Tuesday, February 27, 2007

In which I studiously ignore a ludicrous and offensive attempt to analogise the anti-war Left to anti-abolitionists

A few errors in Aaro's column this week (potted summary - military intervention against the slave trade worked, so we shouldn't give up on wars like Iraq. Dave appears not to notice that his new idea of "taking more care about how we intervene" has basically sold the entire pass for Blairite foreign policy, and specifically for the version of Atlanticism that he appears to favour).

1. "Islamist cultures" should not be a plural. There is only one country in the world that can be fairly called "Islamist", Iran. Even Iran is quite an unusual "Islamist" state because it is certainly not based on the Muslim Brotherhood. In all other countries of the Islamic world, including the "Islamic Republics" like Saudi Arabia (Edit: literal; meant to write "Islamic Rebublics and places like Saudi Arabia, of course SA isn't a republic!) Islamists are in general a persecuted minority.

Of course, this falls into the category of "blessed errors". Aaro made this mistake because he hasn't read Paul Berman on Qutb, and therefore uses "Islamist" as a synonym for "Islamic". This is however a good thing, because Nick has read Berman and usually gets his use of "Islamist" pretty precise, as does Michael Gove and Melanie Phillips. And I don't think anyone would argue that these three have, as a result of their precise knowledge, developed more sensible and/or sane ideas about the Muslim world than Aaro. So my advice is to keep on keeping on Dave; this one isn't worth learning.

2. What is Dave babbling on about in the paragraph about women in "Islamist cultures"? In context it looks like he means Iran, but women in Iran are 63% of university students and have the vote (they have the normal sharia discrimination and Amnesty doesn't like theway that protestors against it are treated, but it's ludicrous to suggest that women aren't treated by male doctors in Iran). Since this paragraph appears to be talking about Saudi Arabia, a country where John Humphries has specifically said (in one of his books) that he opposes the current system of government and Tony Blair has specifically said that he doesn't (including, quite recently, calling off a corruption investigation there), I think this is too bad.

I think Dave has treated John Humphries quite badly here. In the context of that Today programme, it is clear that the differences in the "form of democracy" that he was talking about include such things as a) still having sharia law, b) having nuclear weapons and c) maintaining an aggressive foreign policy with respect to the state of Israel. If we have an invasion of Iran, it will be about these things, particularly the middle one, not about the criterion for recognising candidates in elections. Visibly, our entire diplomatic effort is aimed at trying to support a policy in Iran (unilateral nuclear disarmament) which is unlikely to be any more popular there than it was in the UK in 1983 when Tony Blair stood for election on a manifesto containing it and lost (Update "lost" in the sense of "won", of course, thanks Matthew, although I am pretty sure he has never tried to claim that this represented an endorsement of unilateralism by the voters of Sedgefield.)

The trouble is that Dave has presumably been sitting too close to Michael Gove in the canteen and has tried on his relativism-coloured glasses. He's trying to convince himself that everyone's practical objections to the bombs-for-democracy foreign policy are based on the assumption that Iran (in its guise as Saudi Arabia) isn't really all that bad. The knot of the problem here is a confusion between three points of view:

1. Iran's system of government is right. (ie, while we don't want it for itself, it is appropriate for Iran)
2. We have no right to change Iran's government (ie, while it is wrong, there is no justification for interfering in other countries' governments)
3. It would not be right to change Iran's government (ie, we might or might not have the right to interfere in Iran's system of government, but the practical consequences of doing so would make things worse rather than better).

Clearly the Decent argument on 3) has gone down in flames. 1) is the reason why they have such a bug up their arses about Foucault, but 2) is quite irritating for them, because in order to get round it, they have to get over the fact that the Nuremberg conventions and the founding law of the United Nations say what they say and say it for a reason. This is why they are so keen on finding hitherto undiscovered passages in the Genocide Convention, or discovering "duties to protect". It's also why they more or less discount the possibility of domestic revolutionary movements, except when they can be wheeled on stage as backdrop for an oration against "liberals" for being insufficiently supportive. The slavery analogy is instructive here; for Dave, it appears that the Iranians are dumb chattels, sitting around in leg irons and only capable of being liberated by a passing dashing British warship. It is a shame indeed that they didn't teach the slave trade in Gospel Oak in the 1970s, but perhaps a greater one that they didn't teach Toussaint L'Ouverture.

PS: Further to the above, the "Iranian John Humphreys" would probably be Akbar Ganji, an "Iranian democrat" with whom I hereby on behalf of Aaronovitch Watch (incorporating "World of Decency"), express solidarity. He has been in and out of jail and has not been treated well by the regime, but he is still out there plugging away and I am not sure that it is actually all that supportive to pretend that he doesn't exist and that Iran doesn't have an active dissident movement. He does not appear to be all that keen on the idea of a "moral foreign policy" in the sense of the Euston Manifesto.

15 Comments:

Blogger ejh said...

Do delete this comment as it's not really a comment on the piece, but I can't find an email address with which to tell you that you've spelled a surname differently in different parts of the piece.

2/27/2007 10:04:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

a calumny: I have in fact consistently spelled John Humphreys' name wrongly, and then copied and pasted it once.

2/27/2007 11:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about Afghanistan under the Taliban? What about the brief Islamist Somali interlude? What about Saudi Arabia? Just asking.

2/27/2007 03:44:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

Your first two are not currently existent governments and Saudi Arabia is a monarchy. HTH.

2/27/2007 03:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why should they be currently existing governments? And why shouldn't they be monarchies?

2/27/2007 04:18:00 PM  
Anonymous bb said...

Because Islamism is a political movement, and therefore a country can only be called "Islamist" if it has an Islamist government, which Afghanistan, Somalia and Saudi Arabia don't. Now I'm afraid you're going to have to stop being anonymous if you wish to continue this discussion.

2/27/2007 04:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Dr Zen said...

Islamist governments should be monarchies, actually.

And you are wrong about "Islamism". You take the same reductive view as the Nick Cohens of this world (that everything can be labelled just so).

Turkey is currently being governed by an Islamist party, but is secular. Iraq's government is broadly speaking Islamist. Iran has a more complicated system than you allow, although it's fair enough to call it Islamist. Saudi's is Islamist, just not Qutbist. (If you do not think Wahhabists are "Islamists", you are using far too narrow a definition of "Islamism".) The Muslim Brotherhood are not the only Islamists, dude, and Berman is not the only person to have written on "Islamism".

2/28/2007 01:30:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

you're talking rubbish here. At the very least, Islamist has to mean pan-Islamist, and none of your candidates here are.

2/28/2007 08:35:00 AM  
Blogger Catharsis said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2/28/2007 08:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Simon said...

Dr Zen is broadly correct, I think, but 'Islamist cultures' still doesn't make much sense as a term because Aaro is actually referring to 'cultures' which don't necessarily require support for political Islam. In particular, there are Salafists in Saudi Arabia who believe Islam should cut itself off from the political process (and indeed the modern world) entirely, but Aaro's description applies as much to them as it does to the Muslim Brotherhood.

2/28/2007 11:15:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Oh hell; I think I disagree with everyone here. I agree with B2 that '"Islamist cultures" should not be a plural.' But my reasoning is slightly different. 'Islamism' as I understand its usage by Hitchens and others *is* a culture; it's also the defining characteristic of any group one might sensibly (or loyally to language) call 'Islamist'.
However, I think B2 is wrong about Iran being uniquely Islamist. If he were right, Islamism would be a sect of Shi'a Islam because if Iran is unique in any ways, those are it being an Islamic state but not an Arab one, and that it is ruled by Shi'a Muslims, not Sunnis. I think a better candidate for an Islamist state would be Afghanistan under the (Sunni) Taliban, supported by bin Laden (again Sunni). I'm also not certain that Islamists (and the problem may be the term, which is slippery) are persecuted in Saudi Arabia. But then, I haven't read Berman, and all I know Qutb is from Martin Amis.

2/28/2007 09:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Fallhammer said...

Returning to the so-called ludicrous and offensive analogy for a moment, wouldn't it have been better if the British Empire had made war on the USA in the 1820s/30s in order to stop the practice of slavery there?

A tired post-Napoleonic France would have been of little help and the states could have been played off against one another so it would have been pretty easy. Surely?

Under the superior guidance of a unified government with centuries of experience and expertise to draw on, the exploitation of the west of the continent would have proceeded much more efficiently, and we would have avoided the sectarian bloodbath of the 1860s.

Of course, I'm assuming those rascally Mexicans wouldn't have interfered and sponsored some sort of terrorist insurgency. Even so, I'm confident the British armed forces (the best in the worldTM) would have ultimately prevailed.

*wakes up screaming*

3/01/2007 06:25:00 AM  
Anonymous john souray said...

This doesn't help at all, but sometimes a single sentence shines out as brilliantly capturing what it would have taken oneself pages to explain, and then still not done properly.

"It is a shame indeed that they didn't teach the slave trade in Gospel Oak in the 1970s, but perhaps a greater one that they didn't teach Toussaint L'Ouverture."

Superb. I shall treasure that one.

3/02/2007 09:00:00 AM  
Anonymous Lez said...

Tony Blair has never said he agrees or thinks Saudi Arabian culture to be equivalent to western culture. Never, ever, has he said that. Don't give me that crap he said to Jeremy Paxman; that's misreading his words.

Also, John Humphrys clearly didn't understand what democracy means in that interview. Nobody could have listened to that and believed he was refering to the codswallop brushetta boy has infered.

Try harder, kids.

3/05/2007 01:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Simon said...

"Tony Blair has never said he agrees or thinks Saudi Arabian culture to be equivalent to western culture. Never, ever, has he said that."

And nowhere in this thread has anyone alleged he did, so I'm not sure what your point is. BB said, correctly, that Blair does not oppose the current Saudi government, and in fact supports it to the extent of calling off potentially embarrassing criminal investigations concerning it.

3/08/2007 08:13:00 AM  

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