Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Who are your comrades????

Many long-time readers will remember this favourite punchline of Nick Cohen's from the early days of the Iraq War, back when the Iraqi National Congress hadn't become an embarrassment yet. The idea was quite common on the Eustonian left, that they were on the right side of history because they had "comrades" among "the Iraqi people" (actually, it turned out, a lot of US-connected expats with next to no popular support, but they didn't know that then[1]). And so, since they stood in "solidarity" with "the Iraqi opposition", the anti-war left were the bad guys who "abandoned the Iraqis".

All the terms in quotes above probably have listings on Decentpedia, but I'm too lazy to check them out. Anyway, Zimbabwe.

As we know, Decents, they love a bit of Zimbabwe intervention. But ... who are their comrades? There is a genuinely representative Zimbabwe opposition movement, and it is the Movement for Democratic Change[2]. And this movement has never been in favour of military or other intervention by external parties - they have asked for political support from South Africa and the SADC and occasionally found useful Decent allies when they weren't getting it, but they've never asked for an invasion. The middle initial of the MDC is not ornamental, and nor does it stand for "Decent"; although many armchair democrats are keen to slag off the Zimbabwean elections and call Mugabe a "dictator", the plain fact of the matter is that the MDC does not share this view and has consistently worked through the deomcratic process there.

Now, Morgan Tsvangirai has been sworn in as Prime Minister in a Government of National Unity. He does not (and indeed has never) want an economic boycott of Zimbabwe, nor does he want economic aid to be withheld from the government of which he is a part. This is not out of some innocent or unserious liberal-left inability to appreciate how bad Mugabe is; it's because he believes that the consequences for the Zimbabwean people would be bad enough to outweigh the potential political benefits. And I really don't see how, from the safety and comfort of the First World, we can possibly be in a position to gainsay him.

At present, Norman Geras (I think) does apparently recognise that this call is the MDC's to make (subject to some not unreasonable Monday morning quarterbacking (and albeit that he's happy to link to this insane piece of crap from Hitchens). All other main Decent outlets don't seem to have staked their claims here, but it's not really as if the swearing-in of Tsvangirai really changes the moral issue. The MDC has been entirely consistent in not wanting an external military intervention, economic sanctions or withholding of aid. The Decents (and indeed, the UK government) have for the most part been consistent in thinking they know better. Where do they get off? Who are their comrades?

[1] I state the fact that they didn't know it, as an empirical statement rather than a normative one - it certainly wasn't for want of us telling them.
[2] Actually it has two factions these days, but they both agree on the key point at issue here.

20 Comments:

Anonymous BenSix said...

Good piece, indeed...

"And so, since they stood in "solidarity" with "the Iraqi opposition", the anti-war left were the bad guys who "abandoned the Iraqis"."

...I remember writing something along those lines (should self-harm more often).

Using an oppressed population as a rhetorical advice is really low. Straight through the bottom of the barrel and into the ground.

2/11/2009 11:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I quite liked Hitchens comment about "The dialectic between 'rogue' and 'failed'" , firstly because it is such a spurious use of the word "dialectic", secondly because he seems to be inventing some new international categories all of his own and pretending they have a special meaning, but thirdly and mostly because it would apply so neatly to Hitchens himself: The question is - Is Hitcchens merely a "failed" commentator, whose intellectual infrastructure has collapsed, or is he in fact a "rogue" commentator, promoting war in the region, thereby necessitating some kind of intervention ?

2/12/2009 08:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your starter for ten . . . Munyaradzi Gwisai, a member of _which_ eeevvviiiil stopper Pomintern (whose London HQ espouses dictator-hugging and opposes wars for democracy, natch) sat for a time as the MDC MP for the Highfields seat in Harare? No conferring.

Chris Williams

PS - when Cohen issued his infamous (pissed-up?) 'cowards' challenge regarding 'who are your comrades?', I immediately replied "The WCPI". Did he respond? Did he cock.

2/12/2009 09:47:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Wasn't it allies rather than comrades?

2/12/2009 09:59:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Hitchens has done something similar before. There was a piece where he tried to argue that every used the word "terrorist" wrongly: we thought it meant the IRA, ETA, Gavrilo Princip, Baader-Meinhof etc. But Hitchens wanted it re-employed to mean "people and states George W Bush is currently against". Old books should be pulped and republished to recognise the correct usage, etc. This is all IIRC, because I can't find the damn thing, the word terrorist being everywhere.

I don't think there's any excuse for not understanding that the "US-connected expats" had "next to no popular support." Chalabi was failed banker, FFS. If the former tankies among the Decents had looked at the history of the Eastern Europe in the 80s, they'd have known that all the popular figures stayed. And there's no reason for thinking that Iraqis would differ from Czechs and Hungarians in that respect. "Yeah, bugger off and hide in the US, come back when it's safe and we'll greet you with rose petals." Who is going to say this?

I've never got this "standing in solidarity" shit. It doesn't seem to require also serving or anything. Boycotting South African goods and especially sport was, IMO, the most successful "solidarity with poor people abroad" campaign in my lifetime, but that took a) actually opposing the government (rather than agreeing with the PM and booing 'the left') b) making an effort (and a lot of people got abusive about this) c) making a bit of a sacrifice and d) worrying if you really were doing the right thing (or were you just making the whole mess even worse).

2/12/2009 10:09:00 AM  
OpenID splinteredsunrise said...

But Chris, as was pointed out on HP Sauce some time ago, the SWP may have a sister organisation in Zim that's been persecuted by Uncle Bob, but it was still objectively pro-Bob because it would hypothetically oppose a US-UK invasion of Zimbabwe that was only really a figment of Alan Mendoza's imagination.

In any case, Mendoza's projected outcome was a national unity government of the MDC and the saner elements of ZANU-PF, minus the Uncle Bob personality cult. It's just that Tsvangirai and the AU wanted to achieve that by negotiation, while Alan and Normski and co wanted to achieve it by war, apparently because that would be less gay.

2/12/2009 10:11:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

If the former tankies among the Decents had looked at the history of the Eastern Europe in the 80s, they'd have known that all the popular figures stayed

To be fair this was slightly easier to do in, say, Eighties Hungary than Nineties Iraq.

2/12/2009 10:45:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

It is true though that even so, a large part of the popularity of Muqtada al-Sadr versus other plausible Shia leaders came from the fact that he hadn't spent the 1995-2003 years of slaughter as a refugee in Iran.

2/12/2009 11:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Decency would appear to see western intervention as a kind of "Deus ex Machina" that comes down from above the stage near the end of the story to resolve all the outstanding dilemmas. I cannot know what Tsvangirai thinks, but few people that I know in southern Africa perceive western intervention in the region as a "Deus ex Machina"; they see it as another potential destabilising force, unpredictable, unaccountable, outside of their control. Their experience of outside interventions (aid, diplomacy, military, commercial) is that it is something outside their control even if it is supposed to be for their benefit. If it goes right, the international community will take the credit; if it goes wrong there is no mechanism to hold the international community to account. People in southern Africa tend to see outside interventions as either self-interested or incompetent, but in either case they cannot control them. It is therefore likely that Tsvangirai sees outside intervention as potentially another complexity in an already complex situation.

Moussaka Man

2/12/2009 12:21:00 PM  
Blogger Mr Kitty said...

Decency, generally, seems to me to be a heady cocktail of “Deus Ex Machina” in practice and theory, fused with the Decency Tardis.

But, what’s fascinating is the sea-change in, particularly, NC’s political standpoint. The ferocity of his anti-war, anti-US stance took that very sharp turn just after the 2003 anti-war demo. If I was extremely cynical I might think that he found a gap in the market along the lines of “Hmm... well SWP marching alongside a bunch of Islamic gay/women haters...Eureka!!!” Then the rest just followed for him, naturally. Because if you haven’t thought things through, then stereotypes are powerful drugs when you are trying to get your ideas together.

They're kind of a thug who gets banged up for GBH, repents (normally via some Road to Damascus journey of self-discovery) and then channels the same violence but now through discourse.

2/12/2009 01:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are any of these "anti-semitism and the Left" pieces actually based on verified acts of verbal or physical abuse, or is it based on "the Left criticise Israel, it must be because of anti-semitism"?

Moussaka Man

PS Martin Jacques comes in at the Staggers, which seems like an improvement to me.

2/12/2009 06:22:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Are any of these "anti-semitism and the Left" pieces actually based on verified acts of verbal or physical abuse, or is it based on "the Left criticise Israel, it must be because of anti-semitism"?

I think that the logic goes like this. At a rally which opposed the Iraeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006, some people chanted 'we are all Hezbollah now'. Some of them might have been left-wing as the rally was organised by the Stop the War Coalition. Ergo, anyone at that rally wasn't there because they thought the Israeli invasion was pointless and unjustifiable, they were there because they actually agree with everything Hezbollah says and thus are all anti-semites. Bear in mind there is also a lot of anecdotal evidence that all 'liberal' dinner parties in Islington are actually Nazi rallies.

It looks now like HP (kerching, but they are the ultimate source of most of these 'teh leftz iz all jewhaterz' claims) are focusing on one, deeply unprovable, claim that the British police were chased by protesters against Israel's invasion of Gaza a couple of months ago, as if it is proof that anyone who didn't support the IDF's onslaught also hates Jews because, er, they 'chased the police'. In fact there's a lot more evidence that the police used illegal and very violent tactics against the protesters.

At root it's all an effort to invalidate the very reasonable opposition to pointless Israeli killings by saying 'yes well you're all jewhaters so we don't have to take your opinions seriously'. Recently on liberalconspiracy David T failed spectacularly to use logic to justify what Israel had did in Gaza. This is why the antisemitism claims are so important, and why so many otherwise right-thinking people buy into them, even though they're unproven and deeply dodgy - just liek the will-you-condemn-a-thons, you force your opponent in debate onto the back foot of saying 'I'm not actually racist' and change the debate from one about foreign policy into a tedious mudslinging match; you can also use that equally tedious 'why the obsessive and suspicious focus on Jews' argument as a way out of having to actually discuss why you support the IDF's pointless killings. The fact that these tactics, designed to limit debate and ultimately silence people, are used by those who pose as 'champions of free speech', is pretty funny really. Or it would be if it wasn't so sad.

i heart teh interwebs.

2/13/2009 08:21:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

He could have tried the same argument that appears in that spectacularly mad letter in the Eye saying that the reason so few Israelis are killed is that they care about their population and protect them. Brilliant.

In practice it more or less always boils down to "why do they talk about Israel but not about other things?". You can't really get to grips with that argument and to be honest you shouldn't try all that hard, since that's the putting-you-on-the-back-foot thing referred to in the post above. The idea is that they should throw accusations at you and you should spend all your time fending them off, which is incidentally rather hard to do when they consist of questions as to what you haven't said.

I did see an attempt to sort-of-theorise this on Crooked Timber some time back when one commenter suggested that it was like the way coded language often takes the place of sheer outright racism in US discourse (a bit like dog-whistle politics) and that the European Left therefore tend to say things about Israel when what it means is Jews, knowing that to say openly what we actually mean would be disastrous. The trouble with this idea (apart from it being substantially mad) is that there's no history to it, no permanent conflict between the European Left and Jewish people based on a legacy of slavery, legal and extra-legal discrimination and social segregation. Which means that in short, it's a nonsense.

However, if there's one thing I've learned from my years otherwise wasted on the internet, it's that an evidence-free claim is often harder to deal with than an evidenced claim, precisely because you can't get to grips with it.

Of course another question would be "why are you obsessed with defending Israel?" but you know, what's the point?

2/13/2009 08:50:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

He could have tried the same argument that appears in that spectacularly mad letter in the Eye saying that the reason so few Israelis are killed is that they care about their population and protect them.

Actually i think he did! or a variant on it - you know, the one about how the only things Israel was firing missiles at were sites where rockets were launched from, which were all in built-up areas (both obviously and demonstrably untrue, even if you only followed the conflict listening to radio 1 newsbeat once a fortnight). It's depressing how many apparently intelligent people resort to these kinds of unprovable and essentially nonsensical claims when faced with reams of well-documented evidence that the IDF does not, in fact, only target the places misiles are launched from and does ,in fact, use human shields, target civilian infrastructure, etc etc. You'd have thought that someone who ostensibly follows the news from Gaza fairly closely wouldn't resort to this kind of thing... But then again, HP has never really been about journalism.

Of course another question would be "why are you obsessed with defending Israel?"

They have a readymade, straight onto the back foot answer for that too - we only do it 'reactively' (even though this is clearly complete bollocks).

The trouble with this idea (apart from it being substantially mad) is that there's no history to it, no permanent conflict between the European Left and Jewish people based on a legacy of slavery, legal and extra-legal discrimination and social segregation. Which means that in short, it's a nonsense.

In a way, this actually serves their purpose. They invent the antisemitism and then they say 'by hating Jews are betraying your left-wing roots of standing with the Jews, Cable Street blah blah blah, true spirit of the left was invading Iraq, blah blah blah'.

2/13/2009 09:14:00 AM  
Blogger FlyingRodent said...

OC, that thread was a pretty illustrative of the loony place David T. and others find themselves in. It was all there - the presentation of one-eyed, highly contentious propositions as fact, the dark hints about "Hamas supporters", the International-Law-That-Lives-In-My-Head, the highly-selective responses to other people's comments that only focus on the bits David thinks he can wedge his usual schtick into...

There's also a bit of a toys-out-of-the-pram moment when David realises that, since he's not at HP, he can't just go off on one about how Teh Left Supports Hamas and sit back while his wingnut pals do their Sheep from 1984 impression.

Go over there and take a look, it's a bit of a shocker all round from Mr. T.

2/13/2009 10:43:00 AM  
Blogger Alex said...

I was trying to debug a new instant messaging system yesterday, and because I once exchanged e-mail with David T (about the Iraqi employees campaign, so only out of duty), I started getting very frequent pop-up presence notifications on my desktop with his likeness attached.

"They put like lidlocks on my eyes...it was real horrorshow". Irregular but constant, so I couldn't blank it out and I was always waiting for the next one. Self administered Lodovico Technique-over-XMPP.

Eventually I abandoned the project and went off to scrub my brain.

2/13/2009 11:41:00 AM  
Blogger FlyingRodent said...

Sheep from 1984

Good God, I'm not doing my hard-earned rep as a well-read wit any good here, am I?

Sheep from Animal Farm, of course. That's enough Orwell references from me, I think.

2/13/2009 12:52:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Go over there and take a look

No.

Not even on a Friday afternoon.

2/13/2009 01:36:00 PM  
Anonymous dd said...

I always think about the "they put military installations next to schools!!!!111!one!" horror line when taking my kids to the playground in Regents' Park, which is not a hundred yards from Albany Street barracks, home of the territorial SAS and the UK's bomb disposal squad. The idea that proper, ethical countries put all of their soldiers in special purpose-built bases miles away from anywhere convenient, is a pretty useful indicator of someone who doesn't have the fuckiest clue what he's talking about.

2/15/2009 11:30:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

And mores the point the barracks there are not 100 yards from a primary school (further down Albany Street)

2/17/2009 01:41:00 PM  

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