Að þekkja vinstri frá hægri, eða snýst allt i hringi?

Ég fékk senda í tölvupósti í dag tengingu á dálk í Breska blaðinu Guardian.  Dálkur þessi er útdráttur úr bók eftir blaðamanninn Nick Cohen, sem er víst væntanleg snemma í febrúar.

Það er þó nokkuð langt síðan ég hef lesið eitthvað sem ég er meira sammála eða hefur fengið mig til að bíða útkomu bókar, ég held að þessa bók verði ég að lesa.  Það sem lesa má í útdrættinum er feykilega vel skrifað og hittir vel í mark, í það minnsta að mínu mati.

Það er fjallað nokkuð um "pólítíska rétthugsun" og síðan er Íraksstríðið í þungamiðjunni.  Afstaða vinstri manna til baráttunnar í Írak hefur valdið höfundi miklum heilabrotum og skilar hann þeim frá sér að einkar skýran og aðgengilegan hátt.  Hvernig Cohen gerir skýran greinarmun á stuðningi við við stríðið í Írak, og stuðningi við við uppbyggingu í landinu eftir stríð, eða stuðningi við "uppreisnarmenn" í Írak er líka vel þess virði að gefa gaum að.  En best er að lesa útráttinn úr bókinni og mynda sér sínar eigin skoðanir.

En grípum aðeins niður í útdrættinum:

"In the early Seventies, my mother searched the supermarkets for politically reputable citrus fruit. She couldn't buy Seville oranges without indirectly subsidising General Francisco Franco, Spain's fascist dictator. Algarve oranges were no good either, because the slightly less gruesome but equally right-wing dictatorship of Antonio Salazar ruled Portugal. She boycotted the piles of Outspan from South Africa as a protest against apartheid, and although neither America nor Israel was a dictatorship, she wouldn't have Florida or Jaffa oranges in the house because she had no time for then President Richard Nixon or the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

My sisters and I did not know it, but when Franco fell ill in 1975, we were in a race to the death. Either he died of Parkinson's disease or we died of scurvy. Luckily for us and the peoples of Spain, the dictator went first, although he took an unconscionably long time about it.

Thirty years later, I picked up my mother from my sister Natalie's house. Her children were watching a Disney film; The Jungle Book, I think.

'It's funny, Mum,' I said as we drove home, 'but I don't remember seeing any Disney when I was their age.'

'You've only just noticed? We didn't let you watch rubbish from Hollywood corporations.'


'We didn't buy you the Beano either.'

'For God's sake, Mum, what on earth was wrong with the Beano?'

'It was printed by DC Thomson, a non-union firm.'

'Right,' I said.

I was about to mock her but remembered that I had not allowed my son to watch television, even though he was nearly three at the time. I will let him read Beano when he is older - I spoil him, I know - but if its cartoonists were to down their crayons and demand fraternal support, I would probably make him join the picket line.

I come from a land where you can sell out by buying a comic. I come from the left.

I'm not complaining, I had a very happy childhood. Conservatives would call my parents 'politically correct', but there was nothing sour or pinched about our home, and there is a lot to be said for growing up in a household in which everyday decisions about what to buy and what to reject have a moral quality."

"Looking back, I can see that I got that comforting belief from my parents, but it was reinforced by the experience of living through the Thatcher administration, which appeared to reaffirm the left's monopoly of goodness. The embrace first of monetarism and then of the European exchange-rate mechanism produced two recessions, which Conservatives viewed with apparent composure because the lives wrecked by mass unemployment and business failure had the beneficial side-effect of destroying trade-union power. Even when the left of the Eighties was clearly in the wrong - as it was over unilateral nuclear disarmament - it was still good. It may have been dunderheaded to believe that dictators would abandon their weapons systems if Britain abandoned hers, but it wasn't wicked.

Yet for all the loathing of Conservatives I felt, I didn't have to look at modern history to know that it was a fallacy to believe in the superior virtue of the left: my family told me that. My parents joined the Communist Party, but left it in their twenties. My father encouraged me to read Alexander Solzhenitsyn's exposés of the Soviet Union and argue about them at the dinner table. He knew how bad the left could get, but this knowledge did not stop him from remaining very left-wing. He would never have entertained the notion that communism was as bad as fascism. In this, he was typical. Anti-communism was never accepted as the moral equivalent of anti-fascism, not only by my parents but also by the overwhelming majority of liberal-minded people. The left was still morally superior. Even when millions were murdered and tens of millions were enslaved and humiliated, the 'root cause' of crimes beyond the human imagination was the perversion of noble socialist ideals."

"There were many moments in the Thirties when fascists and communists co-operated - the German communists concentrated on attacking the Weimar Republic's democrats and gave Hitler a free run, and Stalin's Soviet Union astonished the world by signing a pact with Nazi Germany in 1939. But after Hitler broke the terms of the alliance in the most spectacular fashion by invading the Soviet Union in 1941, you could rely on nearly all of the left - from nice liberals through to the most compromised Marxists - to oppose the tyrannies of the far right. Consistent anti-fascism added enormously to the left's prestige in the second half of the 20th century. A halo of moral superiority hovered over it because if there was a campaign against racism, religious fanaticism or neo-Nazism, the odds were that its leaders would be men and women of the left. For all the atrocities and follies committed in its name, the left possessed this virtue: it would stand firm against fascism. After the Iraq war, I don't believe that a fair-minded outsider could say it does that any more."

"It is hard to believe now, but Conservative MPs and the Foreign Office apologised for Saddam in those days. Tories excused Farzad's execution with the straight lie that he was an Iranian spy - and one reptilian Thatcherite declared that he 'deserved to be hanged'.

By contrast, Saddam Hussein appalled the liberal left. At leftish meetings in the late Eighties, I heard that Iraq encapsulated all the loathsome hypocrisy of the supposedly 'democratic' West. Here was a blighted land ruled by a terrible regime that followed the example of the European dictatorships of the Thirties. And what did the supposed champions of democracy and human rights in Western governments do? Supported Saddam, that's what they did; sold him arms and covered up his crimes. Fiery socialist MPs denounced Baathism, while playwrights and poets stained the pages of the liberal press with their tears for his victims. Many quoted the words of a brave Iraqi exile called Kanan Makiya. He became a hero of the left because he broke through the previously impenetrable secrecy that covered totalitarian Iraq and described in awful detail how an entire population was compelled to inform on their family and friends or face the consequences. All decent people who wanted to convict the West of subscribing to murderous double standards could justifi ably use his work as evidence for the prosecution.

The apparently sincere commitment to help Iraqis vanished the moment Saddam invaded Kuwait in August 1990 and became America's enemy. At the time, I didn't think about where the left was going. I could denounce the hypocrisy of a West which made excuses for Saddam one minute and called him a 'new Hitler' the next, but I didn't dwell on the equal and opposite hypocrisy of a left which called Saddam a 'new Hitler' one minute and excused him the next. All liberals and leftists remained good people in my mind. Asking hard questions about any of them risked giving aid and comfort to the Conservative enemy and disturbing my own certainties. I would have gone on anti-war demonstrations when the fighting began in 1991, but the sight of Arabs walking around London with badges saying 'Free Kuwait' stopped me. When they asked why it was right to allow Saddam to keep Kuwaitis as his subjects, a part of me conceded that they had a point."

"I got to know members of the Iraqi opposition in London, particularly Iraqi Kurds, whose compatriots were the targets of one of the last genocides of the 20th century. They were democratic socialists whose liberal mindedness extended to opposing the death penalty, even for Saddam Hussein. Obviously, they didn't represent the majority of Iraqi opinion. Equally obviously, they shared the same beliefs as the overwhelming majority of the rich world's liberals and leftists, and deserved our support as they struggled against fascism. Not the authoritarianism of a tinpot dictator, but real fascism: a messianic one-party state; a Great Leader, whose statue was in every town centre and picture on every news bulletin; armies that swept out in unprovoked wars of foreign aggrandisement; and secret policemen who organised the gassing of 'impure' races. The Iraqi leftists were our 'comrades', to use a word that was by then so out of fashion it was archaic.

When the second war against Saddam Hussein came in 2003, they told me there was no other way to remove him. Kanan Makiya was on their side. He was saying the same things about the crimes against humanity of the Baath party he had said 20 years before, but although his arguments had barely changed, the political world around him was unrecognisable. American neoconservatives were his champions now, while the left that had once cheered him denounced him as a traitor.

Everyone I respected in public life was wildly anti-war, and I was struck by how their concern about Iraq didn't extend to the common courtesy of talking to Iraqis. They seemed to have airbrushed from their memories all they had once known about Iraq and every principle of mutual respect they had once upheld.

I supposed their furious indifference was reasonable. They had many good arguments that I would have agreed with in other circumstances. I assumed that once the war was over they would back Iraqis trying to build a democracy, while continuing to pursue Bush and Blair to their graves for what they had done. I waited for a majority of the liberal left to off er qualified support for a new Iraq, and I kept on waiting, because it never happened - not just in Britain, but also in the United States, in Europe, in India, in South America, in South Africa ... in every part of the world where there was a recognisable liberal left. They didn't think again when thousands of Iraqis were slaughtered by 'insurgents' from the Baath party, which wanted to re-establish the dictatorship, and from al-Qaeda, which wanted a godly global empire to repress the rights of democrats, the independent-minded, women and homosexuals. They didn't think again when Iraqis defi ed the death threats and went to vote on new constitutions and governments. Eventually, I grew tired of waiting for a change that was never going to come and resolved to find out what had happened to a left whose benevolence I had taken for granted."

"Why is it that apologies for a militant Islam which stands for everything the liberal left is against come from the liberal left? Why will students hear a leftish postmodern theorist defend the exploitation of women in traditional cultures but not a crusty conservative don? After the American and British wars in Bosnia and Kosovo against Slobodan Milosevic's ethnic cleansers, why were men and women of the left denying the existence of Serb concentration camps? As important, why did a European Union that daily announces its commitment to the liberal principles of human rights and international law do nothing as crimes against humanity took place just over its borders? Why is Palestine a cause for the liberal left, but not China, Sudan, Zimbabwe, the Congo or North Korea? Why, even in the case of Palestine, can't those who say they support the Palestinian cause tell you what type of Palestine they would like to see? After the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington why were you as likely to read that a sinister conspiracy of Jews controlled American or British foreign policy in a superior literary journal as in a neo-Nazi hate sheet? And why after the 7/7 attacks on London did leftish rather than right-wing newspapers run pieces excusing suicide bombers who were inspired by a psychopathic theology from the ultra-right?

In short, why is the world upside down? In the past conservatives made excuses for fascism because they mistakenly saw it as a continuation of their democratic rightwing ideas. Now, overwhelmingly and every where, liberals and leftists are far more likely than conservatives to excuse fascistic governments and movements, with the exception of their native far-right parties. As long as local racists are white, they have no difficulty in opposing them in a manner that would have been recognisable to the traditional left. But give them a foreign far-right movement that is anti-Western and they treat it as at best a distraction and at worst an ally.

A part of the answer is that it isn't at all clear what it means to be on the left at the moment. I doubt if anyone can tell you what a society significantly more left wing than ours would look like and how its economy and government would work (let alone whether a majority of their fellow citizens would want to live there). Socialism, which provided the definition of what it meant to be on the left from the 1880s to the 1980s, is gone. Disgraced by the communists' atrocities and floored by the success of market-based economies, it no longer exists as a coherent programme for government. Even the modest and humane social democratic systems of Europe are under strain and look dreadfully vulnerable.

It is not novel to say that socialism is dead. My argument is that its failure has brought a dark liberation to people who consider themselves to be on the liberal left. It has freed them to go along with any movement however far to the right it may be, as long as it is against the status quo in general and, specifically, America."

"On 15 February 2003 , about a million liberal-minded people marched through London to oppose the overthrow of a fascist regime. It was the biggest protest in British history, but it was dwarfed by the march to oppose the overthrow of a fascist regime in Mussolini's old capital of Rome, where about three million Italians joined what the Guinness Book of Records said was the largest anti-war rally ever. In Madrid, about 650,000 marched to oppose the overthrow of a fascist regime in the biggest demonstration in Spain since the death of General Franco in 1975. In Berlin, the call to oppose the overthrow of a fascist regime brought demonstrators from 300 German towns and cities, some of them old enough to remember when Adolf Hitler ruled from the Reich Chancellery. In Greece, where the previous generation had overthrown a military junta, the police had to fire tear gas at leftists who were so angry at the prospect of a fascist regime being overthrown that they armed themselves with petrol bombs. "

"Saddam Hussein was delighted, and ordered Iraqi television to show the global day of action to its captive audience. The slogan the British marchers carried, 'No war - Freedom for Palestine', might have been written by his foreign ministry. He instructed the citizens of hdad to march and demand that he remain in power. Several thousand went through the streets carrying Kalashnikovs and posters of the Great Leader.

No one knows how many people demonstrated. The BBC estimated between six and 10 million, and anti-war activists tripled that, but no one doubted that these were history's largest co-ordinated demonstrations and that millions, maybe tens of millions, had marched to keep a fascist regime in power.

Afterwards, nothing drove the protesters wilder than sceptics telling them that if they had got what they wanted, they would, in fact, have kept a fascist regime in power. They were good people on the whole, who hadn't thought about the Baath Party. Euan Ferguson, of The Observer, watched the London demonstrators and saw a side of Britain march by that wasn't all bad:

'There were, of course, the usual suspects - the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the Socialist Workers' Party, the anarchists. But even they looked shocked at the number of their fellow marchers: it is safe to say they had never experienced such a mass of humanity. There were nuns, toddlers, barristers, the Eton George Orwell Society. Archaeologists Against War. Walthamstow Catholic Church, the Swaffham Women's Choir and "Notts County Supporters Say Make Love Not War (And a Home Win against Bristol would be Nice)". One group of SWP stalwarts were joined, for the first march in any of their histories, by their mothers. There were country folk and lecturers, dentists and poulterers, a hairdresser from Cardiff and a poet from Cheltenham. I called a friend at two o'clock, who was still making her ponderous way along the Embankment - "It's not a march yet, more of a record shuffle" - and she expressed delight at her first protest. "You wouldn't believe it; there are girls here with good nails and really nice bags."'

Alongside the girls with good nails were thoughtful marchers who had supported the interventions in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan but were aghast at the recklessness of the Iraq adventure. A few recognised that they were making a hideous choice. The South American playwright Ariel Dorfman, who had experienced state terror in General Pinochet's Chile, published a letter to an 'unknown Iraqi' and asked, 'What right does anyone have to deny you and your fellow Iraqis that liberation from tyranny? What right do we have to oppose the war the United States is preparing to wage on your country, if it could indeed result in the ousting of Saddam Hussein?'"

"In fairness to all of those who didn't want to think about the 'occasional genocide' or ask heaven's forgiveness for recommending that the Baath party be left in power, they were right in several respects. The protesters were right to feel that Bush and Blair were manipulating them into war. They weren't necessarily lying, in the lawyerly sense that they were deliberately making up the case for war - nothing that came out in the years afterwards showed that they knew Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction and thought, 'What the hell, we'll pretend he does.'

But they were manipulating the evidence. The post-mortem inquiries in America convicted the US administration of 'collective group think': a self-reinforcing delusion in the White House that shut out contrary information and awkward voices. Lord Butler 's inquiry in Britain showed the Prime Minister turned statements that the Joint Intelligence Committee had hedged with caveats into defi nite warnings of an imminent threat. Before the then Foreign Secretary Robin Cook resigned in protest against the war, he pointed out to Blair that several details in his case that Saddam had chemical weapons couldn't possibly be true. Cook told his special adviser David Mathieson after the meeting that Blair did not know about the detail and didn't seem to want to know either.

'A half truth is a whole lie,' runs the Yiddish proverb, and if democratic leaders are going to take their countries to war, they must be able to level with themselves as well as their electorates. If Blair had levelled with the British people, he would have said that he couldn't be sure if Saddam was armed, and even if he was there was no imminent danger; but here was a chance to remove a disgusting regime and combat the growth in terror by building democracy, and he was going to take it. Instead, he spun and talked about chemical weapons ready to be fired in 45 minutes. If the Labour party had forced Blair to resign, there would have been a rough justice in his political execution.

The war was over soon enough, but the aftermath was a disaster. Generals, diplomats and politicians covered their own backs and stabbed the backs of their colleagues as they piled blame on each other, but for the rest of the world pictures released in 2004 of American guards with pornographic smirks on their faces standing beside the tortured and sexually abused bodies of Iraqis at the Abu Ghraib prison encapsulated their disgust. To those who knew that the Baathists had tens of thousands of people tortured and murdered at Abu Ghraib, the pictures were evidence of sacrilege. It was as if American guards had decided to gas a prisoner in Auschwitz, while their superiors turned a blind eye.

Just as dozens of generals, politicians and diplomats shifted the blame, so journalists and academics produced dozens of books on the troubles of the occupation of Iraq. One point demanded far more attention than it got. Hard-headed and principled Iraqis, who knew all about the ghastly history of their country, failed to understand the appeal of fascism. The y worried about coping with the consequences of totalitarianism when the Baath party was overthrown. They talked about how many people you could reasonably put on trial in a country where the regime had made hundreds of thousands complicit in its crimes against humanity, and wondered about truth and reconciliation commissions and amnesties. They expected the invaders to be met with 'sweets and flowers' and assumed Baathism was dead as a dynamic force. They didn't count on its continuing appeal to the Sunni minority, all too aware that democracy would strip them of their status as Iraq's 'whites'. They didn't wonder what else the servants of the Baath could do if they didn't take up arms: wait around for war crimes trials or revenge from the kin of their victims? Nor did they expect to see Islamist suicide bombers pour into Iraq. Despite vocal assurances from virtually every expert who went on the BBC that such a pact was impossible, Baathists and Islamists formed an alliance against the common enemy of democracy."

"Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, wasn't against elections because he was worried they would be rigged or because he couldn't tolerate American involvement in the political process; he was against democracy in all circumstances. It was 'an evil principle', he said, as he declared a 'fierce war' against all those 'apostates' and 'infidels' who wanted to vote in free elections and the 'demi-idols' who wanted to be elected. Democracy was a 'heresy itself', because it allowed men and women to challenge the laws of God with laws made by parliaments. It was based on 'freedom of religion and belief' and 'freedom of speech' and on 'separation of religion and politics'.

He did not mean it as a compliment. His strategy was to terrorise Iraq's Shia majority. To Sunni Islamists they were heretics, or as Zarqawi put it in his charac teristic language, 'the insurmountable obstacle, the lurking snake, the crafty and malicious scorpion, the spying enemy, and the penetrating venom'. Suicide bombers were to murder them until they turned on the Sunni minority. He explained: 'I mean that targeting and hitting them in [their] religious, political, and military depth will provoke them to show the Sunnis their rabies and bare the teeth of the hidden rancour working in their breasts. If we succeed in dragging them into the arena of sectarian war, it will become possible to awaken the inattentive Sunnis as they feel imminent danger and annihilating death.'

Journalists wondered whether the Americans were puffi ng up Zarqawi's role in the violence - as a foreigner he was a convenient enemy - but they couldn't deny the ferocity of the terror. Like Stalin, Pol Pot and Slobodan Milosevic, they went for the professors and technicians who could make a democratic Iraq work. They murdered Sergio Vieira de Mello, one of the United Nations's bravest officials, and his colleagues; Red Cross workers, politicians, journalists and thousands upon thousands of Iraqis who happened to be in the wrong church or Shia mosque.

How hard was it for opponents of the war to be against that? Unbelievably hard, it turned out. The anti-war movement disgraced itself not because it was against the war in Iraq, but because it could not oppose the counter-revolution once the war was over. A principled left that still had life in it and a liberalism that meant what it said might have remained ferociously critical of the American and British governments while offering support to Iraqis who wanted the freedoms they enjoyed."

"When a war to overthrow Saddam Hussein came, the liberals had two choices. The first was to oppose the war, remain hypercritical of aspects of the Bush administration's policy, but support Iraqis as they struggled to establish a democracy.

The policy of not leaving Iraqis stranded was so clearly the only moral option, it never occurred to me that there could be another choice. I did have an eminent liberal specialist on foreign policy tell me that 'we're just going to have to forget about Saddam's victims', but I thought he was shooting his mouth off in the heat of the moment. From the point of view of the liberals, the only grounds they would have had to concede if they had stuck by their principles in Iraq would have been an acknowledgement that the war had a degree of legitimacy. They would still have been able to say it was catastrophically mismanaged, a provocation to al-Qaeda and all the rest of it. They would still have been able to condemn atrocities by American troops, Guantanamo Bay, and Bush's pushing of the boundaries on torture. They might usefully have linked up with like-minded Iraqis, who wanted international support to fight against the American insistence on privatisation of industries, for instance. All they would have had to accept was that the attempt to build a better Iraq was worthwhile and one to which they could and should make a positive commitment.

A small price to pay; a price all their liberal principles insisted they had a duty to pay. Or so it seemed.

The second choice for the liberals was to do the wrong thing for the right reasons. To look at the Iraqi civilians and the British and American troops who were dying in a war whose central premise had proved to be false, and to go berserk; to allow justifi able anger to propel them into 'binges of posturing and ultra-radicalism' as the Sixties liberals had done when they went off the rails. As one critic characterised the position, they would have to pretend that 'the United States was the problem and Iraq was its problem'. They would have to maintain that the war was not an attempt to break the power of tyranny in a benighted region, but the bloody result of a 'financially driven mania to control Middle Eastern oil, and the faith-driven crusade to batter the crescent with the cross'.

They chose to go berserk."

1. hluti greinarinnar er hér og 2. hlutinn hér.

Allar feitletranir eru blogghöfundar.



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