Thursday, May 31, 2007

How to cord

Wow, this is quite freaky. Nearly all the main themes of the Berman article are discussed and addressed in this AW article from March, on the subject of Nick's angry letter to Prospect about getting a nasty review for his book.

We have talked about the "Decent TARDIS on a number of occasions in the past, but I had never before suspected it was an actual vehicle.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Thanks to Simon ...

from the bottom of my heart ... for placing these summaries of the Berman piece in our comments ...

Three pages into the Berman article, I summarise the argument so far as follows:

Lots of decadent western intellectuals, such as Ian Buruma, think that Tariq Ramadan is a 'man we can do business with'. However, he is actually an ultra-conservative and apologist for the Muslim Brotherhood, and specifically its founder (and Ramadan's Grandfather) Hassan al-Banna. The Muslim Brotherhood is more influenced by European fascism than it is by Islam. I will also insinuate that Tariq Ramadan is some form of anti-semite.

I've read the whole thing now, and summarise each page below. It is quite a harrowing experience, which I do not recommend - a kind of compendium of all the worst aspects of Decency in one grisly article.

Page 4:

A number of writers have documented Tariq Ramadan's career from varying perspectives. I am not competent to judge between these accounts, but will nonetheless embark a lengthy exposition of Tariq Ramadan's politico-religious philosophy on the basis of a page or two from one of his books.

Page 5:

Tariq Ramadan is a 'Salafi reformist'. Ian Buruma thinks that this means nice people like Tariq Ramadan, but it also means Bad People like Sayyid Qutb, and Evil Terrorists, whom Tariq Ramadan does not condemn loudly enough. There are some familial and institutional links between Sayyid Qutb and Tariq Ramadan which are of little significance in themselves and which Ian Buruma does not refer to. However, the fact Ian Buruma does not refer to them means Ian Buruma is engaged in some form of conspiracy to disguise the true nature of Tariq Ramadan's views. Like the wily oriental he is, Ramadan disguises his true views behind a fog of ambiguity.

I don't have much understanding of Islamic philosophy, but I do know European political philosophy, and I can tell you that 'Salafi reformism' is a bit like Rousseau.

Page 6:

On the basis of an imprecise English translation of Ramadan's prose, I draw wide-ranging conclusions about his personality and politico-religious philosophy.

Ramadan's book about Muhammad is too favourable to Muhammad, and doesn't make clear enough what an evil anti-semite he was.

Page 7:

There is overwhelming evidence that modern France is anti-semitic. Anti-semitism is the most important racial prejudice in France today.

I insinuate that Tariq Ramadan might be an anti-semite, and that this is a particularly bad thing given the anti-semitism of modern France. Then I change my mind and decide that he isn't an anti-semite and agree with Buruma that he has often spoken out against anti-semitism. I then attack Ian Buruma for suggesting that he is alone among Muslim intellectuals for being opposed to anti-semitism.

Page 8:

French Muslims used to be anti-racist, but now they are sectarian Islamists, and this is Tariq Ramadan's fault. It is also the fault of decadent western intellectuals such as Ian Buruma, who are insufficiently willing to wage the 'battle of ideas'.

The anti-war alliance between Marxists and Islamists is actually very important, and not trivial. The people who marched against war in London in February 2003 were not actually marching against war, but in support of the alliance between the SWP and the MAB.

I draw wide-ranging conclusions about Ian Buruma based on a single sentence from his article in the New York Times Magazine.

Page 9:

Tariq Ramadan says he is against violence, and has repeatedly spoken out against violence. However, based on a tendentious reading of the subtext of a single word he uses in the context of his grandfather's views on Palestinian 'armed resistance', I insinuate that he is actually in favour of violence.

I also point out that he seems quite keen on Yusuf al-Qaradawi, and because al-Qaradawi is in favour of some kinds of violence, that means Tariq Ramadan is too. I therefore feel able to speculate that the allegations that Ramadan has funded terrorism might be true, though without presenting any evidence.

Even though Tariq Ramadan condemns terrorism, he has failed to distance himself from people who have sometimes expressed support for particular kinds of violence in certain specific circumstances. This means he really supports terrorism, sort of.

Page 10:

The ban on headscarves in French schools was introduced to ensure the schools were 'outside Islamist control'. There can be no other explanation for its introduction and no other factors influenced it. Because Tariq Ramadan opposed the law, this means he is on the side of the Islamists, and is an opponent of women's rights.

Tariq Ramadan opposes the stoning of women, but differs from Nicolas Sarkozy as to how the practice might be stopped. He also failed to condemn the practice noisily enough for Nicolas Sarkozy's liking, which means that he probably supports the stoning of women. Why do decadent western intellectuals think that Tariq Ramadan was right not to condemn the stoning of women?

Page 11:

Ian Buruma has criticised Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Why has he done this? Ayaan Hirsi Ali is great.

People who criticise the writing of Ayaan Hirsi Ali are on the same moral level as people who carry out anti-semitic attacks on the streets of Paris. The only appropriate position for a liberal to take on the topic of Ayaan Hirsi Ali is one of unquestioning support. The fact that some liberals are critical of her is a symptom of our decadent western intellectuals' failure to take part in the 'battle of ideas'.

The reason some western liberals criticise Ayaan Hirsi Ali is that they have a racist idea of non-westerners as 'noble savages'.

Both Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton Ash are part of a 'campaign against Ayaan Hirsi Ali', and are thus at the same moral level as the people who carry out anti-semitic attacks on the streets of Paris. Oh, and they are postmodern relativist multiculturalists, obviously.

Page 12:

People who criticise Ayaan Hirsi Ali are doing so because they are racist and opposed to the enlightenment. Timothy Garton Ash is a misogynist.

If one criticises Ayaan Hirsi Ali, one is 'slandering the friends of democracy'. There can be no rational explanation for criticising her.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is unquestionably the heir to the anti-communist dissidents in Eastern Europe during the cold war. Timothy Garton Ash is thus a bit like one of those western intellectuals who admired the Soviet bloc.

I continue to fail to discuss the substance of Ayaan Hirsi Ali's views, or why anyone might want to criticise them, while continuing to assert that her critics are variously racist, illiberal, relativist, anti-enlightenment, and postmodern.

Timothy Garton Ash once praised an Islamic scholar who MEMRI says said something silly about 9/11. This means that Timothy Garton Ash is a relativist and probably an appeaser of suicide terrorism.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is this generation's Salman Rushdie. Tariq Ramadan is an appeaser of suicide bombing.

Decadent western intellectuals are failing to confront Islamism and wage the 'battle of ideas'. In this, they lack the courage and intellectual honesty of Paul Berman.

Is it me, or did it just get wordier and more self-exculpatory in here?

Paul Berman has a 28,000 word essay out about Tariq Ramadan. It is sitting on my monitor like a fat, evil toad, glaring balefully at me. Apparently in order to understand it you first have to read a 10,000 word essay by Ian Buruma. Oh dear god, is there no relent? I will have a go at it this evening. Meanwhile, via Matthew Yglesias, Brian Weatherson on the folly of the Govean "War of Ideas" (note that this concept of Goves, like so much else in "Celsius 7/7" is warmed over Berman), and Joshua Marshall on the general folly of Greatest Intellectual Struggles Of Our Time. So now all told that is about 50,000 words of essays to read. What a fucking day.

On a brighter note, check out offical AW hero of the week, Conor Foley, kicking ass and taking names with respect to the Sunday Nick Cohen article on the Comment About Hay-On-Wye Is Free website. It will be interesting to see how this one plays with the Reader's Editor.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Where's Wolfie?

Nick on Paul Wolfowitz:

The figures don't justify the cost-cutting charge - World Bank lending has risen on Wolfowitz's watch - but I think I understand the roots of the disquiet he generates. Wolfowitz is a conservative who, during his career, has championed democracy in the Philippines and Indonesia, feminism in Iran and opposition to Saddam Hussein in Iraq, causes that were once the preserve of the liberal-left.
Once, when book editors were heaping deserved praise on Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi’s poignant account of educated women suffering under the Iranian mullahs, I managed to silence a literary dinner party for the first and I suspect only time in my life by asking if they realised the 'Paul' Nafisi had dedicated her book to was Paul Wolfowitz.
That aid money shouldn't go to bloated elites is something the liberal-left supports. Indeed, it was James Wolfensohn, Wolfowitz's liberal-minded predecessor who first said that the World Bank must take corruption seriously. Wolfowitz unnerves people because he behaves as if he means it and throws up intractable dilemmas in the process.

What price solidarity now? Would a column on Wolfie hurt so much? Boy, is he getting a bad press. Radaronline:

Spit-shined former deputy secretary of defense and World Bank chief Paul Wolfowitz blames bad press rather than massive ethical and moral lapses for his downfall.

And is superb.

Wolfowitz is a bold break from tradition* blamed the media.

Will no one stand up for the beleaguered World Bank President? The short, portly gentleman.

What could be easier to understand? A highly qualified individual, compelled to leave her job for reasons entirely unconnected to her performance—and forced also to undergo bureaucratic scrutiny of her private life...

Yet this happens quite regularly in public appointments (and in private banks, where conflict of interest is taken seriously): if by private life, Mr Hitchens (for it is he) means family connections and personal investments, having these scrutinised is usually a condition of employment. It's not persecution.

I'm not convinced by Hitchens' argument, nor am I convinced by Wolfowitz's own 'media' defence. But at least Hitchens takes up the fight.

*Warning: irony.

With Thanks To Conor Foley

I see Captain Cabernet has got here before me. The comments on Nick's piece cover far more ground than we can. (I wonder if David Knopfler is the Dire Straits guitarist who isn't Mark.) Conor Foley is very good:

Finally, given that you were asked by the Guardian to do a debate with me on this issue here, and refused, it is rather ironic of you to imply that it is the humanitarians who are too scared to discuss the root causes of the problem.

There are a couple of points which Nick makes which anger me.

A poll of aid agency staff working in Darfur, released by Reuters last week, confirmed that the worse a regime was the less the NGOs say about it. Four-fifths of the men and women on the ground said they dared not talk honestly about the attacks on civilians in western Sudan and two-thirds said they wouldn't mention mass rapes.
Kouchner is an attractive politician because he has never believed that aid workers should see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil. With his appointment, the support for a harder line will grow.

Koucher is not 'on the ground' - he is a good deal safer in the French capital than aid workers are in western Sudan. If NGOs don't mention such things, that might be out of concern for their staff. If Nick really feels these things should be reported - he's the one who has suggested that the difference between journalists (him) and bloggers (us) is the former actually go out and questions. Has he tried asking for a plane ticket and a flak jacket?

I do love the criticism of the Bush administration (which from anyone else would probably be anti-American:

The same thought is occurring to others watching the diplomatic revolution in Paris. Hilary Benn, the International Development Secretary, is delighted that Kouchner's first official act was to say the world has a duty to stop the crimes against humanity in Darfur. So too was Angela Merkel and the Bush administration, which faces public pressure on Darfur far greater than any European government has to cope with. (The Janjaweed's slaughter of Africans has become the great international cause of the black churches.)

Note: Hilary Benn and Angela Merkel have principles. Bush and co are bounced into having some because of public pressure. Though since the MSM refuses to report on Sudan, how do the congregations of black churches know? [Joke]

As so often with Nick's rhetoric, I want to know when France's 'moral stagnation' happened? Is it since the bold days of Robespierre? Or have they been in decline since Vichy? I'm sure if I said that American is morally stagnating, I'd be attacked - and rightly - for anti-Americanism. Though I think the Bush foreign policy is a moral low record (and Carter was pretty much a moral high).

How bad does Nick have to get before the Observer fires him?

All this Decency-watching gets a bit superfluous when papers provide comments boxes and the possibility of instant correction. So it is with a hat-tip to "Damo 70" that I record the following. Nick Cohen:

you will search Cafod's website in vain for condemnations of Zimbabwe, Sudan or any other state that responds to criticism by silencing its critics.

The Cafod website on Zimbabwe:

Zimbabwe’s Government stands accused of oppressing opposing voices, and harming the judiciary and media. There is evidence of a significant number of abuses of basic human rights, widespread corruption, and little respect for senior politicians.

On the Cafod site, Pastoral Letter by the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference on the "Current Crisis of Our Country".

I'll pass on saying anything witty or cutting. The man's a turd.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Axis of Decency

It's been a while since I posted here, and this is as much of a stopgap post as anything (though I may write a longer one later today). I increasingly think that if you want to understand certain aspects of Decency you should check out (I don't say 'read') Francis Wheen's How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered The World (link goes to my own short write-up). For one thing, that book and its theme ('Things are really not what they were once in the land of lost content; the country really has gone to the dogs, what?') and even its essay style (chapters which cover more or unrelated examples of contempory rottenness segued together for the sake of seeming weight) seems the very template of Nick's "You're All Bastards (Even My Mother)."

One of that book's notable bete noirs was astrology. Wheen seemed to think that Paul Feyerabend (dread forrin postmoderenist) defended astrology (a closer reading would reveal that he didn't). Now, Comrade Hitchens has heard the news, it's not in the stars: Astrology Not the Only Cosmic Hoax.

Astrology is widely considered to be discredited because of certain very obvious objections:

1) It gives people the impression that they are the center of the universe and that the constellations are somehow arranged with them in mind.

2) It suggests that there is a supernatural supervision of our daily lives, and that this influence can be detected and expounded by mere humans.

3) It bases itself on the idea that our character and personality are irrevocably formed at the moment of birth or even of conception.

Now, if Wheen or Hitchens were at all aware of Feyerabend or a little more intellectual history, they'd know that the discredit of astrology goes back rather further than the Enlightenment. A bit googling finds this attack with some notable quotes:

Learn not the way of the unbelievers, nor be dismayed at the signs of the stars because the nations are dismayed at them, for the beliefs of these people are false.

Jeremiah Chapter 10 verse 2. But the most celebrated objection I know is summarised here.

[Augustine] is finally convinced that astrology is false, after he hears the story of a rich man and a beggar born at exactly the same moment, so that their horoscopes must be the same.

That's been the core rational objection to astrology - well that along with any explanation of the mechanism of cosmic influence being so airy. I believe that Augustine certainly subscribed to Hitchens' first two objections to astrology and possibly to the third.

Hitchens, Wheen, and Cohen all seem to think that rationality is somehow recent, and that the rot in society set in at some point in their adult lives (Cohen: the left was cool when I were a lad, but look at it now) - though unlike many Daily Mail reactionaries (like Paul Johnson) they don't see these as connected. Further, they seem to view history as not only plastic, but like a dictionary or an atheist's bible: something to have examples selected from, with any context discarded.

I regard astrology as nonsense as well: but Hitchens yet again demonstrates his unfailing talent for finding terrible reasons for coming to his conclusion.

Friday, May 25, 2007


I've added some links to the link list; "The Threat to Reason" is the forthcoming book of Dan Hind, an AW mate. Matthew Turner is also an AW mate and a regular source of material, so now you can get it there before it appears here. "Hitchens Watch" actually started as a joke in the AW comments section, but bloody look at it! It's got a spiffy design and a team and regular posting and everything - it puts us to shame.

Naturally, every single team member explicitly endorses every single word all of these people have ever written, despite the fact that I put up the links without telling them I was going to. That's a joke by the way.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Aaro on Madeleine McCann

Perhaps it's coincidence, perhaps it isn't, but I couldn't help noticing something about Aaro's Madeleine piece. It's a pretty good piece of journalism by the way. Since Diana, the British media have had a real fear of sentimentality, which I think is in many ways a shame, but at least Aaro manages to do it without pissing over the McCann family, which is more than a lot of others have managed. As an example of the rather self-referential genre of covering the coverage, Aaro's piece is way, way better than the pile of crap I have kept seeing over the last couple of weeks, written by (usually male) journalists who think they are terribly clever to be the only ones not to care about a kidnapped child, or that they are terribly brave for being the only ones to say that they don't want to think about it. But, with my close-reading head on[1], I was struck by this paragraph.

But why put a picture of Madeleine in your window, 500 miles from the Algarve? “If I thought it would help show solidarity”, writes one contributor to the BBC website, “why not? I wear a poppy on Remembrance Day, a lapel badge for breast cancer awareness, why not a ribbon for Maddie? So what?” Those who question this are described as “miserable devils”.

Emphasis added by Bruschettaboy. I highlighted "show solidarity" because this phrase is a favourite of Nick Cohen, Brian Brivati, Peter Tatchell and the Decent Left in general (Norman Geras, perhaps interestingly, talks about "solidarity" all the time but doesn't use this specific phrase or its alternative, "demonstrate solidarity"). The Euston Manifesto conference this year is going to be titled "Solidarity and Rights". I think it is fair to say that the Decent Left are, as a group, pretty big on "showing solidarity" and equally keen on calling people "miserable devils" and worse if they don't join in.

But of course, "showing solidarity" with identifiable people, the family of a single little girl, who one might conceivably be able to help a little bit, in response to a specific request from the people affected, is a completely normal human response. If that is to be considered a little bit irrational and sentimental (and maybe it is) and a poor guide to action (and it is), then what about Decent solidarity? "Showing solidarity with Iraqi Democrats" is, quite obviously, peddling the same line of goods as the yellow ribbons for Madeleine, but doing so wholesale instead of retail, with much less actual connection with the people on the ground, and a much larger and more disastrous program for "doing something", much less obviously requested by the people with whom one is "showing solidarity".

This is not a straw man I am creating here - I think all AW readers will be familiar with Nick Cohen's main rhetorical technique of asking people who their Iraqi "comrades" are. It is a big chunk of both "What's Left?" and the "Euston Manifesto" that the wholesale rewriting of international law that they propose is based substantially on the proposition that they have "solidarity" with the victims of the massacres that they ignited and the anti-war Left is deficient in this quality.

So yellow ribbons are pointless symbols, emotional pornography, whatever you like? Do I have to remind everyone about those purple fingers and women in veils, weeping for joy? I was certainly very much moved by the emotions of the Iraqis when they had their elections; there was a nasty current of cynicism on a lot of the anti-war side, but it simply wasn't possible to dismiss all of the local reaction as ersatz. You only had to look at someone like Salaam Pax, who was genuinely thrilled to be involved in them.

But on the other hand, this points out the limitations of "solidarity" as a guide to politics. Worrying about a lost little girl is a form of solidarity that does not demand much in the way of specific political action, whereas the characteristic of Decent solidarity is that it very much does; it can only be expressed through support of the particular program of attempting to build democratic nation states from the ground up, by force if necessary. Salaam Pax himself has long since left the pro-war party; he was only ever a very very equivocal and limited supporter of it in the first place.

Having a genuine regard and respect for the Iraqi democrats does not mean that you check your brains at the door, or that you have to sign up for any political program, or that you have to keep on indulging them forever in hopes that are clearly unrealistic (and the Decent Left have been pushing "solidarity" for a lot longer than poor little Madeleine has been missing. There is still a chance that she is alive, and I'm certainly keeping an eye out because you never know. The prospects for liberal democracy in Iraq, on the other hand, seem a lot less hopeful).

"There are many ways of being “overly helpful”, but all suggest the possibility of guilt", is a very interesting sentence indeed in this context (I don't agree with Aaro's specific claims about prurient interest in the McCann kidnapping and rather wish he hadn't made them. I don't think it's got anything to do with that at all. But the sentence itself is a pearl). "Overly helpful, with the possibility of guilt" is Decentism in a nutshell. A draconian and unworkable agenda, backed by appeals to sentimentality; it's the Megan's Law version of internationalism. This is the emotional pond which the impulse to humanitarian interventionism is fishing in; it's the terrible sense that what's going on the world is both awful and inexorable. The pull of the idea that there is something we can do, that we must do something even if it will most likely be futile (more, even if it will most likely be disastrous) is incredibly strong, because the alternative is that we are as straw dogs.

Interestingly, Aaro himself is a much rarer shower of solidarity, ever; the only reference I can find to the phrase in his journalism is this one, pejoratively, as a rather pretentious locution used by a 21-year-old who was going on a human shield trip, and the one time he's done it on the blog was under the influence of Harry's Place. The "Respect" posse are also very big on "showing solidarity", which confirms me in my opinion that this is a red flag. (As far as I can tell, all the uses of the phrase on AW are sarcastic).

PS: the official Find Madeleine site is here. That little girl might be anywhere in the world by now, including places where we have readers. You never know.

[1]Postmodernism alert: Do Not Place More Weight On This Rhetorical Technique Than Its Government Approved Load-Bearing Capacity. Use Of Words, Concepts Or Social Conventions For Purposes Other Than Those For Which They Were Manufactured May Void Your Warranty. This Language Has No User-Serviceable Parts. Please Consult A Specialist For Further Guidance.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Childish timewasting

In an idle moment I fed "Euston Manifesto" into Google's news search today. Only four hits! Of these, three were from the Guardian's CiF site, so don't really count. Then there was the surprise one, from some Australian site called Crikey. An excerpt:

...for the past few months I’ve been signing up fictional people to the Manifesto’s list of signatories, and so far no-one’s even bothered to check the affiliation, if any, of these members swelling its 2,000+ counter (it used to be 3,000+, but then they removed the automated spam – so "Cathy wants an-l 2" no longer supports UN occupation of Darfur).

I began before Christmas with someone I was sure the moderators would recognise – Ern Malley. OK, it was an Australian hoax, but it went worldwide and snared TS Eliot in its grasp, and surely someone there would twig? Apparently not – the author of The Darkening Ecliptic is still there.

After a few more names with more recent cultural references stayed up without inquiry – even when they listed the same email address – I thought I’d give them a lay-down misere and signed up Daffyd Mallard and "Buzz" Lappin within fifteen minutes of each other.

Now, the Eustonites pride themselves on being the best and brightest – so why did no-one in the bunker have the wit or high school French to see that Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny had signed up to their vision for the 21st century?

Monday, May 21, 2007

Hitchens on Iraqi internally displaced persons

"On the university campuses, you may easily meet Arab Iraqis who have gladly fled Baghdad and Basra for this safe haven"

Gee fucking thanks, Hitch. Next week, Aaronovitch Watch reports on the cosmopolitan nightclubs and funky restaurants of Khartoum, noting that many Darfurians have "gladly fled" there.

This piece of breathless nutriding on Jalal Talabani, leader of the Elvish Cavalry Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, comes via Brian Brivati (who, weirdly, repeatedly misspells "Hitchins"' name (and Michael "Waltzer"?). It's nice to have it out in the open, frankly, a clear indication of the extent to which Kurdish nationalism has been important to the development of modern Decency. As set out in the Hitchens article, the position is:

1) The majority-Kurdish area in Northern Iraq is having an economic mini-boom thanks to waves of foreign investment.

2) Having missed the brunt of the war, it is not yet involved in the civil war as the various factions have chosen to carry out their struggles over oil in Parliament rather than on the ground.

3) Ethnic Kurds are in charge of a disproportionate number of important government posts (and Hitch seems very cavalier in assuming that they are all happy to be implicitly accused of playing ethnic politics)

4) The rest of Iraq is going to shit

5) Hitchens is OK with that.

Brivati doesn't seem to follow Hitch all the way down this lunatic path, but nonetheless seems to be taking it seriously. The "Success in Iraq" line seems to be retreating faster than Comical Ali's platoons here; "What about all the good news in Kurdistan we're not hearing about?" is the direct successor to "What about the good news outside the Sunni triangle we're not hearing about?", which in turn succeeded "What about all the good news from Iraq we're not hearing about?".

Distressingly, both Brian and Hitch seem to use the terms "the Kurdish regions of Iraq", "Iraqi Kurdistan" and plain "Kurdistan" interchangeably. These are of course all fairly loaded terms - "Iraqi Kurdistan" is one which the Kurdistan regional government specifically avoids, because it's rather like "Israeli Palestine". Paradoxically, "Kurdistan" is the least controversial way of referring to the territory controlled by the KRG, because that's what it's always been called. However, there are substantial Turkomen minorities, and Dahuk province has a substantial Arab population. Most importantly of all, of course, Kirkuk (where the oil is) is a place which is not part of historic "Kurdistan" but which has a (bare) Kurdish minority and over which the KRG claims authority, rather controversially.

Basically, like George Galloway has his Palestinians (a romanticised Middle Eastern population who in his mind can do no wrong in their endless struggle against oppression and must be supported unconditionally), Hitchens has his Kurds. Or more specifically, he has his Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which is apparently the only rebel movement in the history of the universe to have never touched civilians (they have, of course; the PUK have historically had a nasty little line in honour killings and enthusiastically contributed to the recruitment problems of the Iraq Worker-Communist Party. They've cleaned up their act since, of course, but why wouldn't they, given that they've had ten years of the USA doing their fighting for them?)

Apparently the issue for the Eustonauts is "one of solidarity - with whom should we feel solidarity in Iraq at this time?". They're having a conference about it, bless. I would not want to pre-empt their discussions, but I would certainly advise AW readers that if they are thinking of betting on the outcome, the answer "a bunch of nice men in suits with Mercedes who keep telling us how much they love the Americans" would have to be the bookies' favourite. Given that the Decent tendency have already managed to convince themselves that the Kosovar Albanians are a progressive force in the world, reducing the Iraq War to a stage in the quest for self-determination of the Kurdish peoples ought to be a doddle. I suspect that Hitchens will be quietly asked to keep his mouth shut about that other Middle Eastern nation-without-a-state that have also been getting the shitty end of the historical stick for the last fifty years though - no need to poison the debate or single anyone out.

In related news, a prime example of the kind of blanket accusations and slander that Norman Geras would like us to believe the Decents don't use:

"Beyond the feelings of anger that so much of the left has embraced the jihadists, there sits the incomprehension I feel that they do not at least also express solidarity with the Kurds and other Iraqis who are being killed. [no, neither do I know why Brian claims that the Kurds are being killed by the insurgency here, given that the rest of his article is about how they aren't - bruschettaboy[1]]

The shibboleth of anti-Americanism pollutes everything, blinds people to the suffering of innocent victims and deludes them as to the nature of the conflict that now engulfs Iraq. It is a conflict unleashed by our mistakes, misjudgments and poor planning, which many think we are prolonging and making worse by our continued presence. I have no idea if that is right or wrong, though I trust the democratically elected government of Iraq to tell us when to go and I hope we do not cut and run before then. But what I would like to see, and what I think the Euston Manifesto stands for, is a renewed sense of solidarity with groups like the Kurds who have grasped their freedom and are making it work, rather than solidarity with groups who walk into schools, kidnap headteachers and murder them."

yup, fuck off, Brian.

[1] I suspect the idea here is that instead of protesting the war now, we ought to be protesting the an-Anfal massacre of 1989. Of course, "the Left" did protest this at the time, but they committed the much great sin of not protesting it 14 years later; in other words, this is "Decent Tardis" politics at work.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Who knew?

Opera singers bouncing about in their underpants are no substitute for a radical programme for political change ....

So writes Nick in today's Observer. What next? Perhaps "purple iPods are no substitute for lemon meringue" or "the off-side law is no substitute for the Sphinx"? Nick thinks "the left" is so over and his evidence is the absurdity of ENO productions and the books he finds on the shelves of the richest people he knows. He's going to struggle for employment even at the Daily Mail at this rate.

Friday, May 18, 2007


Via "Not in my Name", a bunch of YouTube videos featuring Aaro vs Norman Finkelstein on "Are the Israel Lobby Stifling Debate?", live from (I think) the Oxford Union. On the substantive question, I personally take the Flannery O'Connor position.

Update: I suppose that pedants might suggest it is unlikely that "" is the URL of "Not in my name". This is part of the charm of blogs.

Second update: Someone remind me that the next time we find some video to link to we ought to call the post "Lights, Camera, Euston!"

The Week in Decency

Martin Samuel correctly points out that the only appropriate political obituary for Blair is the "Jones the Sheepshagger" joke He is actually a little bit too uncharitable about the genuine achievements of the last ten years; the whole point of that joke (and the analogy) is that Jones was a hard-working and efficient benefactor of mankind, apart from the episode where he degraded honesty in public life and fought an unpopular war.

Nick Cohen gets ripped for smugness over the Hutton Report. It was always a bit odd that the author of "Pretty Decent Guys" suddenly became so certain that Blair hadn't been honest (Update: Presumably I mean "hadn't been dishonest"?). In light of this, his little homilies on journalism versus blogging look a bit embarrassing.

Aaro has done a lifestyle piece. He also wrote his column this week and was rather good on immigration - the analogy between "picking winners" in industrial policy and trying to do the same thing with "skilled worker" programmes is one I've used myself in the past. The only thing I could find to Watch on it is that of course although Gosplan was the target-setting and planning ministry before the war, by the time Dave was visiting it in the 1970s, the detailed business of managing the economy was the responsibility of Gosekonom and Gosplan was precisely the sort of long term "perspective planning" office that Dave thinks we still need. I also don't think he did have an epiphany about central planning in the 70s; he was still a Eurocommunist when he was president of the NUS and CPGB never actually gave up on the planned economy did they?

And while I am unlikely to sign on for Andrew Murray's entire bill of goods any time soon, this on the agonies of Rentoul, is quite entertaining. The Rentoul "Profile in Decency" is in the works. He really is quite the figure.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

From This Week's Tribune Diary

"Nick 'neotrot' Cohen, lately responsible for a lengthy published rant deriding the left for its opposition to the war in Iraq, has been given a dressing down by his mother, for being politically incorrect. Well, it was more than that actually. She gave him a slapping. Mum Maggie was seriously upset at being called a Stalinist in the opening pages of nasty Nick's book. Not least because, when the Cohen family last gathered together to enjoy a jolly Christmas, cowardly Nick failed to mention the reference, or even the book. Maggie, a lifelong leftie, could not contain her feelings when she next saw her son. Although diminutive to Nick's beanstalk propsitions, she let him have one round the chops. 'In all the years they were growing up I never hit the children,' Maggie recently told friends. 'Now I have to do it when he is grown up.'"

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Lights ... action ... sound!

Via Scott McLemee at Crooked Timber, I see that there's now a YouTube channel devoted to the witterings of the Euston Manifestoheads. Be amazed as the daring band of embattled iconoclasts bravely tell Government ministers and MPs from the ruling party how correct their policies have been.

Friday, May 11, 2007


It’s duelling banjos over at the Times, as our Dave and Matthew Parris slug it out over that legacy. And in the course of this, Dave picks out a familiar tune, known to fans as the war in my head could have been so much worse:

The invasion of Iraq has been a disaster, maybe even more of a disaster than not invading would have been. We still don’t know.

In response to which, Matthew reverses the banjo and whacks him over the head with it:

Whether invading Iraq was “even more of a disaster than not invading [you say] we still don’t know.” We do. A disaster, full stop.

That really is the way to do it. Parris adds:

The Iraq debacle was not even (as he likes to insinuate) a bravely unpopular choice. He thought it was going to be the popular choice. He joined the gang of the biggest boy in the playground.

Not enough emphasized, this point. You could see the strain grow on Blair’s face when it began to sink in that he’d have to choose between power and popularity, and that he was losing both in the choosing. Well Dave, you tried for him. The question now is, who next? Are we going to see one of those more in sorrow than in anger pieces about how every true progress minded progressive must, with heavy heart and strictly in the name of progress, lend support – critical support mind – to the fellow with the head like a sweaty cheese and a windmill on his roof?

So, what do we think. Where’s the market for Dave’s particular brand of mandarin emollience and general knowbetterism?

Rioja kid

(PS: fucking "New Blogger". Chardonnay Chap and Captain Chardonnay, if you have any ideas about how to sort out RK's login, now is the time to speak up, love BB)

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The needle returns to the start of the song, and we all sing along like before

And once more, "domestic terrorism has nothing to do with foreign policy". The only act of British foreign policy that Muslims have ever got angry about is our failure to intervene in Bosnia. I really don't know why Aaro bothers with this one - the other Decents will occasionally retreat to it as a refuge in a losing debate, but Aaro keeps on raising it himself. This view of the world is not shared by such noted Gallowayite lefties as Tony Blair, Jack Straw and the Joint Intelligence Committee, all of whom have publicly made the utterly commonsensical point that That Bloody War has, in the words of another member of the bruschetta tendency "painted a great big target on London". And Blair and Straw themselves have also made the IMO less commonsensical point that Al-Qaeda terrorism has a lot to do with the Palestinian question. Dave is trying to act here like he's the voice of common sense but he's not; he's the voice of total denial.

We can note this by the extreme weakness and partiality of the examples he used. Apparently Omar Khyam "went to meetings addressed by Omar Bakri Mohammed" even before 9/11. Well I'm sure he was, but the thing is that there is a bit of a difference between attending seminars and trying to blow up Bluewater. Dave's claim that "if there's a common theme, it is the total absence of British foreign policy also rather relies on ignoring the actual 7/7 bombers; Mohammed Siddique Khan's farewell video certainly mentions it once or twice.

It's a shocker of a column. It is distinctly worse than it was two years ago when it was called "the Grievance", if only because the point of view Dave is arguing against is now so utterly mainstream.

Ironic rephrasing time!

One can only speculate on why Dave seems to get none of this. One possibility is that the politicians and journalists he consults are the same ones who themselves formed an early part of the whole clusterfuck. Another - at a time of struggle with political opponents - may be a lack of willingness to confront the implacable nature of an ideology embarrassingly based on half-arsed Yank imperialism. The third, more hopefully, is a natural and justified desire for the Labour Party to win the next election. That's the one I'm going for, because I still like David Aaronovitch.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Talking Turkey

or not, as the case may be.

I am not terribly keen on the "deafening shameful silence" game, but I would actually be quite interested in hearing what the Decent line might be on the current state of affairs in Turkey. The Islamist rubber is meeting the democratic road, and it looks to me like a genuinely interesting question for the Decent worldview - I had actually been expecting that this might lead to some schisms. But nothing (I have checked Aaro, Nick, Oliver Kamm, Norm, Harry's Place, the Jacksonaut site and the Euston Manifesto blog). I wonder why? My guess is that it is equal parts of the following:

1. Lack of knowledge and a realisation of what trouble shooting their mouths off got them into last time.
2. The fact that the AKP, while genuine Islamists, can't convincingly be portrayed as monsters.
3. The Kurdish Nationalist element among the Decents (Hitchens, also from whom nothing) haven't got much of a steer from their mates yet.
4. Post-Blair ennui and the fact that the whole Decent project seems a bit like last year's model rather than the sort of thing one might want to write a manifesto about.

There is some possibility of a "colour revolution" by the educated middle class in Istanbul (with the tacit approval of the army and the USA), so be ready for the Decents to pipe up and take the credit when it happens.

Update: Marko Attila Hoare, for the Scoopies, comes out in favour of the AKP (see comments). Will this be the direction for the Decent line? I suspect it will - I forgot that the Kurdish element are always going to tend this way because of the Kemalists' horrific record. Expect some infighting from the genuinely Islamophobic wing of Decency ...

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.