Sunday, August 13, 2006

Nick descends further into madness

I confess to being at a bit of loss concerning how to address Nick's latest rant, such is its incoherence. Suffice to say that I’m inclined to agree with one thing he says, namely that “modern technology allows every fool with an internet connection to broadcast his or her ravings”. The ostensible focus of his attack is people who believe in a global Zionist conspiracy. Well, we’re all against nutters. But Nick seems to believe that the denial that there is an international Islamist conspiracy is equivalent to the assertion that the Zionists are behind everything. So Nick has become a nutter too.

Just to make some elementary points: it is surely possible to believe both that there are Islamist fanatics out there, determined on murdering people, and to believe that governments often time “terror alerts” for political reasons and seek to exploit public anxiety about terrorism in order to get more power for themselves. The latest batch of arrests may well have thwarted an Al-Qaeda gang (or some Al-Qaeda wannabes) at the point where they were about to murder thousands of air travellers. We have to take the government’s word for it, for the time being. But past experience – the ricin plot, the people who were supposed to be plotting to explode themselves at football matches – suggests that it may all turn out to be less than originally advertised. And did Home Secretary John Reid know about the plot when he made a speech calling for an extension of powers the day before the alert? Or did the security services come to him some time after he made the speech and tell him that it had become urgent to act without delay? Needless to say, one can entertain private doubts on such matters without thinking for a moment that there might be an international Zionist conspiracy.

So what of the international Islamist one. Here Nick wants to have it both ways. In response to Adam Curtis’s “Power of Nightmares” and its denial that there a “uniquely powerful hidden organisation” behind global terror, Nick remarks sarcastically “This would be news to the people of the Philippines, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq.” Ok, so let’s take Somalia. What does Nick himself say about Somalia in this very same column? “An al-Qaeda style militia has taken power in a putsch in Somalia.” So it isn’t true then, according to Nick himself, that AQ is behind events in Somalia. It would, in fact, be news to the Somalis if they were. What has happened is merely that a movement that resembles AQ in some aspects of its theology has taken power (or partly, anyway). In fact, Nick could have reached for a much better analogy for Somalia, he could have mentioned not AQ – a conspiratorial organization composed of middle-class people in small cells (rather like the Red Army Fraction, sociologically speaking) – but the Taliban. Like the Taliban, the Islamic Courts Movement of Somalia enjoys a measure of popular support because it promises to bring order where previously there was warlordism. Now granted, there’s a downside. No football, music, education for girls etc. But the ICM at least promise a future where life is not nasty, brutish and short (or less so, anyway).

Nick is wrong, then and Adam Curtis is broadly right. When George W. Bush tells us, Nick-style, that “The current crisis is part of a larger struggle between the forces of freedom and the forces of terror in the Middle East” he’s talking nonsense, lumping together sociologically diverse groups, with very different political agendas. The trouble is, of course, that this “war of civilizations” stuff is self-fulfilling. If Nick and George wage war everywhere against what they perceive as a unitary phenomenon then people trying to persuade young men in Walthamstow to blow themselves (and others) to pieces have a good deal of their work done for them. There’s “us” and there’s “them” and “they” are waging war against “us” everywhere. Simple innit?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nurse- the screens!

This latest article is almost as mad as (though far less amusing) the recent classic Harry's Place thread on "objectively terrorist pizza"

I think the captain scores a direct hit in his observation that "he’s talking nonsense, lumping together sociologically diverse groups, with very different political agendas." This insight strikes at the heart of Nick's increasingly bizarre ramblings since 9/11. Nick's essential point is that ideology itself is so powerful that it takes on a life of its own, irrespective of material conditions. We shouldn't look at the sociological background, the social, cultural, economic and historical processes which underpin AQ type groups. It can all be reduced down (a la Berman) to these particularly powerful ideologies.

To me this is deeply reductionist and anti-intellectual. Ideas gain roots and momentum because of particular social and material conditions.

Furthermore Nick always makes the dreadful error of assuming that all Islamic militants share a unified and identical ideology. So he makes the claim (in previous articles) that the 7/7, Madrid, Bali bombers all have an identical worldview to OBL. In other words all these attacks were committed because the perpetrators wanted to establish a global caliphate. But many of these radical groups have quite different motivations and aims, as anyone who has studied Islamic militancy beyond reading “Terror and Liberalism” cannot fail to be aware.

Nick went out on such a limb over supporting the Iraq war (gaining on the way a number of very odd fellow travelers) that he has had to make an increasingly outlandish and ill-informed set of arguments to buttress his original miscalculation.

The trouble is the inconsistencies, cracks and logical fallacies are now too large for most people to ignore.

8/13/2006 01:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I rather like the fact that you chaps are ordinarily almost as literate, sometimes more so, than those of us paid to write. It's so refreshing against the backdrop of the barely-literate 'blogosphere' and there's something reassuring about your high standards too. For some reason those high standards mean I worry less about quite how much time you boys spend dissecting others' articles.

I was shocked, therefore, to see "suffice to say" sneak into this piece--that's a nasty one.

Come along now. You weren't that shocked by Nick's piece that we can accept that sort of thing.

Give us back our top-class Aaronovitch Watch and keep up the good work!

8/13/2006 09:29:00 PM  
Blogger Sonic said...

It is odd seeing the melt-down of the pro-war left. Their latest conspiracy theory, that the media is faking reports from lebanon to make Israel look bad, is as off the wall as the 9-11 was carried out by George Bush gang

I do like this though

". In a shameful contrast to every mass leftish movement of the last two centuries, the wave of protest against George W Bush has not produced one new radical leader of moral and intellectual distinction."

Unlike on the pro-war side where we have, er, I'll get back to you on that.

8/14/2006 01:58:00 AM  
Blogger Captain Cabernet said...

Is "the fan club" American? Minimal research this morning suggests that American grammar books are especially hung up about "suffice to say" but that we Brits think it's ok. I'd happily take an authoritative ruling from BB or the Cous Cous Kid (or JD if you're back from Ireland).

8/14/2006 07:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Have you seen Max Hasting's article in todays Guardian?

It makes the same point that you and I have about how Bush's and Nick's amalgamation of diverse groups into one big Islamic threat is so similar to the AQ narrative of the West waging war on Islam.

"Bush has chosen to lump together all violent Muslim opposition to what he perceives as western interests everywhere in the world, as part of a single conspiracy. He is indifferent to the huge variance of interests that drives the Taliban in Afghanistan, insurgents in Iraq, Hamas and Hizbullah fighting the Israelis. He simply identifies them as common enemies of the United States.

There is no chance that the west will get anywhere with the Muslim world until the US government is willing to disassemble a spread of grievances in widely diverse societies, examine them as separate components, and treat each on its merits. America cannot prevail through the mere deployment of superior wealth and military power, the failure of which is manifest. Judicious and discriminatory political judgments are fundamental, and today quite lacking.

The madness of Bush's policy is that he has made a wilful choice to amalgamate the grossly irrational, totalitarian and homicidal objectives of al-Qaida with the just claims of Palestinians and grievances of Iraqis. His remarks on Saturday invite Muslims who sympathise with Hamas or reject Iraq's occupation or merely aspire to grow opium in Afghanistan to make common cause with Bin Laden.

If the United States insists upon regarding all Muslim opponents of its foreign policies as a homogeneous enemy then that is what they become. The Muslim radicals' "single narrative" portrays the entire course of history as a Christian and Jewish plot against Islam.",,1843841,00.html

What's so fascinating for me- and ultimately so depressing is that Nick, who really is a person of the left, rather than a shameless opportunist like Aaro, actually now sounds absolutely identical to Blair or Bush on this issue.

8/14/2006 09:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Suffice to say that "suffice to say" sounds fine to this Brit. You don't want to trim your house style policy to the unreasonable demands of US commenters -- it's the interests of Aarowatch as a whole that should determine that sort of thing. Besides, US types say "I could care less" instead of "I couldn't care less," thereby saying the exact opposite of what they mean. And they always miss " concerned" off the end of their "as far as..." clauses. And... I could go on.

Having said that, I'm not entirely comfortable with "determined on murdering." Surely "determined to murder" is more felicitous? It's hell-bent on murdering.

Ah yes, the content. Spot on, it seems to me.

8/14/2006 01:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I checked "suffice to say" in Fowler's and it's not even mentioned. However. I know that the Cap'n owns a Mac, and Macs have "Stickies" which are very wonderful. (There may be something similar on Windows now, but they were new when I converted. They're post it notes lookalikes on the Desktop.) This is the whole of one of mine.

1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

"Suffice to say" passes the British English test, but fails the "Politics and the English Language" one. "The Fan Club" -- now look what you've started.

8/14/2006 01:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Suffice to say" does not fail Orwell's test. It's not a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech; it's just an expression. You might as well stigmatise "now look what you've started." BD: Now look what you've started.

8/14/2006 07:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it's a stock phrase, and if one was writing a lapidary essay for the New Yorker, one would probably edit it out (I suspect that "lapidary essay" would also bite the dust). But it's at least a fairly stylish stock phrase and google search reveals that we don't overuse it.

8/15/2006 08:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good point same anon.

8/15/2006 02:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alas, chaps, I am as English as a glass of warm beer in the freckled, untanned hand of a fair man standing on a village green (and so on ...) You're all rather quick with the anti-American sentiments aren't you? I spent a charming month in Cape Cod. It's really rather lovely and the people at least as pleasant, thoughtful and literate as those in Hertfordshire.

I am pleased to note the affection we share for 'Politics and the English Language'--the first text I made undergraduates read before tutoring them.

There's some discussion of "suffice (it) to say" in 'Between You and I' which is an acceptable, if populist, contribution to the literature. I very much doubt Fowler would degrade himself with discussing so tawdry a phrase.

Suffice it to say (sic) I was pleased with the discussion this generated and urge you to continue to devote such swathes of your time to this important website and maintaining your high standards.

Keep up the good work! If you had a paypal donate button, I'd be very happy to support the site.


8/18/2006 11:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I aplogise for the link's not working (there's a gerund to provoke some conversation ...)

Here it is again

8/18/2006 11:31:00 AM  
Blogger Captain Cabernet said...

Suffice to say that the fact that the book has an introduction by that self-important wanker John Humphrys means I shall not be buying it.

8/18/2006 01:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with that sentiment, Captain Cabernet--he really is insufferable, isn't he? I have dined with him and he's no better in person.

The book, however, is acceptable. Glance at it when you're next in Foyles* if you can't bring yourself to buy it.

*the original Foyles shop sign had the apostrophe after the "e" (though was founded by two brothers) but no apostrophe is used today.

Have a great weekend! I am really looking forward to reading Sunday comments by the chaps here on Nick Cohen's Observer piece.

8/18/2006 09:30:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home