Sunday, July 31, 2005
Terrorism 'Good and Bad'
Rather like a Chancellor when the currency is threatened by speculators the PM is forced to defend a particular position. Similarily with terrorism he must say he'll will never negotiate with any people whom use terror as a weapon; if he does not deny any intention of negotiating the danger is that the terrorists will begin to extend their demands and believe they have the enemy on the run. But we all know this position-non negotiation- has always been untenable. Terrorism actually works. Whole swathes of the world have been conquered, liberated or invented through the use of terror tactics.
Governments cannot afford to have citizens being destroyed arbitrarily on a daily basis. While they affect to revile such tactics, they understand them well and will take any chance to bring the killing to a halt. We might - as Wheatcroft here does- point out that a U turn has occurred but most people will understand that governments have to deal with threats to public safety and will do deals if necessary. The history of the 'wind of change' retreat from empire in the fifties and sixties consisted of terrorist groups in Africa as well as Asia using such tactics to advane nationalist causes. At first they were condemned as terrorists, then imprisoned but finally listened to and often helped become leaders of their newly independent countries.
While they affect to revile such tactics, modern democratic understand them well and will take any chance to bring the killing to a halt. We might - as Wheatcroft here does- point out that a U turn has occurred but most people will understand that governments have to deal with threats to public safety and will do deals if necessary. Blair has behaved in no way different from any other premier would have done and history will applaud his actions.
Saturday, July 30, 2005
The Spectrum of Violence
I recall Dennis Healey, a man well versed in defence questions of course, saying the invasion was a mistake as Saddam could have been disposed of via special forces action. This seemed a bit optimistic when Saddam's survival precautions and record of survival are considered. Democracies moreover, do not use assassination as an instrument of foreign policy though maybe they ought in certain circumstances. More importantly for foreign policy makers perhaps is the need for much greater care in considering violence as an instrument in the first place. I was against the Afghan invasion personally as I feared that entering that highly volatile spectrum of violence might set in train a sequence of unforeseen consequences that made the situation even worse than before. Vietnam is the precedent which haunts the mind. Initial results made me think I was being too timid but more recent analyses from this benighted country suggest the occupation has been mishandled and is again reaching crisis levels. Iraq was another case where I suspected the embrace of violence-however jusified the removal of Saddam- would turn out to be self defeating with the biter eventually being bit more savagely than the bitten.
We should know enough about the passions raised by people being killed, especially by forces of a foreign power, to have exercised more prudence and care than charging into the fraught world of Middle eastern politics with guns blazing alongside US armed forces. At least let us hope that the Iraqi adventure will be the last of its kind for another generation and hope that the UN can eventually be fashioned into a legitimate instrument of armed force to maintain international order and justice, instead of individual states. Some hope I agree, but at least its a direction to aim in.
Friday, July 29, 2005
Terrorism part and present
Now we hear the IRA have stated the war is over. Is it? This is the big question for the Unionists and they are already questioning the terms of decommissioning and other possible lacunae in the statement. What about crime? will that cease? what about regret? does the iRA regret the 2000 plus deaths for which they must take some resonsibility? The question which interests me is: was it worth it? All those deaths, all that misery and fear? Complete unification of Ireland is still the aim of nationalists but the immovable fact of one and a half million protestant unionists makes this dream unachievable: they have shown they will fight tenaciously to prevent this. And just when we thought Ian Paisley was close to bowing out, we hear the same sawing tones emanating from his son, Ian junior.
So devolved government with an assembly in which Sinn Fein is the second largest force is not a bad achievment to show for the last three decades. But Wales and Scotland have achieved the same without violence- so why was the bombing and murder necessary? Republicans would possibly argue that in the case of Northern Ireland entrenched prejudices were such that the loyalist majority would never have budged without it. And that is hard to refute. Certainly the civil rights of catholics were suppressed for decades by protestants in Ulster who saw democracy merely as something to be adapted to their own purposes. One could go on to argue that devolution would not have been such a relatively painless democratic process without the threat of violence which the Ulster experience had articulated.
The problem with violence is that it replaces existing prejudices with a whole new set of them, concerning the bestial nature or worse of the 'enemy' plus a set of scars caused by bereavment which will take generations to mitigate. Violence has almost certainly made the situation worse; a slow democratic route might have been much longer but it would have been infinitely preferable. British history shows that the march of liberal reform, which was initiated in the eighteenth century, steadily wore down the status quo supporters and overthrew it piece by peaceful piece.
The whole process casts some light on the other terrorist issue. Will the radical muslims dig in for several decades? Yes, is the likely answer. Will they eventually seek to make contact and negotiate? there is no guarantee as we are sill unsure what they actually want to achieve. How long will the struggle last? Many many decades I would hazard, maybe the whole of this century. We might look back on the troubles as merely a little ocal difficulty before the real struggle began.
Thursday, July 28, 2005
Is There a Enoch Waiting in the Wings ?
Reading the Mail's headline made me think that we're currently tenuously balanced, as a nation, on the cusp of sliding into a mood of quite fierce racism. To outrage and vulnerability are added feelings of friendship spurned in the most vicious of fashions. These African muslims faced torture and death in their own country but were offered a haven of safety and support by the British state. To show their appreciation, they sought to inflict on their saviours that from which they had been saved. Small wonder we are unhappy and to varying degrees, vengeful. Given the negative feelings which run deep about asylum seekers in the first place, this flagrant rejection of hospitality will connect with the deep feelings of dislike or hatred which already boil just below the surface of our national life. Given this volatile intermixing of negative feelings, who will step forward to exploit it for political purposes?
The main parties are unlikely to do so. Labour, because it is the party of government and must be 'reponsible'; Lib Dems because it would be such a total denial of their history; and Conservatives, collectively, because they will not wish to break the brittle national consensus and further risk sullying their own already woefully sullied brand with yet more 'nastiness'. The BNP will seek to move in , of course, they are already trying, and may pick up more support in discrete areas. But the BNP has an image problem. Most of their cadres appear to be politicised nighclub doormen and their clever leader, Cambridge educated Nick Griffin, has been discredited by publicity surrounding his current court case.
What I'm (nervously) waiting for- and I hope I'm proved wrong, is the emergence of a mainstream politician, like Enoch Powell in the late sixties or (the admittedly less mainstream) Pym Fortyn in the Netherlands, who sees easy pickings by breaking the national silence and stating clearly and forcefully what people are thinking inarticulately (and maybe a bit shamefully) in their own private counsels. I suspect that if this is to happen, it will be a somewhat renegade politician, maybe drawn from those Conservatives with some career behind them and not much to look forward to. Whatever the outcome of this grievous and tragic period of our history, it will be fascinating to see if anyone decides to break cover and, if so, who it will prove to be.
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
The Limits of Free Speech
More generally on free speech and censorship I think anyone or any organisation which preaches intolerance, racism, violence should be curbed at some point. Our democracy is fairly robustly founded on hundreds of years of debate and solid democratic institutions. But such systems are essentially value based and can be quickly undermined- witness the Weimar Republic. Bernard(sorry, Sir Bernard)Crick makes a distinction between 'procedural' values and other kinds of value concerned with political activity. Procedural ones are those which are 'enabling': they allow the system to work. So, for example, free speech allows us all to discuss a wide range of issues; non violence enables us to function secure in the knoweldge we won't come to harm; tolerance of other religions, races and types of lifestyle enables diversity to flourish and contribute to the general good.
As long as the vast majority subscribe to these procedural values the system will work well with huge benefits for all in terms of freedom and general quality of life. However, if groups declare war on these values, for example supporters of totalitarian movements like Communism or Nazism, then the viability of the whole system is threatened. As long such movements are small and weak the threat is easily contained. The British system has laughed off both extremes in the past but both have tended to be feeble and relatively harmless. The new Islamic radicalism is weak numerically but is powerful in terms of what it is prepared to do. Its aim is to disable the system and create a chaos from which it hopes to benefit. Any messages which undermine the fragile values on which liberal democracy is based, should be closely watched, and, if they become too strident or ubiquitous, steps should be taken to curb them. As a sixties liberal myself this point of view does not rest easily but recent events have shown we no longer live in tolerant times and our attitudes have to change for our own safety and the future of our democratic system. Unfettered free speech is a luxury the bombers have made too expensive for us to afford.
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
British class system according to Channel 4
Which left the upper classes and Mr James Dellingpole, allegedly a journalist. He had been to Oxford and admired the upper classes enormously but had failed to break into their closed circle, something which had clearly upset him. Like Evelyn Waugh he seemed to have a huge crush on toffs, the more blue blooded the better. He desperately admired their 'backbone, spunk and honour'. So he forayed forth into a Mayfair party, Channel 4 cameras at his back, and tried to elicit comment from the various aristos who stalked the event like elusive rare fauna. He did manage to corner the odd startled specimen. Earl Spencer and Prince Michael both snubbed him awfully but did it so politely he seemed not too dismayed. His problem was that: he was poorly dressed -more M and S than Saville Row; his voice also signalled clearly he was not of their tribe; and, just maybe,(though this is no more than conjecture as I have no idea of Mr Dellingpole's ethnic provenance) his appearance might have sparked off negative reactions in a notoriously anti-semitic social grouping. In other words, they saw him as an awful oik who was trying to crash their exclusivity. His approach was too crude and transparent. They were bound to see him off the premises. But was he dismayed? Any sensible person would have been and given up at that point. But he wasn't and, luckily for him, things improved a bit after this disastrous start.
He decided to try the Cresta Run in St Moritz where, I was amazed to discover, a closed group of aristos have risked life and limb since the last century. This was where the film became not no much sociology as social anthropology. The toffs wore plus four tweeds to ride their bob sleighs. One explained: 'This form of dress worked OK when we started and so, on that basis, we haven't changed it.' Seems like that statement sums up the attitude of the British aristocracy and provides their epitaph at the same time. James delcared he would try the Run, whatever the dire dangers to various parts of his body. Visibly scared, he survived and, generally, was treated with a modicum of respect by the toffs. Next came living in the fast lane. For this he shacked up with Channel 4 favourite, Charlie Brockett of jungle fame. Charlie, a convicted felon of course, proved too nice a guy to be anything other than charming and James was allowed to drive a Ferrari as well as exchange good natured banter with the fraudster peer. But I suspected throughout that James secretly wanted to be stepped on, to be humiliated rather than merely humoured.
But the real object of James's dreams, it seemed, was to ride to hounds. This he arranged to do with the Cotswold Hunt and, with great commitment and assiduity learned how to ride. He eventually issued forth with the 'unspeakable' though never quite made contact with the 'uneatable'. But he survived again and, though condescended to by all he met, was not treated too badly. He concluded his gallop around Burke's peerage with a wistful soliloquy on the wonders of this vanishing breed, regretting the loss of this selfless group of noble spirits, warning that we'd miss them once they had gone.
I have seldom seen such a witless programme on such a key topic. Instead of analysis and insight we got a pathetic prostration of a yearning aparently self- loathing inadequate before a collection of parasitic, selfish, useless people with whom the French revolutionaries better knew how to deal.
Friday, July 22, 2005
Norman Geras and the 'Iraq Blamers'
What does he say? He is concerned that so many influential people are seeking to find mitigating factors which explain why the bombers bombed and in so doing risk implying some exoneration. He is keen to emphasise: 'causality is one thing and moral responsibility is another, though the two are related.' Using this as his premise he upbraids those 'apologists' who seek to use their focus on 'causes and explanations' as partisan sticks with which to beat political enemies. Finally he asks why such 'hunters-out of causes' fail to register as a cause the 'fanatical, fundamentalist belief system which teaches hatred and justifies these acts of murder'
Fair enough, I thought, when I read this but then, on reflection, something seemed a bit wrong with the line of reasoning. Did it not, it seemed to me, carry some resonance of those rightwing arguments which I've always felt unsure about? What I mean is those arguments against criminal acts which have been utilised since the days of transportation to condemn perpetrators. These tend to say: 'Never mind about the fact that most criminals come from the needy, impoverished classes, they had a choice between right and wrong in stealing(or whatever), and they chose the latter.' It follows, according to those on the right, that such felons should be punished. Norm recognises that causality and moral responsibility are related but it's the closeness of their relationship which is at the nub of his argument. And it's the nature of the crime committed which is crucial too.
Is it jusifiable for someone to steal to provide for their starving family? I would tend to say yes and can easily imagine myself doing so. Those criminals who were deported to Australia were in many cases guilty of trivial crimes: stealing food or the basics for survival. Significantly, I would say, the development of Australia into a thriving modern country is evidence that if needs are met, wrong behaviour can disappear.
Is it justifiable to kill in pursuit of the same goal? I would say no and cannot imagine ever doing such a thing. But the person who kills- though morally beyond the pale- has a legitimate cause of complaint, it seems to me, if their families are starving. The next question is: do muslims have a legitimate cause of complaint, even if they do not justify mass murder? I would think yes, they do in relation for example, to the Palestine issue and, indeed, Iraq. Now does it follow that meeting muslim demands over such issues will cause the killing in our homelands to diminish or even cease? If yes, then we should seriously consider such matters. If no, then do we have to accept that we face an unreconcilable ideology whose hatred for us is unfathomable and which will always seek to destroy us? Are we in the middle of what Huntingdon called the 'clash of civilisations'? A grim prospect indeed.
I think the 'Iraq Blamers' like Galloway not to mention those columnists in the Guardian, have highlighted a legitimate connection relating to a legitimate grievance the alleviation of which is likely to cause an easing of the danger we face on the tube and on the bus, not just in London, but in Manchester and other big cities. I agree that their grievances do not justify mass murder but would argue that venturing into such dangerous territory in the first place was ill-advised and that withdrawing as soon as is practicable would be well-advised. Also, Norm, weren't some of these Iraq Blamers merely refuting earlier Blair's claim that the bombings had nothing to do with Iraq?
Thursday, July 14, 2005
Religion, Mosques and Youth clubs
Closer reading of the backgrounds however, does reveal another constant: visits to Pakistan. Tanweer and Hussain both visited for some weeks and returned, studiously god- fearing. As the parent of a 23 yearold I might be a bit surprised if a similar thing happened-but I'm not muslim. It seems Pakistani muslim families often send their young back home for a bit of 'firming up', some discipline to help them cope with life in the sinful west. In the case of Hussain, his family was pleased as the once aimless, unemployed youth now had more of a purpose; and who is going to argue with a religious one? Plenty, from now on, is the answer. Yet families did not find any evidence of that key word:'brainwashing'; in the case of Tanweer there was not even any sign of attendance at training camps.
The only possible evidence of such 'processing' is offered in today's Guardian: the Hamara youth club in Lodge Lane, Beeston Leeds. Here. it seems young people visited at all hours and fears of 'radicalising and recruiting young muslim men'. Maybe this is the connection that explains the great mystery of how a small group of apparently normal, Anglicised Asian young men, turned their backs on the values of their home country and effectively declared war on it. Police have sealed off the youth club and are investigating. As far as I can see, this is the only hope so far of any proper explanation.
Wednesday, July 13, 2005
What astonishes me is the way it must have been done. These young Asian Britons, otherwise typical of their generation, planning the logistics to kill and maim their fellow citizens. And then travelling down to London, apparently looking completely normal and friendly with one another. No tragic embraces, no evidence of doubt, just arrive in Kings Cross and then on with the job of killing as many as they could, regardless of their race, background, or views. It is gobsmackingly hard to understand all this.
I heard the muslim MP for Dewsbury on the radio saying that his religious grouping would have to crack down on discordant voices which had previously been tolerated; rebel imams had better start to pack up. By the same token he said the white population will have to rein in the BNP and the inevitable backlash which could be severe. We still do not know if the bombers were coached or helped from outside. But Lord Stevens, former head of the Met, said he had calculated that 3000 British muslims had ben trained in Afghanistan and that maybe 200 were prepared to be suicide bombers. This is a serious possibility and one which will keep us nervously vigilant for years to come.
Thursday, July 07, 2005
The Inevitable Happens
To be honest I'm surprised the attacks have not come sooner than they have. When on the Underground in London I have been keenly aware that anyone can walk on, leave a bomb and then escape with impunity. The same goes for buses. I'll be interested to see if suicide bombers are behind this as this sort of attack does not require suicide to work so dreadfully well.
What does one do about it? The awful thing is that there is very little one can do. It's almost impossible to deter people bent on suicide and all we can do is: rely on intelligence, be ever watchful and try to muddle along as usual. Pathetic advice but is there any better available? The liberal answer is to solve the Palestinian problem and then the Iraq one but that is like two thousand Gordian Knots intertwined. The USA is reluctant to intervene when so much clout is wielded by the Jewish lobby in that country. No, we just have to batten down what hatches we are aware of; wait for the fury to subside- as it may have done in the case of the IRA- and thank our stars we're not muslims living in London as I fear they are about to be in for a bad time of it. A further irony was that the Chief of the Met, was actually on Today, Radio 4 to state that his force was the best in the world for combatting terrorism as it worked so closely with intelligence. A short time later his record was put savagely to the test.
Monday, July 04, 2005
Was Live 8 worth it?
On the other hand a number of things can be said in favour of the efficacy of Live 8 apart from the music, which even this 59 year old was able to enjoy(in part that is- anything which reminds me of the sixties:good- the rest: generally not so good). Bush has to be aware opf the need to payback Blair for the staunch and unpopular support he has given Bush over Iraq and subsequently. We are told by Sir Christopher Meyer that, when appointed ambassador to Washington, he was told by Blair's chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, to 'get right up the arse of the White House and stay there'. Evidence, if any were needed, of how unthinking Blair's obsequiousness to Bush has become. But, even if Bush says his relationship with Tony is not one of 'quid pro quos' he must know that that is essentially the nature of international politics: you only give if you expect to receive and unrequited giving will eventually carry a heavy penalty. So Bush 'owes' Tony a big one and will face criticism if he totally ignores his obligations. Furthermore, he must know that Live 8 has struck a nerve across the world. Half the world's population tuned in we are told. Bush's aides are bound to tell him that. Appearing isoalted and mean spirited will not go down well at home where his ratings anyway are now plumbing the depths. Finally. the other seven have been subject to all the emotive publicity generated by St Bob et al and will be arguing passionately for what most of them probably know in their hearts is the correct path to follow.
However, I doubt if more than a portion of Blair's agenda will be answered positively: certainly debt relief, which has already been agreed; and also more aid in absolute terms. But Brown's scheme to create a new kind of aid funding is unlikely to be endorsed by USA or Germany it would seem and movement on climate change seems beyond the pale still to the myopic and surely intellectually limited president? But was Live 8 worth it? Surely it was. If only for the education of som many millions in the comfortably off west that they have a duty to others. The occasion when the Ethiopian girl who had featured close to death in a vcideo shown at Live Aid reappeared as a beautiful woman of 24 on stage with the celebs was truly moving and worth the Hyde Park gig for that moment alone as far as I was concerned.