Sunday, May 06, 2007

Profiles in Decency: Michael Gove

starting off this occasional series, not with John Lloyd as I promised (because I am still plugging through his "What The Media Are Doing To Our Politics" and fuck me it is hard going), but with the Decent Left's favourite Tory. It is not obvious why MG gets sooo much damn love from Aaro, Nick, Oliver Kamm, the Harry's Placers etc etc. He is a Conservative MP, and became one neither by mistake nor out of a sort of Stephen Fryish young fogeyism. He's a Tory, and not a particularly warm or fuzzy one - he's Portillo's biographer, for example. He doesn't like council housing, he does like Rudy Giuliani and he does like education vouchers (Aaronovitch was wholly taken in by this one).

So why is he so popular? Well, partly because of the quite engaging tone of self-deprecating humour in his journalism. But partly because, when it comes to being nasty to our mates the Muslims, Gove really is your man.

This is as far as I can tell Gove's unique selling point in the world of Decent punditry. I have prevaricated and procrastinated for a long time on reviewing "Celsius 7/7" (a paperback edition of which has now come out, proof positive that there is something fundamentally wrong with the publishing industry in this country), for the simple reason that it is such a terrible book (no really. Much worse that "What's Left?". Much worse than "Londonistan".) But here's the guts of that review, the serious point that I wanted to make in it after spending a thousand words excoriating Gove's abysmally sloppy research, idiotic title, highly questionable footnoting style[1] and tendency to introduce twenty page unrelated diatribes in support of the looniest element of Israeli politics at the drop of a hat.

The point is that Gove, as far as I can tell, actually, literally believes that winding up Muslims for the sake of it is an important tactic in the struggle against Islamist terrorism. The British newspapers should have printed those cartoons, and nobody should ever apologise for offending Muslims, because they will take it as "a sign of weakness", which will make them more likely to blow us up. All attempts at dialogue are futile and counterproductive for the same reason. Here's a journalistic version of the same thing. "Defiance" is Gove's main weapon in the war against terrorism; the idea is that the apparatus of the state and the media needs to be brought to bear to tell Muslims 24/7 that they are wrong wrong wrong and bad to boot. I've written elsewhere about how fucking insane I consider this tactic to be.

It's a very influential strand of thought in Decency in the UK (and across the pond, in the shape of the "101st Fighting Keyboarders". By our sheer will and moral strength we will face down the nasty Islamisses and will win the Long War without the need for any messy diplomacy or compromise. The forces of democracy and (neo)liberalism will sweep all before them. It looks terrifyingly like a simple category-mistake - to have inadvertantly thought that "The Greatest Intellectual Struggle Of Our Time" was an actual struggle, rather like a debate at the Oxford Union, rather than a metaphor of some sort. But as far as I can tell, in British intellectual circles, it is Gove who is the source of this fallacy (Nick Cohen, a fellow sufferer from this confusion, credited him with it in their Guardian talk together). He's the Clausewitz of the greatest intellectual struggle of our time.

[1]This sounds like a quibble but it wasn't - the point is that Gove has clearly put together large chunks of his sections on Islamism from secondary sources, most likely "Terror and Liberalism" but does not come anywhere close to admitting it - he cites Paul Berman not at all and Bernard Lewis once on an unrelated point, despite being in possession of huge chunks of quotation from the works of Sayyid Qutb which I frankly do not believe he took from the original works.

8 Comments:

Anonymous Ex Ponto said...

he cites Paul Berman not at all and Bernard Lewis once on an unrelated point, despite being in possession of huge chunks of quotation from the works of Sayyid Qutb which I frankly do not believe he took from the original works.


I have an image of Gove in his Oxford set poring over the works of Qutb with his trusty Arabic dictionary by his side, ready to join battle in the Oxford Union against the forces of darkness.

Obviously Dalrymple's review just about summed up Gove's credibility as a scholar of Islamic terrorism:

(his book is a) "confused epic of simplistic incomprehension" and pointed out that contrary to claims on the book's jacket that Gove was an authority on Islamist terror, he had in fact never lived or travelled in any Islamic country, knew little about Islamic history or theology, and showed no sign of having met or talked to any Muslims" (via wiki, though I did read the original review at the time)

5/06/2007 07:12:00 PM  
Anonymous bruschettaboy said...

Of course something like Gove's worldview is behind a lot of why the Decents love Sarkozy. He called Muslims "racaille"! What a guy! That's how we're going to win!

5/07/2007 11:49:00 AM  
Anonymous rioja kid said...

People have refernced Ulster Unionism here before, notably in the composition of the HJS. I think this is another example of the same sort of thing in the sense that his attitude towards Muslims is redolent of good old fashioned anti-papism, a kind of global counter-enlightenment project with a core potential membership of every muslim. We on the other hand are the enlightenment tribe and must never surrender.

5/07/2007 05:48:00 PM  
Blogger splinteredsunrise said...

And yes, Gove has always been on the Scotto-Orange wing of Toryism. I was just recently reading (in Fortnight) a piece by Gary Kent on how to beat terrorism, where Gary skirts very close to identifying the Provos with AQ, and had a similar thought.

5/08/2007 02:23:00 PM  
Anonymous redpesto said...

And yes, Gove has always been on the Scotto-Orange wing of Toryism. I was just recently reading (in Fortnight) a piece by Gary Kent on how to beat terrorism, where Gary skirts very close to identifying the Provos with AQ, and had a similar thought.

Didn't some Unionists (Trimble?) try that line in the light of 9/11? Given today's events, the analogy obviously didn't catch on (though having the Good Friday Agreement in place obviously helped). Either that, or it implies that you can negotiate with terrorists, even AQ. Ooops!

5/08/2007 06:09:00 PM  
Anonymous anti-Decentism said...

What about the picture that accompanies his columns in the Times? The contrived 'tough-guy' look... My word.

Why are these people desperate to be 'tough' or sound 'tough'? And apparently Gove is afraid of flying :-)

5/09/2007 12:10:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

If you can hear the term "Michael Gove" without immediately thinking of the word "unctuous" you're doing better than I am.

5/09/2007 07:37:00 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

"Unctuous"?

Surely s/b "cuntuous"?

5/10/2007 04:33:00 PM  

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