Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Tyranny's tools

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 Iraq. Leaving aside the moral and legal issues, the acid test was whether that invasion would make matters better in the Middle East, or make them worse. I was one of those who said long before the troops went in that the ultimate outcome would be prolonged and widespread bloodshed and chaos, and this has turned out to be the case. Nonetheless, Cohen is spot-on in his contempt for those who, having railed against the iniquities of Saddam’s dictatorship for years, suddenly discovered qualities of martyrdom in his messy end.

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.


Yankee Doodle said...

"While the final sentence may possibly be true"

It's not.

"There may well be millions of peacefully inclined, “moderate” Muslims around the world...."

There are. I've got links to some.

Trouble is, it's hard to get away from the evil in the Koran, especially when Saudi Arabia is spending so much money promoting it.

Good post.

anticant said...

The money being petrodollars which presumably also help to line the pockets of Halliburton, Carlyle and their ilk!

Do you think there is a mephistophelian hook-up between the Bush, bin Laden and Saudi families to screw America? Interesting thought....

Jose said...

"While the final sentence may possibly be true"

In my opinion from what I know about those times, the final sentence is true. And it is true because Muslim invaders in Spain permitted coexistence among Jews, Christians and Muslims. Conversely when Christians reconquered the country, those who did not convert to Christianity were expelled from Spain. I must also say that that Arab civilisation was tops among those existing at the time. This, that is my opinion, is incontrovertible.

tyger said...


I have a lot of time for Cohen's position, but not in the way he vents his anger. Their is a spite in Cohen's writing (and that of David Aaronovitch) since the Iraq War failed so terribly.

Many on the left opposed the War in Iraq, yet remain unabashedly Pro-American - I am one of these people. The proportion of the left who pander to Radical Islam is not that great, but they do have a disproportionate voice in the media. One only has to take a look at CiF to see the number of Islamist apologists who spout their Anti-American twaddle on that site to see what I mean.

A vast majority of the left are committed to liberty and equality - two ideas that have little to do with political Islam.

toby lewis said...

Tyger - Could the spite in Cohen and Aaronovitch's writings be because when they try to say something different to certain left-wing opinions they are vilified? Obviously supporting the war in Iraq demonstrates a lack of judgement, yet I can't blame them for trying to point out that there is something creepy about those opponents who sympathise with Islamic terrorists and the downfall of Western democracy (a straw man? I certainly hope so, but occasionally I believe such people exist).

Apparently the Koran is our Tone's favourite bedtime reading. Perhaps he'll convert to Islam instead of Catholicism on his retirement.

BTW - Anticant - your writing is so polished, why don't you try sending this piece off to comment is free after perhaps dividing it in two and making it even more punchy? If you don't mind being paid nothing - which you obviously don't - or supporting a paper who you believe have compromised their principles (which you do, but given all publications are fairly two-faced you could make an exception) then I reckon they might take to a voice like yours. The aged and wise blogger would make a change from a lot of the stuff that is written and put up on the net.

Yankee Doodle said...


Bin Laden and the Saudi Royal Family are like Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.

I have several posts addressing that: ...or you are with the terrorists: Part I and Deal with the Devil come to mind. I also touch on it metaphorically in Late at Night in the Bat Cave.

Jose: You have bitten off on the PC propaganda about jihad and the Crusades.

Tyger and Toby: Interesting comments, and a refreshing perspective! Let me think about that. :)

Jose said...

If you believe what you say, yankee doodle, then I refuse to keep discussing with someone with a clear predisposition towards Islam. I for one cannot mix pears with apples.

I am too old to bite off on any propaganda, even that of those manifestedly anti who cannot give reasoned explanations on their opinions.

Sorry, anticant.

Yankee Doodle said...

Jose, I give plenty of reasoned explanations of my opinions over at my blog.

Regarding my predisposition, I was predispositioned to believe Islam is a basically peaceful religion, just like any other. Then I started learning about it. Now I have a blog called Stop Islamic Conquest.

Some of this you know; you've been to my blog. (And thanks for your visits, by the way! It's always a pleasure to read your comments.)


By the way, Anticant -- ditto to Toby's comments about your writing! You are good!

Jose said...

The difficult thing here appears to be to establish a clear distinction of what religion is and of how religion is used. To sway from left to right uncontrollably is not the way to deal with this issue, always in my opinion. All religions, with some dishonourable exclusions, are basically peaceful. Christianity has always been a peaceful religion. Those who underwent its application - Inquisition, crusades, etc - may not think so, but intrinsically Christianity is peaceful, as are Islam and Judaism.

The problem arises when one tries to get everybody into the same bag, because instead of solving the problem this attitude adds to it. The human being tends to generalise, Muslims are generalising too when they talk of Americans, and I see you generalise when you talk of Muslims. One must know them, one must respect them and viceversa.

I regret you have an erroneous idea of what Islam really is.

anticant said...

It isn't like you, Jose, to refuse to discuss with someone you disagree with when they present reasoned and well-researched arguments. I find Yankee Doodle's blog highly informative, well balanced - and alarming. He's no fan of Bush & Co, and obviously believes that they are engaged in some nefarious activities of which he is providing details.

Also, when you say "I regret you have an erroneous idea of what Islam really is", what do you mean? You are making a claim you should substantiate with more than just an assertion. Surely there is room for dispute as to what Islam "really" is?

Toby, thanks for the compliment - but as I've frequently said, I would not write for the "Guardian" while they keep up their humbugging censorship policy on 'Comment is Free'.

Jose said...


Yankee Doodle said:
"While the final sentence may possibly be true"

It's not.

It is not a reasoned answer.

Furthermore why Yankee Doodle says:

Jose: You have bitten off on the PC propaganda about jihad and the Crusades.

Don't you think this is a daring statement? He doesn't know me and venturing something he doesn't know about is not the best way to undertake a discussion. Something which in my opinion is lack of respect.

anticant said...

It seems to me, Jose, that Yankee Doodle is simply expressing his opinions - just as you do when you make the 'daring' statement that you are aware of the "real" nature of Islam.

You know, I am sure, that I disagree with your views about religion, but I don't refuse to discuss them with you or accuse you of "lack of respect".

Frankly, I think you should come off your high horse and study all Yankee Doodle's recent posts carefully before you dismiss him as not worthy of your attention.

I myself think he is very well informed and I have learned a lot from reading him.

Jose said...

I regret, Anticant, I do not agree with you.

anticant said...

In that case, Jose, you are not being as sage, open minded and reasonable as you usually are.

Jose said...

Your opinion, Anticant. A drastic one I can observe.

anticant said...

Not drastic, Jose - just candid. I have a great deal of repect for you, as you well know. But I sometimes feel that you blink away from matters which you find too unpleasant or disturbing to contemplate.

Jose said...

I regret you are wrong in that, Anticant. I never blink away from any discussion if I can see any chances of clarification, otherwise I try things do not get worse by withdrawing from the arena. That's all.

anticant said...

Jose, I am sorry but I do not find your meaning very clear. Are you saying that you are withdrawing from my arena? That is a great pity. And I do not understand your reasons, because it is only by being aware of and considering others' points of view that we can clarify - and sometimes modify - our own.

I do not know what in this thread has made you angry, and I would like to think that when you have calmed down, you will resume the debate.

If we are seeking clearer views about matters of world importance, our own personal feelings should not enter into the discourse. We should willingly tolerate all points of view, IMHO.

Jose said...

I didn't say I was withdrawing from "your" arena, Anticant. But as I have said in another post, I am now.

No clear views can be seen from a standpoint which is definitely biased, and, believe me, I am absolutely "calmed down". No one can think easily if they are influenced by outer personal circumstances.

What I am sure of is I'll never do is use my blog for personal attacks as you have done in yours.

anticant said...

As I have said in my comment on the next thread, I am very sorry that Jose has taken personal offence where none was intended.

The direction which this comment thread has taken, veering right away from the content of my original post into a sterile dispute about 'bias', is instructive of the difficulties facing us in attempting to maintain a perspective that is wide-ranging as well as balanced.

In view of the importance of the issues, I shall continue the endeavour here in the arena.