Monday, May 22, 2006

At last our lefties see the light: Misguided support for dictators destroyed the left’s credibility

One more time, for the record: It's not our war, it's theirs! They started it, and no less a high brow intellectual lefty than Christopher Hitchens sticks it "where the sun don't shine" in this open letter to his fallen left wing comrades. Print this one, and carry it in your wallet, like, well, like they carried Mao's little Red Book!..T
One can stare at a simple sign or banner or placard for a long time before its true meaning discloses itself. The late John Sparrow, warden of All Souls College, Oxford, was once struck motionless by a notice at the foot of the escalator at Oxford Circus Tube station. “Dogs,” it read, “must be carried.” What to do then, wondered this celebrated pedant, if you hadn’t got a dog with you?

And then there came a day, well evoked by Ian McEwan in his novel Saturday, when hundreds of people I knew were prepared to traipse through the streets of London behind a huge banner that read “No war on Iraq. Freedom for Palestine”. This was in fact the official slogan of the organisers. Let us gaze at these two simple injunctions for a second.


Nobody had actually ever proposed a war “on” Iraq. It had been argued, whether persuasively or not, that Iraq and the world would be improved by the advent of the post-Saddam Hussein era. There was already a war in Iraq, with Kurdish guerrillas battling the Ba’athist regime and Anglo-American airborne patrols enforcing a “no-fly zone” in order to prevent the renewal of the 1991 attempted genocide in the Kurdish north and the Shi’ite south.


I certainly heard arguments in favour of a war for Iraq. A few months before the intervention, Dr Barham Salih — one of the leaders of the autonomous Kurdish region — flew to Rome to speak at a conference of the Socialist International (of which his party is a member). The place of the left, he said, was on the side of those battling against fascism. I went to Blackpool at about the same time to make a similar point at the annual Tribune rally at the Labour party conference.


The war “for” and “over” and “in” Iraq, in other words, had been going on for some time and I, for one, had taken a side in it.


What is then left of the word “on”? Should it not really have read “No quarrel with Saddam Hussein”? That would have been more accurate but perhaps less catchy. You keep hearing leaders of the anti-war crowd protesting that they don’t “really” act as apologists for Saddam. But this, if true, could easily have been demonstrated. “Hands off Iraq — but freedom for Kurdistan”, say. (This was, in fact, the position taken by many Arab leftists.)


“Freedom for Palestine”, though. What exactly is that doing there? Why not freedom for Lebanon, or Syria, which are just as far away? Or Darfur? No, it had to be Palestine, because the subject had to be changed. This was indeed the favourite tactic of Saddam himself. He never mentioned the Palestinians on the day he invaded and annexed Kuwait (and incidentally ruined, as Edward Said pointed out, the lives of the thriving Palestinian diaspora in that small country).


But as soon as he had exhausted the patience of the United Nations, Saddam began to yell that he would never surrender the territory he had stolen unless the Israelis ended their occupation, too. (An amusing subconscious equation between the two offences, incidentally, even if Saddam does share, with his hated Iranian foes, the desire to see Israel obliterated entirely.) In the waning years of the Ba’ath regime, Baghdad radio and television kept up a ceaseless rant of jihad, calling on all true Muslims to rally to the side of Saddam as part of the battle for Jerusalem.


So that was what was actually happening on that celebrated “Saturday”. A vast crowd of people reiterating the identical mantras of Ba’athism — one of the most depraved and reactionary ideologies of the past century. How on earth, or how the hell, did we arrive at this sordid terminus? How is it that the anti-war movement’s favourite MP, George Galloway, has a warm if not slightly sickly relationship with dictators in Baghdad and Damascus?


How comes it that Ramsey Clark, the equivalent public face in America, is one of Saddam’s legal team and has argued that he was justified in committing the hideous crimes of which he stands accused? Why is the left’s beloved cultural icon, Michael Moore, saying that the “insurgents” in Iraq are the equivalent of the American revolutionaries of 1776?


I believe there are three explanations for this horrid mutation of the left into a reactionary and nihilistic force. The first is nostalgia for the vanished “People’s Democracies” of the state socialist era. This has been stated plainly by Galloway and by Clark, whose political sect in the United States also defends Castro and Kim Jong-il.


The bulk of the anti-war movement also opposed the removal of the Muslim-slayer Slobodan Milosevic, which incidentally proves that their professed sympathy with oppressed Muslims is mainly a pose.


However, that professed sympathy does help us to understand the second motive. To many callow leftists, the turbulent masses of the Islamic world are at once a reminder of the glory days of “Third World” revolution, and a hasty substitute for the vanished proletariat of yore. Galloway has said as much in so many words and my old publishers at New Left Review have produced a book of Osama Bin Laden’s speeches in which he is compared with Che Guevara.


The third reason, not quite so well laid out by the rather 10th-rate theoreticians of today’s left, is that once you decide that American-led “globalisation” is the main enemy, then any revolt against it is better than none at all. In some way yet to be determined, Al-Qaeda might be able to help to stave off global warming. (I have not yet checked to see how this is squared with Bin Laden’s diatribe of last weekend, summoning all holy warrior aid to the genocidal rulers of Sudan as they complete the murder of African Muslims, and as they sell all their oil to China to create a whole new system of carbon emissions in Asia. At first sight, it looks like blood for oil to me.)


This hectic collapse in the face of brutish irrationality and the most cynical realpolitik has taken far too long to produce antibodies on the left. However, a few old hands and some sharp and promising new ones have got together and produced a statement that is named after the especially unappealing (to me) area of London in which it was discussed and written.


The “Euston Manifesto” keeps it simple. It prefers democratic pluralism, at any price, to theocracy. It raises an eyebrow at the enslavement of the female half of the population and the burial alive of homosexuals. It has its reservations about the United States, but knows that if anything is ever done about (say) Darfur, it will be Washington that receives the UN mandate to do the heavy lifting.


It prefers those who vote in Iraq and Afghanistan to those who put bombs in mosques and schools and hospitals. It does not conceive of arguments that make excuses for suicide murderers. It affirms the right of democratic nations and open societies to defend themselves, both from theocratic states abroad and from theocratic gangsters at home.


I have been flattered by an invitation to sign it, and I probably will, but if I agree it will be the most conservative document that I have ever initialled. Even the obvious has now become revolutionary. So call me a neo-conservative if you must: anything is preferable to the rotten unprincipled alliance between the former fans of the one-party state and the hysterical zealots of the one-god one. Click here for full article

1 Comment:

CornetJim said...

Good atical. It proves that somtimes even a leftist an avod a suicidal path. (Though not often.)