Although politically aware and on occasions active since my ‘teens, I have never been a ‘tribalist’ politician. The often vicious infighting and personal mudslinging that takes up so much energy on the part of the ‘politically committed’ I find distasteful and boring. What matters, in my view, are issues – not personalities. Although pretty despairing of the poor calibre of some of those who govern, I have never felt the fierce degree of personal hatred that many evinced towards Margaret Thatcher, or nowadays to Tony Blair. While deploring their stupidity, ignorance and sometimes deceitfulness, I have no wish for them to come to personal harm – still less to administer it myself.
The lengths to which some are prepared to go to vilify those with whom they disagree never ceases to surprise me. This is especially true when the target is somebody regarded as a turncoat by former allies. Reading the political blogs, one can hardly fail to be aware that a prime target for demonisation by his erstwhile comrades of the Left is a writer called Nick Cohen, of whom I must confess I had not previously heard until the current storm broke. His prime offence is, apparently, not only that he supports the war in Iraq, but that he has the temerity to criticise those on the Left who, as he sees it, have because of their ingrained anti-Americanism abandoned their socialist and democratic principles and are turning a blind eye to the totalitarian and theocratic mindset of Islamic extremism.
So the intensity of the abuse being hurled at the wretched Cohen prompted me to read his book What’s Left? How Liberals lost their way to see what all the fuss is about. As I might have predicted, the anguish is a product of Cohen’s hard-hitting, robustly radical defence of democracy, pluralism and free speech against the tergiversations of those elements of the Left who, ever since the 1917 Bolshevik revolution in Russia, have been seduced into supporting tyranny against democracy and have made themselves the creatures of reactionary, cruel and sometimes murderous regimes.
I am by no means convinced that all the policies which Cohen advocates are the correct ones. His detailed account of the horrors inflicted by Saddam Hussein upon his own people is not a clinching argument for the US-led invasion of
Cohen is rightly scathing, too, of the Stalinist-worshipping Lefties of the 1930s and the Cold War, who obediently turned about tail at Moscow’s crack of the whip in their attitudes to Nazism following the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939, and again when Hitler invaded Russia in 1941 and what had – according to them - hitherto been a wicked “capitalist imperialist” war became a virtuously patriotic one overnight. The mindless relativism of the postmodernist multi-culturalists of the last quarter-century, with their weaselish and implicitly racist defence of primitive practices such as wife-burning and genital mutilation on the specious grounds that these are excusable as manifestations of a different cultural norm from our own, are also castigated, as is the fashionable present-day fad of much of the noisy Left to regard Muslims as ideologically innocent “victims” of the West regardless of their aggressively triumphalist and intolerant Islamic doctrines and frequently violent behaviour.
This failure to distinguish between democratic, liberal, pluralist, tolerant values and their assorted tyrannically totalitarian opponents has, in fact, been the Achilles heel of much Left-wing politics throughout the past century. And it is still alive and well, even in quarters who claim to know better. I find it quite incredible that the much excoriated Tony Blair has just delivered himself of the following sentiments in an article A Battle for Global Values in the January/February 2007 edition of “Foreign Affairs”:
“To me, the most remarkable thing about the Koran is how progressive it is. I write with great humility as a member of another faith. As an outsider, the Koran strikes me as a reforming book, trying to return Judaism and Christianity to their origins, much as reformers attempted to do with the Christian church centuries later. The Koran is inclusive. It extols science and knowledge and abhors superstition. It is practical and far ahead of its time in attitudes toward marriage, women, and governance.
“Under its guidance, the spread of Islam and its dominance over previously Christian or pagan lands were breathtaking. Over centuries, Islam founded an empire and led the world in discovery, art, and culture. The standard-bearers of tolerance in the early Middle Ages were far more likely to be found in Muslim lands than in Christian ones.”
While the final sentence may possibly be true, the preceding statements display a stupendous ignorance of both history and theology, Christian and Islamic. It’s this sort of twaddle that convinces me that our dear prime minister has gone totally round the twist. If he believes that, he’d believe anything. Such as that you can square circles – which just about sums up his foreign and domestic policies.
There may well be millions of peacefully inclined, “moderate” Muslims around the world – though I have never noticed them declaring that they prefer our open, tolerant, free-speech, pluralist democratic society to the putative theocracy enjoined by their holy books and learned preachers.
The challenge which an increasingly assertive Islam poses to democracy as we in the West understand it is the real clash of global values, and it is hard to see how this challenge is going to be successfully and peacefully met unless the issues are candidly clarified and the necessary consequent measures taken to safeguard our democratic way of life against ALL totalitarian threats, from whatever quarter they come.