Monday, March 19, 2007

Nick overdramatizes

Nick in the Observer eight days ago:

In the end, a journalist on Index on Censorship passed one [a copy of Clareification] to me as if he were a Soviet dissident circulating a samizdat. He said I could read it on condition that The Observer didn't run photographs of its pages.

Padraig Reidy on the Observer letters page yesterday:

While I enjoyed Nick Cohen's column last week, I was a little surprised to be likened to 'a Soviet dissident handing over a samizdat'. I happily shared a copy of the issue of Clarification with him, and I asked that he not reproduce the inside pages out of respect for the source who originally supplied me with the 'controversial' student publication.


Anonymous Peter said...


Bad news, one of my favourite blogs, Crooked Timber, has just admitted a paragon of "decency" to it's membership: Michael Bérubé.

It is perhaps fitting that this comment is appended to a post about Nick Cohen, since Michael Bérubé buys into the same decent view that the "decents" have about the opposition to the war.

Take this for example:

Remember, just because Arundhati Roy, for all her many virtues, says you have to support the Iraqi resistance, that doesn’t make it true! She’s not the boss of you. Roy frames it this way: you can’t dictate what form the Iraqi resistance will take (quite true), and therefore you have no choice but to support whatever form it takes (not true at all). All I’ll say for today is this: the Iraqi resistance is not the French resistance (not by a long shot), and it’s not the Vietnamese National Liberation Front, either. It’s the job of thinking leftists to make these calls one by one. Mine is this: though I wholeheartedly opposed this disastrous war, the battle of the so-called Iraqi maquis is not “my” battle."

This sort of thing plays straight into the hands of people like Nick Cohen and his appalling book What's Left. Another of my blogs joins "World of Decency".


3/20/2007 09:19:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

That's not really quite the same view as the Decents, is it? it's not my view, for instance, but it's not the view of Cohen or Harry's Disgrace either. They would call Roy a friend of terrorism and a apologist for decapitation.

Crooked Timber has its moments but it can be unbearably dull.

3/20/2007 11:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Peter said...

I think you are being too kind there, while some of the decents are completely off the wall, Michael Bérubé's position seems not dissimilar to the ridiculous Euston Manifesto - which also suggested one could be against the war and not for the resistance.

By drawing attention to people like Roy, Bérubé provides cover for the modern day imperialism - just like the Euston Manifesto does. Even worse, Bérubé is trying to make a broader point about the left's international leadership, which he is in no position to make.

3/20/2007 12:19:00 PM  
Anonymous bruschettaboy said...

Berube fails the central test for membership of the "Decent Left"; he isn't an ass about it, and (after reading Peter Tatchell's latest essay in Decentiya) I have concluded that the founding principle of Decency is the negation of the old proverb "no need to be an arsehole about it".

My personal view is that it is more or less impossible for anyone whose only sources of information are the English-language media to say anything at all about the "Iraqi resistance", even if that term has a referent, because it is absolutely crystal clear that there is far more disinformation about the subject than information. I don't support the blowing up of markets, but there is some fundamental level at which I do think it's silly to pretend that only eeevil Islamism could motivate someone to take a potshot at foreign troops walking around their home town.

3/20/2007 12:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Peter said...

I agree with you that it is ridiculous for us in the West to complain about the blowing up of markets or other such events. We just don't know what is going on over there, and it is clearly in the interests of the occupying powers to have such atrocities occuring. How can we be sure that is is the resistance?

Neither should we attempt to make judgements about the nature of a national liberation movement, when we ourselves cannot control our own troops (Haditha etc.).

Still I disagree with you about Bérubé, giving ammunition to decents, even if he isn't one, like that in the blog post I linked to shows a fatal character flaw in this struggle against Western Imperialism. Why take the effort to attack those who can influence the popular view of this illegal war (which has become almost genocidal in terms of the numbers killed since 2003), when the real issue should be getting troops out now.

Like you say bruschettaboy, Crooked Timber might be unbearably dull at times, but at least people over there like Chris Bertram, Daniel Davies and John Quiggin made efforts not to undermine the anti-war with fatuous blog posts about the views of people like Roy. It is just so unecessary - though hopefully he'll be kept on the straight and narrow.

3/20/2007 12:42:00 PM  
Blogger splinteredsunrise said...

In re the samizdat thing: is this another sign of Nick morphing into Peter Hitchens? One of Pete's more endearing foibles being to compare himself to a Soviet dissident in his numerous columns, wireless and TV broadcasts, blog etc.

Come to think of it, has anyone seen Nick and Pete in the same place?

3/20/2007 01:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Marc Mulholland said...

A reasonable position is to argue that there are elements in the insurgency which, while not terribly pleasant, can and should be negotiated with. A fairly stable broad-based administration is only likely to emerge if the current Iraqi government can cobble something together with the neo-baathist types, which will mean the Yanks and the Brits leaving without much permanent infuence to show for their efforts.

To suggest, however, that the Baghdad regime is a colonial façade without substantial legitimacy amongst the Shiites, or that the insurgency is 'national liberation' rather than mostly Sunni sectarian, is precisely the kind of 'anti-imperialist' tripe that the Decents are quite right to lambaste.

It should go without saying that the market-bombers are reactionary fanatics who should never be allowed anywhere near power.

3/20/2007 02:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Peter said...

It should go without saying that the market-bombers are reactionary fanatics who should never be allowed anywhere near power.

Come on, they wouldn't be able to do the bombings if it wasn't for the decents egging Bush and Blair on. And they also argued on a similar basis that Saddam shouldn't be left in power.

It isn't up to us to decide how the Iraqis should resist, they have to make their own way. Next you'll be arguing that the surge is sensible in order to keep the insurgents out of power, and that we should be listening to the US stooge Ban Ki-Moon who wants the world to stand in solidarity with the puppet regime in Iraq.

The clear point is there are two options in Iraq.

Firstly, that Iraq fails and the US retreats with a bloody nose utterly discrediting the US and preventing them from any future military action. The whole anti-war movement has been based around trying to prevent future military attacks. It is in all our interests that Iraq fails - not that we can extract much joy from this - personally I think the Saddam regime was at least stable in the regime.

The other option is that the government of Iraq does start to stick and create security. If this happens it will be possible for Bush to extract some sort of "victory" from the debacle and therefore endanger other regimes. The decents will be gleeful.

You should decide which side you are on, because there isn't a middle way out of this. Some people realise this, even if they don't put it quite like I do.

3/20/2007 03:32:00 PM  
Anonymous bruschettaboy said...

It isn't up to us to decide how the Iraqis should resist, they have to make their own way.

sorry, Peter, I know what you're trying to say here (specifically, I think you're making the distinction between anti-occupation insurgency and sectarian death squads which is often ignored), but in so far as there is an AW party line, it is that we have a stonking great hard-on for the Geneva Conventions and insist that belligerents in a war follow them. That means no bombing markets, no matter how useful anyone thinks it might be to the cause.

I've flirted with your "the worse, the better" argument in the past, as has Matthew Parris, and I think Nick Cohen is wrong to pretend that it is in some way intrinsically morally corrupt, but I don't agree with it. I don't think that the political benefit from Iraq being a failure is anything like certain or quantifiable enough to justify the real, current and horrific cost. If this all worked like clockwork and we could be sure that blowing up a marketplace now would be guaranteed to prevent war in Iran in a year's time, then there would be a very difficult utilitarian calculation (which the Decents would, of course, spit on us all for making). but the world doesn't work like that. This is the core principle of my opposition to the war - that when there is any doubt at all, the benefit needs to be given to the side that isn't proposing to kill civilians.

3/20/2007 03:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Simon said...

Hmmm. It seems to me that "peter" is probably a trolling Decentist, who is aware that some AW contributors are also CT contributors and is trying to draw "moral equivalence" between CT and the kind of people who think it is a dandy idea for Iraqis to blow people up in street markets.

Admittedly he is trolling in an unusually long-winded manner, but perhaps that's because he isn't a busy man.

3/20/2007 04:03:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

which also suggested one could be against the war and not for the resistance.

Well, one can be (though I'm not) and many people are. Thing about the Eustonites though is that they had this position not of being against the war and not for the resistance, but of being against the war but then for the occupation when it started. This doesn't seem to make any sense to me - there's no point in booing the Americans until they reach the middle of Baghdad and then cheering for them.

Like you say bruschettaboy, Crooked Timber might be unbearably dull at times

It was me. The other gentleman was far too polite.

To suggest, however, that the Baghdad regime is a colonial façade without substantial legitimacy amongst the Shiites, or that the insurgency is 'national liberation' rather than mostly Sunni sectarian, is precisely the kind of 'anti-imperialist' tripe

Couple of questions this raises, Marc:

1. Don't many régimes installed by colonialism have some sort of legitimacy among much of the population? Isn't that in fact part of the idea, that you find a government that a proportion of the population will support and thereby engage in divide-and-rule? Of course it's not that simple, but is it ever?

2. Aren't many resistance movement actually not "national rsistance" movement of a classic kind (if I may use that term) but movements either having a strong ethnic/religious/political colouration or even being largely motivated by those considerations rather than national liberation as such?

I mention this because it may be true that some antiwar people are trying to play this as if it were Vietnam all over again (rather than just bearing some strong resemblances to that conflict) and hence "victory to the resistance" standing in for "victory to the NLF". But it's also true that some of their critics may be trying to imagine that past anticolonial conflicts were very different to this one when in fact they weren't - there were plenty of vile people and movements fighting the colonialists and many of them had motivations very far from national liberation.

3/20/2007 08:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Peter said...

No, I'm not a troll!

It has to be accepted that without the resistance in Iraq, and I accept that it takes various forms - some of which are very reactionary, that the current level of disapproval over Iraq would be much lower.

Imagine the situation that Bush and Blair would be in if there were no car bombings or atrocities, and the nascent democracy in Iraq was as strong as they had hoped it would have been. They would be unassailable now, and Blair would have continued with his increasing appetite for military intervention - and all that entails, in the case of Iraq hundreds of thousands dead.

It isn't that we have any control over the form a resistance takes in any country, so we can only go off the results it brings. We all, I presume, want troops out of Iraq immediately, and every bomb that goes off in Iraq makes the Democrats case for withdrawal easier. We don't have to say we approve of such bombings, and I would condemn the chlorine attacks - through I find it laughable that they were performed by Al Qaeda. However, that doesn't mean we should be unwilling to accept the benefits of the resistance.

The post above this about Tatchell illustrates this well when it talks about Darfur. Iraq's troubles have weakened the case for intervention there, and the US being stretched in Iraq also means Iran cannot be controlled like Libya was immediately post-invasion of Iraq.

For that reason I find blanket condemnation of those who have supported the resistance difficult to understand.

3/20/2007 09:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Peter said...

I should have linked to this excellent discussion about the issue at Lenin's Place:

People, whether in Iraq or Palestine or Lebanon or Haiti or wherever you like, have no right of self-defense against the empire. Self-defense is uniformly, almost without exception, thuggery and barbarism and criminality and gangsterism and fanatical cruelty and a tyranny in waiting. And the strategy for accomplishing this is precisely to talk about the methods these evil-doers use to forestall all discussion. They are bombers, head-choppers, child-killers. They value human life so cheaply that they sacrifice their own and those of innocent bystanders, because of God or funny ideas about the Twelfth Imam. They have car bombs and chlorine bombs and hostages. They make video nasties and chant verses from the Quran. Blood-spattered footage is their ensign. Indeed, they become the cause of the occupation, the reason for it necessity. In a phrase, the cause of occupation is fighting against the occupation. If only they'd stop trying to force us to leave, we would leave. There are many, many excellent reasons to deprive people of the right of self-defense, and the best one will never cease to be their putative endless depravity and irrationality. Which in its turn licenses and unreasoning blinness to the depravity of the occupation and to the realities of resistance.

3/20/2007 09:24:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

Peter, this is the normal Leninology mixture of sense and nonsense. The crucial move in the conjuring trick is this one:

And the strategy for accomplishing this is precisely to talk about the methods these evil-doers use to forestall all discussion. They are bombers, head-choppers, child-killers

there really isn't any discussion to have on the subject of putting bombs in marketplaces, and so there's nothing to forestall.

3/20/2007 11:41:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

BB - except isn't LT's point (made in various postings over time) that the people who commit those atrocities are only a small proportion of the resistance (if we may use that term, which I agree is problematic) but they are normally taken to be representative?

There are obviously a number of possible rejoinders to that but I think it's worth stating the position properly in the first place if it is to be criticised.

[Declaration of interest: I have posting rights on LT, though in a somewhat detached manner since I'm neither a member nor supporter of the political organisation to which it is attached.]

Incidentally - surely there is a "discussion to have on the subject of putting bombs in marketplaces"? Pontecorvo clearly thought so when he made The Battle of Algiers (the scene where the discoteque is bombed).

3/21/2007 08:12:00 AM  

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