective prevention strategies and investing in the domestic infrastructure needed in case of an attack.
Every … single … time a Republican falls back on a non sequitur the Dems have got to smack it down. They’ve got to say, clearly, that is illogical. It doesn’t follow. And we’ve got to do as much as we can do to make Republican non sequiturs look ridiculous, because they are ridiculous.
Update: See also Altercation.