Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: The Solipsistic Left

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  • Paul Campbell,

    honestly anyone trying to 'unify the left' is blowing smoke - every left wing political coalition I've ever been involved with - even the really successfull ones have turned on each other either when they're not doing well - or after they've done really well and don;t have anything better to do .... and honestly I see the American right about to do the same thing to itself, probably for many of the same reasons .... I think it's just human nature

    Try and make any large coallition anywhere in the political spectrum and I bet people at one end will start to try and convert people at the other - that's always going to get people annoyed (just look at the nats and the bretheren, .... there's a marriage of convenience that could never last, .... or the Alliance ....)

    Maybe one of the good things about proportional representation is that parties can get small enough that they can live with each other .... at least for a while ....

    This is not to say I haven't been glad to be involved in every one of those lefty groups over the years - standing up and speaking your mind is always better than sitting on your hands and moaning

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2620 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    the fact of the matter is the entire world was united behind the United States in the aftermath of 9/11 - NATO invoked for the first time Article of the Washington treaty - and the most spectacular achievemet of the Bush administration has been the squandering of that goodwill.

    As I've pointed out here before, the Pew Global Attitudes Project tracked the squandering quite vividly:

    http://pewglobal.org/reports/display.php?ReportID=252

    The proportion of Britons expressing a favourable opinion of the US slumped from 83% in 2000 to 56% in 2006. In Spain it went from 50% to 23%. These are both countries that have suffered serious terrorist attacks since 2001. You can't put this down to "the left" or "anti-Americanism". For one thing, opinions of Americans themselves still hover around 70% approval in those countries.

    Pew's survey of Muslim opinion in Europe is also a good read:

    http://pewglobal.org/reports/display.php?ReportID=254

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22825 posts Report Reply

  • Don Christie,

    The neo con strategy as been to capture the language and ideas of liberals and apply the terminology to their own long cherished ambitions. The fact is, these guys are not "neo" at all, they are "cons" though. The same old faces that Nixon first brought to power 35 years ago just spouting a different "spin".

    Don't like our war on <Iraq/Terror/Iran>? Then you must be an enemy of democracy.

    Want to be tolerant of Islam? Then you are a woman hater.

    Concerned about the situation in Palestine? Anti-Semite.

    Support new immigrants? Then you don't care about our hard fought for 'values' (of equality, tolerance, democracy).

    The "liberal hypocrisy" theme does not even stand up to inspection when you consider the fact that a left of centre, "liberal" UK government was such an active participant in the Iraq war.

    Of course there have always been people on the left that abhor war, just it was people on the left who first fought against fascism in Spain.

    Or perhaps it's the innate tendency of former Marxists to simply lurch to a new polar alignment.

    If there is one thing those ex-Marxists have in common it is an understanding of how propaganda works.

    (not to say hypocrites don't about across the spectrum, I may be one myself).

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1645 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Wilson,

    He told me he thinks al-Qaeda has already won.

    if i'm reading you right, and cohen is conflating 'iraq' and 'al qaeda', then he deserves derision.

    What Cohen said was this: "I think al-Qaeda have won. Zarqawi said right at the start of the occupation that we are going to have a tactic of bombing the Shia, just killing as many as they can, so they turn on the Sunnis. And I think that seems to have worked. It's not that al-Qaeda will take power in Iraq, but they have won in the sense that any stable society has become impossible."

    To be honest, I think my secular modernism is under more direct threat from the religious fundamentalists of America than it is from Islamists. The Islamists' derangement might be considerably greater, but I don't think they have the power to change the society with which I identify. The other lot just might.

    Fully agree with that. But Cohen's point is that it's selfish of us to look at it that way. Our democratic rights are far less under attack than, for example, those of women in Saudi Arabia, and yet confronted by the dreadful George Bush, we've forgotten our internationalism.

    I don't believe that the majority of left-liberal opposition to the war in Iraq, or to American foreign policy, is predicated on an endorsement of Islamist bigotry.

    Yep. Very true. I think Cohen understands this too, but he treats it as irrelevant, and in that he does his argument a very great disservice.

    Since Mar 2007 • 9 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    Our democratic rights are far less under attack than, for example, those of women in Saudi Arabia, and yet confronted by the dreadful George Bush, we've forgotten our internationalism.

    But that's a terrible example. One of the major criticisms of Bush from the Left (and from anyone, I hope) is that he has apparently completely ignored the Saudi role in 9/11 and in funding Al Qaeda and in spreading fundamentalist Islam via Wahhabi schools, and basically giving carte blanche to the Saudis as long as the oil keeps flowing. Who on the left, inflamed by the dreadful George Bush, is on the same side as the house of Saud?

    Have I completely misunderstood what you're saying?

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    I hope this doesn't turn out like CiF where every discussion (even on subjects as innocuous as cricket) turns into a flame war between the neo-imperialists and the crypto-islamists (as they categorise one another).

    Having said that:

    I think the "Euston Manifesto" is an amazing piece of disingenuity. Outwardly, they are keen on human rights, motherhood and apple pie. They then justify torture, detention without trial, illegal occupation, etc. as necessary in order to impose liberal democratic rule upon the "savages".

    There is also a distorted idea of responsibility. In my view, I share responsibility for the actions of my government and its forces - because I helped elect it. I only have responsibility for the Saddam Husseins and Osama bin Ladens of the world insofar as "we" helped them get to power. The neos deny this and believe that it is our job to "right every wrong" and further, that we are able to engage in any form of atrocious behaviour to do so provided we don't quite reach the levels of the "despots".

    It's easy to see how this is attractive to former Marxists. The ideas of driving for utopia and of the ends justifying the means were both popular aspects of Marxism.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    __To be honest, I think my secular modernism is under more direct threat from the religious fundamentalists of America than it is from Islamists. The Islamists' derangement might be considerably greater, but I don't think they have the power to change the society with which I identify. The other lot just might.__

    Fully agree with that. But Cohen's point is that it's selfish of us to look at it that way. Our democratic rights are far less under attack than, for example, those of women in Saudi Arabia, and yet confronted by the dreadful George Bush, we've forgotten our internationalism.

    Good point. But it does assume that any intervention we choose to make will be welcome and not counterproductive.

    I may have missed something, but what little Cohen wrote about the Israeli invasion of Lebanon was effectively supportive of it. Yet by the standards he applied to Iraq - we should support the people - that's an impossible position to take.

    __I don't believe that the majority of left-liberal opposition to the war in Iraq, or to American foreign policy, is predicated on an endorsement of Islamist bigotry.__

    Yep. Very true. I think Cohen understands this too, but he treats it as irrelevant, and in that he does his argument a very great disservice.

    Indeed. But there's precious little in his writing that suggests he's about to acknowledge such a nuance. And frankly, he seems to spend a lot of time, especially in his blog, slinging off at anyone with a criticism of him.

    His usual line is that everyone's ignoring his argument, which just isn't true. There are a couple of good analyses here and here.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22825 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    It's easy to see how this is attractive to former Marxists. The ideas of driving for utopia and of the ends justifying the means were both popular aspects of Marxism.

    Which is probably what I was trying to say.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22825 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    These guys are quite fun on our current topic:

    http://aaronovitch.blogspot.com/

    I've never really got into British blogs, with the exception of Harry Hutton, but I think this issue might be my entry point.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22825 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    As political philosophy, the Euston Manifesto doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny.

    Case in point: section “9) United against terror.”
    The Manifesto devotes just seven lines to this crucial issue, including the assertion that “Terrorism inspired by Islamist ideology is widespread today”, without any acknowledgement of the well-documented 50+ year history of theft, terrorism, murder, and political interference in the region by the US / Britain axis, for example.

    I gave up at that point. If I want to read sixth-form-school-project-style journalism… well, I don’t.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    “Terrorism inspired by Islamist ideology is widespread today”

    In the developed world, it isn't. There have been just *three* succesfull Islamist terrorist attacks in the west since September 2001, including the WTC attacks.

    Over a ten year period, the number of attacks in the west by right wing fanatics matches that of Islamists (and without the WTC "success" would have been as bloody):
    - the 1999 one man bombing campaign by David Copeland
    - the 1996 Olympic bombing
    - the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing

    Notably, there is no mention of the need to combat right wing fanatics in the "manifesto".

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Danyl Mclauchlan,

    Over a ten year period, the number of attacks in the west by right wing fanatics matches that of Islamists (and without the WTC "success" would have been as bloody)

    You might find this amusing

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 927 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    Over a ten year period, the number of attacks in the west by right wing fanatics matches that of Islamists (and without the WTC "success" would have been as bloody):

    you missed this, although I have no idea where to place Aum Shinriko on any spectrum, but clearly they are not Islamist.

    The recent bombings in Bangkok are an odd (is it a developed nation....Bangkok itself feels far more developed than many western cities in 2007) one to attribute too: nobody still knows exactly who was responsible, or at the very least they are not saying.

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3283 posts Report Reply

  • rodgerd,

    Quite simply, the left refuses to accept the Heinlein-like propostion that we are locked into some kind of Darwinistic war between Arab arachnids and American humans

    Leave Heinlein out of this - he's a poor standard bearer for the modern right, given that Moon as a Harsh Mistress would read as a ringing endorsement of shooting imperialists.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 512 posts Report Reply

  • rodgerd,

    you missed this, although I have no idea where to place Aum Shinriko on any spectrum, but clearly they are not Islamist.

    And neither are the Tamil Tigers, who pioneered the tactic of the suicide bomb.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 512 posts Report Reply

  • tim kong,

    on the rss feeds - I use Vienna - and yesterday, 27/3 a few odd entries popped up - ones that I'm sure I'd read many moons back.

    all seems back in order today though.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 153 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    Just to be clear, here's thier complete section on terror[ism]:

    9) United against terror.
    We are opposed to all forms of terrorism. The deliberate targeting of civilians is a crime under international law and all recognized codes of warfare, and it cannot be justified by the argument that it is done in a cause that is just. Terrorism inspired by Islamist ideology is widespread today. It threatens democratic values and the lives and freedoms of people in many countries. This does not justify prejudice against Muslims, who are its main victims, and amongst whom are to be found some of its most courageous opponents. But, like all terrorism, it is a menace that has to be fought, and not excused.

    As a position, that's just half-assed. They don't even offer a definition beyond "deliberate targeting of civilians", which, if that is their definition, obviously includes a whole lot more than "muslims", yet they frame terrorism as a muslim problem, whilst complaining of terrorism being framed as a muslim problem.

    Disappointingly sophomoric.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • Tim Hannah,

    To be honest, I think my secular modernism is under more direct threat from the religious fundamentalists of America than it is from Islamists. The Islamists' derangement might be considerably greater, but I don't think they have the power to change the society with which I identify. The other lot just might.

    Fully agree with that. But Cohen's point is that it's selfish of us to look at it that way. Our democratic rights are far less under attack than, for example, those of women in Saudi Arabia, and yet confronted by the dreadful George Bush, we've forgotten our internationalism.

    Who is this we?

    To give Bush due credit, following 9/11 the US did put pressure on Saudi Arabia and Egypt, amongst others, to democratise a little - it was s'posed to reduce terrorism. And some small progress was made. Then, of course, he invaded Iraq which led pretty directly to a strengthening of the hand of Middle Eastern autocracies (bar one) and weakened the hand of those working for the democratic rights of, for example, women in Saudi Arabia.

    I'm not sure how the left can be directly faulted for limiting democratic change in Saudi Arabia, unless it's by not preventing the Iraqi bloodbath.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 228 posts Report Reply

  • Nick M,

    Great British blogs:

    http://www.indecent-left.blogspot.com

    http://www.memory-hole.blog.co.uk

    Both review Cohen's book and tear it apart.

    Wellington • Since Mar 2007 • 3 posts Report Reply

  • Nick M,

    Sorry, mistyped the second link:

    http://memory-hole.blog.co.uk

    If you need an antidote to Simon Wilson's indulgence of Nick Cohen's idiocy, check these links out.

    Wellington • Since Mar 2007 • 3 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby,

    It's not that al-Qaeda will take power in Iraq, but they have won in the sense that any stable society has become impossible.

    yeah... as i remember it, zarqawi became affiliated with al qaeda after the invasion of iraq. the sunni-shia split was something to exploit to resist the occupation.

    what this line of argument overlooks is the incredibly poor contigency planning of the bush administration. they invaded a sovereign state on extremely flimsy pretenses. in fact, some would call them outright lies

    finding that their pretences were in fact proven to be well... bullshit, they changed the motivation to achieving a utopian goal (every time i hear a hawk saying "democratisation" i get an image a beautiful airhead at a beauty pagent saying "world peace").

    by this time they had already massively mishandled the occupation of that state, with the result that any stable society has become impossible.

    bush's supporters then proceed to alternately blame the opponents of the war, and the victims of their bumbling, for the administration's failures.

    cognative dissonance with your cup of hypocrisy anyone?

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2042 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    I'm surprised, well not really, at the degree of animosity towards Cohen. He didn't exactly play a prominent role in the anti-war debate here in NZ. Unlike Chomsky, Fisk, Tariq Ali, Michale Moore and others who did. But he was one of the commentators pointing out in the Brit media that there was a very unhealthy element in the anti-war movement, ie a pro-Saddam, extremist element.

    But here in NZ we we did get Chomsky, Fisk, Ali etc who all were very vocal about how Clinton and Blair were war criminals for overthrowing Melocsevic. I don't recall anywhere near the same vitriol aimed at them from these circles.

    I would like to know what those who opposed the war had as an alterntive. The two countries that contained Saddam for 12 years, Britain and the US, had reached the point were the believed the status quo was unsustainable. Perhaps the anti-war movement could have encourage France, Russia and China to take over. Although I don't know if I would trust them, look at China's involvement in the Sudan.

    Russell, have a look at that site with the creepy obsesion with Aaronovitch. Are you really keen on people who think that even putting pressure on the South African Govt to criticse Mugabe are is too much liberal intervention?

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    I would like to know what those who opposed the war had as an alterntive.

    Wha?! Obviously, the alternative is not engaging in unjust wars.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • 81stcolumn,

    One of the major criticisms of Bush from the Left (and from anyone, I hope) is that he has apparently completely ignored the Saudi role in 9/11 and in funding Al Qaeda and in spreading fundamentalist Islam via Wahhabi schools, and basically giving carte blanche to the Saudis as long as the oil keeps flowing.

    This sounds a bit too Michael Moore for me.

    i) Please do not forget that good old Osama was trained with the Afghan Mujahideen by erm the CIA. To suggest that the Saudis funded Al Qaeda on the understanding that they would undertake acts such as 9/11 is disingenuous to say the least.
    ii) Most Saudis prefer the term Salafi. If we were to swap Catholic or Judaic for Salafi I think you might grasp the scale of the insult. Yep terrorists and dangerous people do get educated in sectarian schools.
    iii) I’m interested in what constitutes “Carte Blanche” - although two wrongs rarely make a right a cheap response would involve Israel.
    iv) The Arabian American Oil Company (ARAMCO) was founded in 1938; any indulgence extended by the Bush government is quite likely an extension of a precedent established more than 60 years ago.

    Having lived in Saudi I’m comfortable with saying there is some good to the nation, though not a lot of good in the government. But this has to be set against the context of a nation that is not yet 100 years old; less time than it took from the instigation of a suffrage movement to the granting of universal suffrage in the UK (1928). There is no Magan Carta, Reformation, Renaissance, or Enlightenment for the Saudis. The evolution of stable modern government is slow and in need of education above all. It should be noted that Saudi has rarely brought serious pressure to bear on more liberal neighbours in the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain for example despite a growing divergence of politics.

    Sorry but I really have grown quite sensitive to what I perceive to be unreasonable Arab bashing. It seems only to reinforce the "Filthy Raghead" stereotype and I won't start on where I think that came from or who took advantage of it........

    Nawthshaw • Since Nov 2006 • 790 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    Please do not forget that good old Osama was trained with the Afghan Mujahideen by erm the CIA.,

    My understanding was that whilst there were tentative links to the CIA (he had the code name Tim Osman), OBL's 1980s Afghani time was spent with the MAK, an organisation funded by the Pakistani ISI and Saudi agencies, albeit using funds largely provided by the CIA, this being the group that became Al Qaeda in the early 1990s.

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3283 posts Report Reply

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