Nick descends further into madness
I confess to being at a bit of loss concerning how to address Nick's latest rant, such is its incoherence. Suffice to say that I’m inclined to agree with one thing he says, namely that “modern technology allows every fool with an internet connection to broadcast his or her ravings”. The ostensible focus of his attack is people who believe in a global Zionist conspiracy. Well, we’re all against nutters. But Nick seems to believe that the denial that there is an international Islamist conspiracy is equivalent to the assertion that the Zionists are behind everything. So Nick has become a nutter too.
Just to make some elementary points: it is surely possible to believe both that there are Islamist fanatics out there, determined on murdering people, and to believe that governments often time “terror alerts” for political reasons and seek to exploit public anxiety about terrorism in order to get more power for themselves. The latest batch of arrests may well have thwarted an Al-Qaeda gang (or some Al-Qaeda wannabes) at the point where they were about to murder thousands of air travellers. We have to take the government’s word for it, for the time being. But past experience – the ricin plot, the people who were supposed to be plotting to explode themselves at football matches – suggests that it may all turn out to be less than originally advertised. And did Home Secretary John Reid know about the plot when he made a speech calling for an extension of powers the day before the alert? Or did the security services come to him some time after he made the speech and tell him that it had become urgent to act without delay? Needless to say, one can entertain private doubts on such matters without thinking for a moment that there might be an international Zionist conspiracy.
So what of the international Islamist one. Here Nick wants to have it both ways. In response to Adam Curtis’s “Power of Nightmares” and its denial that there a “uniquely powerful hidden organisation” behind global terror, Nick remarks sarcastically “This would be news to the people of the Philippines, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq.” Ok, so let’s take Somalia. What does Nick himself say about Somalia in this very same column? “An al-Qaeda style militia has taken power in a putsch in Somalia.” So it isn’t true then, according to Nick himself, that AQ is behind events in Somalia. It would, in fact, be news to the Somalis if they were. What has happened is merely that a movement that resembles AQ in some aspects of its theology has taken power (or partly, anyway). In fact, Nick could have reached for a much better analogy for Somalia, he could have mentioned not AQ – a conspiratorial organization composed of middle-class people in small cells (rather like the Red Army Fraction, sociologically speaking) – but the Taliban. Like the Taliban, the Islamic Courts Movement of Somalia enjoys a measure of popular support because it promises to bring order where previously there was warlordism. Now granted, there’s a downside. No football, music, education for girls etc. But the ICM at least promise a future where life is not nasty, brutish and short (or less so, anyway).
Nick is wrong, then and Adam Curtis is broadly right. When George W. Bush tells us, Nick-style, that “The current crisis is part of a larger struggle between the forces of freedom and the forces of terror in the Middle East” he’s talking nonsense, lumping together sociologically diverse groups, with very different political agendas. The trouble is, of course, that this “war of civilizations” stuff is self-fulfilling. If Nick and George wage war everywhere against what they perceive as a unitary phenomenon then people trying to persuade young men in Walthamstow to blow themselves (and others) to pieces have a good deal of their work done for them. There’s “us” and there’s “them” and “they” are waging war against “us” everywhere. Simple innit?