Jan 2002 Journal

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My country, wrong or wrong

Since the 1980s Britain has sent its servicemen into five areas of conflict: the Falklands, the Gulf, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. In each instance, the government’s actions were strenuously opposed by a vociferous anti-war lobby – which is par for the course in a democracy. Nonetheless, the uncomfortable truth that in so doing the ‘peaceniks’ played into the hands of Messrs Galtieri, Saddam Hussein, Karadzic, Milosevic, Mullah Omar and bin Laden ought not to be swept under the carpet.

In the 1920s a book called The Treason of the Clerks (Clerks: those capable of writing) charged intellectuals with dereliction of their duty to society. It is a moot point whether one can charge a journalist anti-war campaigner with treasonable malice aforethought, or only with deliberate misinformation. During the action against Serbia, for instance, some journalists drew a parallel between targeted NATO air strikes on Belgrade and what the Luftwaffe had done to that city in 1940.

In the current war on terror, government critics have been spewing out serial misinformation: ‘Afghanistan, graveyard of a British army in the nineteenth century, and of a Russian one in the twentieth century, is a rock-girt no-go-area’; ‘Air raids on Kabul will only solidify popular support for the Taliban’; ‘If you kill one terrorist a hundred will take his place’; ‘Bombing Afghanistan will turn a billion Muslims into inveterate enemies of the West’; and so forth.

All these ‘self-evident truths’ turned out to be fallacious. The last-mentioned one is actually a half-truth. If most UK Muslims oppose the Afghan campaign, it is due to self-induced double myopia. They do not yet realise that Allied bombing freed a nation from the Taliban yoke. Nor do they appreciate that the allegedly Islamophobic USA intervened militarily on the Muslim side in Bosnia, Kosovo and Somalia!

As for the notion of global Muslim solidarity – that is also a highly questionable concept. Leaving aside periodic unifying spasms of anti-Western (and anti-Israeli) hysteria, Islam is riven by deep fissures. Blood-encrusted fault lines separate tribes not only in Afghanistan but also in Syria, Algeria and elsewhere. Iraq and Iran fought the longest major war since 1945, while the millennial Sunni-Shi’a rift dwarfs all other inter-Islamic conflicts.

One wonders what it is that motivates the members of the current anti-war lobby – luminaries such as the Father of the House, two former editors of national newspapers, the UK’s top feminist among others – to peddle their dire predictions. Could it be that the Taliban were right in one respect, at least – when they described the West as hopelessly decadent? Has our decadence reached such a pitch that an aggrieved Chelsea Clinton feels driven to disrupt an anti-war rally of hundreds of Oxford students wilfully blind to the threat of Islamic fanaticism? Could it be that the opinion-formers who peddled the above-mentioned misinformation are so sated with the offerings of Judeo-Christian civilisation that, in a rictus of masochism, they yearn to see the shadow of the barbarian fall across the pleasure gardens of the West?

Murderers, mullahs and mukhthars

While nothing that happened since bears comparison with the horrors of the early 1940s, bin Laden’s war does stir echoes of Hitler’s. The fanatical Taliban are stand-ins for the SS, the Tora Bora mountains recall the ‘Alpine redoubt’ and North-West Pakistan replaces South America as a bolthole for fugitive murderers. In the same way Hitler youths chanted ‘Wir steigen auf zu Kampfgewittern, der Heldentod ist unser Recht’ (We ascend to storms of battle, a hero’s death is our right), Taliban prisoners triggered their own liquidation at Mazar-I-Sharif. An analogy can also be drawn between the wartime silence of the Vatican and the Muslim clergy’s muted condemnation of the 11 September atrocity. Finally, the same antisemitism that fired the Nazis animates al-Qua’eda – and its clones (Hamas, for instance, incorporated The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in its charter).

Critics of Israel often accuse Jewish spokesmen of tarring them with the antisemitic brush. What are we to make of Mayor Livingstone, who, as a devotee of Marx, is surely immune to Judeophobia? He notoriously described the English treatment of Ireland as a “Final Solution spun out over seven centuries”. More recently Red Ken pontificated on what to do with the UK Muslims who had joined the Taliban. They should not, he counselled, be charged with treason, since they had been fired by outrage at Israeli ill-treatment of their Palestinian cousins.

Thus did the mukhtar of London delineate the obligations UK citizenship confers while at the same time reducing the intricacies of Middle East politics to the age-old formula ‘Wer ist schuld? Der Jud’ (The Jews are to blame for everything). Red Ken may not be a card-carrying antisemite, but he is certainly a terrible simplificateur.

next article:Bradford: verdict on multiculturalism