Sunday, January 28, 2007


Nick Cohen's cry of 'Betrayal' Should be Aimed at Far Rather than 'Liberal Left'

What’s Left? How Liberals Lost Their Way is a book written by Nick Cohen, the sparky Observer journalist whose column bristles with indignation every week. I've always enjoyed his provocatively informative writing but have to say I'm a bit foxed by his book, a large chunk of which appeared in last week's paper, see here for the extract plus comments. According to the author,

The book is a history of a phenomenon that is so commonplace now hardly anyone notices it: the willingness of people on the liberal-Left to support or, more often, excuse or explain away totalitarian movements of the ultra Right. The reverse side of this debased coin is if anything an even more depressing story. Solidarity – the noblest virtue of the old Left – vanishes as people who call themselves feminists, socialists and liberals in the rich world refuse to support the victims of fascistic religious and secular movements, even when those victims share their values. As long as the persecutors are anti-American, their slaughters cannot be condemned unequivocally.

This 'betrayal' came as news to me. I've always voted Labour so consider myself part of the broad 'liberal' but never 'far' left. I'm sure I'm not untypical of a large tranche of left leaning opinion which does not feel guilty of any such 'betrayal'. Let me explain. My world-view was largely set more by the Cold War whereby I saw the US as more of a saviour than aggressor. Vietnam changed that perception but as long as the superpower pursued a multilateral approach I still retained a degree of trust in its good faith. My sea change occurred when the neo-cons took over, seeking to impose a no ifs or buts Pax Americana. They were well placed to colonize George Bush's limited intellect once he was elected and went on to dominate his reactions to 9-11.

I was also desperately anxious for some sort of intervention to prevent the depredations of Saddam, the greatest political monster since Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot. But Bush's targeting of Iraq, at neo-con bidding, as responsible for 9-11 and willingness to send in the cavalry so soon after Afghanistan, was the thing which repulsed me. This was too prodigal and casual a use of such a volatile and infectious instrument, and seemed to be motivated by the oil issue(another pocket in which Bush resided) more than the world's security. I feared this war, with no legal justification and a casus belli which increasingly began to look like a pretext, would drag the US and our reluctant selves, into the quagmire we now find ourselves in. In other words, the preferred solution to the Iraq human rights crisis was too dangerous and was not justifiable. Now where is the betrayal in that?

I suspect that the answer is that Nick is incensed not by the many centre left leaners like me but the far lefties of which (I also suspect) he was once a member. They tended, like Nick regarding Blair, to apply a rigorous economic analysis and could not accept the leopard could be trusted to have changed its spots if charging into the Middle East, guns blazing. So some of them made common cause with Muslim opponents of the USA, as in the case of the Respect Party where such an alliance unseated Oona King in Bethnal Green in 2005-see picture of victor. Such lefties can be seen to have betrayed their opposition to Saddam -fascism but I don't see how Nick can direct the mighty force of his indignation at those of us who opposed and still oppose Iraq on wholly separate grounds.

I'm always suspicious when people write things like "Saddam, the greatest political monster since Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot". What does this mean? Well, these dictators reigned between 1933 (Hitler) and 1979 (Pol Pot), which throws the "since" element out of the window. So Cohen must be trying to equate Saddam with Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot. No doubt Saddam was a tyrant. But it hardly helps matters to skew history: the victims of these dictators numbered in the millions, not thousands, as with Saddam.
It was me who made the comparison actually, which I think is fair as: Saddam admired Hitler and Stalin as leaders and had pictures of them on his office walls; Saddam probably was responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths which puts him in the same 'monsterish' ballpark.
Perhaps, but he's only in the First Division.
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