I’m getting very tired of the division of the world into “right wing” and “left wing”. It seems to me to be a false dichotomy.
In fact if you listen to the average person, they usually hold a wide variety of views reaching right across the political spectrum.
Often they are anti-immigration (a right wing position) but at the same time they are also quite likely to be sceptical of government propaganda and as vehemently opposed to British participation in foreign adventures in the Middle East as any member of the SWP.
In fact it is entirely possible to hold two entirely contradictory ideas in your head at the same time.
William Blake said: “Do what you will, this world’s a fiction and is made of contradiction.”
I always agree with William Blake.
The reason people are against large numbers of people from other parts of the world coming to Britain is that they fear the effects of mass immigration on our culture and way of life and are worried about the strain on our already fragile and underfunded welfare state.
This is an entirely understandable view. If you can’t get to see your doctor without an appointment and are forced to sit in a waiting room full of people from other cultures, with all their different languages and dress-codes, so that you begin to feel like a stranger in your own country, then you are highly likely to be annoyed and offended at this.
This doesn’t make you a racist. It makes you a concerned citizen worried about the future of the NHS. After all, it was your parents and grandparents who helped to create the institution and you and your peers who have continued to fund it through your National Insurance contributions.
You can see that the NHS is in crisis, and you naturally blame it on the immigrants.
And even as the welfare budget is being cut, and austerity is biting into our public services, making them increasingly unstable, so you see more and more people from all over the world descending on our country, including people from parts of the world from which terrorism seems to emanate, from the Middle East and North Africa, and you fear for the future.
It’s not surprising that many British people feel discomfort at the sight of people wearing Islamic dress on the streets of our towns and cities.
It is not normal for British women to wear veils covering their faces, or for British men to wear shirts down to their knees.
We look at these signs of difference in a world that is becoming increasingly dangerous, and we make an entirely natural associative leap.
Wasn’t it people like these who hijacked planes on 9/11 and flew them into the World Trade Centre in New York, killing thousands of people? Wasn’t it British born Muslims who, deluded by by some unfathomable alien philosophy, slung rucksacks full of explosives over their shoulders and, stepping onto packed trains and buses at rush hour on 7/7, detonated them, blowing themselves to pieces and killing and wounding hundreds of innocent civilians at the same time?
People haven’t forgotten that.
Wasn’t it Muslims who murdered tourists in Bali in 2002, or who raided the rail terminal in Mumbai in 2008 and then holed up in a hotel for several days before being killed? And it was Muslims too – wasn’t it? – who murdered those cartoonists in Paris over irreverent depictions of the prophet Mohammed and who took part in the most recent attacks on that great historic city and bastion of Western civilisation and culture.
And in all these cases, it was civilians they were going for. Soft targets. Ordinary men and women going about their daily business.
It’s no wonder people feel afraid and angry, and conflicted in their views.
Some people think it is right we are blowing up Isis positions in Syria. Other people, seeing the waves of refugees pouring across the borders of Europe, think that we need to re-evaluate our strategies; but no one really knows what to do.
These are dangerous times, and we all feel the anxiety of the age, and fear the dangers massing over every horizon.
So, to answer my own question: wasn’t it people like these, meaning everyday Muslims, who were responsible for the spate of terrorist atrocities plaguing our world?
And the answer is no: emphatically no!
Yes, they were Muslims, but they were not like other Muslims. We cannot blame the average Muslim for these acts of violence, any more than we can can blame the average Christian for the violent attacks on abortion clinics by the Army of God in the USA, or the average Brit for extra-judicial drone-killings in the Middle East, or the average American for the use of depleted uranium or white phosphorous in Fallujah.
Violence is everywhere. It has become a sickness which is consuming the human race, and it is always ordinary people who suffer. Ordinary Brits on the streets of London; ordinary French on the streets of Paris; ordinary Syrians in Aleppo or Raqqa; ordinary Iraqis in Fallujah. Ordinary people in towns and cities around the world, going about their daily business and wishing nobody any harm.
I overheard one of my colleagues at work the other day. He was listening to a news report about the prospect of British jets bombing Isis targets in Syria.
“Let’s bomb them,” he said.
I often hear him saying such things.
He’s not a right wing bigot or a racist, although he might be Islamophobic. Many people are Islamophobic these days.
I said, “that’s exactly what they are saying about you right now.”
He turned from his frame and looked at me sceptically. “So what would you do?”
Unfortunately my answer was a lot less succinct than the three words which had summed up his argument.
I said we should cut off their funding. I pointed out that Isis appear to be backed by Turkey, one of our allies. I tried to tell him about the Saudi connection and the Wahhabi ideology which emanates from there. I reminded him of the events that led up to the creation of Isis, about the million or more dead Iraqis and the devastation of that entire country; about Western backing for Islamic extremists in Libya, and the use of militant jihadists to destabilise Syria.
It’s a whole complex argument which isn’t easy to get over when you’re attempting to tie up bundles of mail ready to take out on a busy morning at the Royal Mail.
Suddenly there were other people attempting to intervene. Everyone had a point of view and I was being accosted on all sides. The war in Syria was being linked to the refugee crisis. We were talking about migrants now. Muslim extremists were being conflated with war refugees. I was too busy to answer all the questions, most of which were left dangling in the air. I had other tasks to be getting on with, and had to move away. But the questions kept stirring in my head.
I remembered a quote from Noam Chomsky which I wanted to say to my friend.
“Everybody’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s a really easy way: stop participating in it.”
I didn’t say it though. I realised I would have to explain who Chomsky was.
That’s when it struck me. The division isn’t between the right and the left any more: it’s between the informed and the misinformed.
If you don’t know who Chomsky is, then you are clearly misinformed, and I would advise you to look up the name right now. It is a measure of the failure of our media to present all sides of the question that so many people, particularly in the West, are entirely ignorant of the argument, going back to the Vietnam War and beyond, and articulated most clearly by Chomsky, that the United States is, in fact, a global expansionist Empire.
Without knowing that you cannot possibly understand the real meaning of the events unfolding in our world today.
So: right wing and left wing.
A bird needs both wings to fly.
We need both eyes to see in depth, both legs to stand firm, both arms to hold on to the things we love and both hands to pray.
Sometimes great writers can be right wing: like Rudyard Kipling or Evelyn Waugh. Or Dostoevsky. He was so right wing he was virtually a fascist. But when you read his novels, the work is utterly sublime: deliberately ambiguous, contradictory, ironic, darkly humorous, vast, insightful, and with an ability to look into the murkiest corridors of the human heart and still find redemption there.
There is nothing inherently moral about being on the Left.
Anyone who engages in politics knows that there are always grey areas, always more than one side to every question, always arguments and counter arguments, always half-truths and half-lies, and seeming truths that turn out to be lies in the end. The left has murdered as many people as the right. It is the certainty of your beliefs and your willingness to use violence to propagate them that is the real killer. The question has to be, not: “are you left wing or right wing?” but “are you quiet enough in your own heart to truly listen to what other people have to say?”
Are you willing to hear the beating of the human heart even amongst your enemies?
Hilary Benn’s speech to Parliament, stating his agreement with the government over airstrikes in Syria, came precisely from the Left.
It was an eloquent and impassioned speech, full of rhetorical flourishes and catchy phrases, appealing directly to Left history for justification of his stance; and this from a member of a much loved and venerable political family who we all associate with progressive politics.
It was applauded on both sides of the House, but it was entirely disingenuous.
Only two weeks before he had stated his opposition to airstrikes, saying, in an interview with the Independent on Sunday, that “the most useful contribution we can make is to support as a nation the peace talks that have started. That is the single most important thing we can do.”
We may wonder what changed his mind, and what was going through his heart as he wrote the speech. Ambition, perhaps? The sense that the Labour Party is floundering in deep waters because of its divisions and that it is in need of new leadership? Perhaps he’s been given the nod by people in power, suggesting that if he moves to take the leadership, he will find support. He was given accolades by more than one right wing paper.
One Telegraph headline addressed the speech in very bold terms: “Hilary Benn didn’t just look like the leader of the opposition,” it said. “He looked like the Prime Minister.”
It sounded like the paper was setting out its stall in any future election for the leadership of the Labour Party.
Meanwhile, only a few days later, the Telegraph carried another article: this one by Adam Holloway MP.
It was called “In Syria, Britain is Making the Same Mistakes All Over Again.”
Adam Holloway is a Tory, and voted against the government in the same debate.
Here are the opening lines:
Since 1984, when I was an 18-year-old spending part of my gap year with the Afghan resistance to the Russians, I have seen wars in Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. And throughout those years, as a schoolboy, a soldier, an ITN reporter and a Parliamentarian, I have learned the blindingly obvious: the problems of these countries only get fixed when you fix the broken politics.
And yet for the last 15 years I have watched British governments join or create international “coalitions” that have used military force without understanding what drives each conflict on the ground. This ignorance has had disastrous consequences for tens of millions of people in the Middle East and North Africa.
Isil is a combination of a heady theo-fascist ideology colliding with the hard reality of Sunni discontent. It is Syrian Sunnis and Iraqi Sunnis who make up most of what we think of as Isil in those Shia-run countries. The main effort should be towards separating these populations from Isil; additional bombers are a bit further down the “to-do” list.
I recommend the article as a thoughtful and honest attempt to deal with the situation in Syria. It stands as a useful rebuke to the 66 Labour MPs who voted for the war, and a reminder that what we need is compromise and intelligence, not grandstanding and propaganda.
I would also recommend this dismantling of the Prime Minister’s “delusional” case for war by Peter Hitchens (a grumpy old right wing maverick if ever there was one): and this article by Peter Oborne in the Mail, as right wing a paper as you can get.
So there you go: rhetoric from the Left and truth from the Right.
Blair was a great speech maker too, as was Hilary’s wise old dad, Tony. I wonder what the elder Benn would have made of his son’s intervention in the debate?
I also wonder if Hilary would have dared make the same speech if his dad had still been alive?
Now here’s the truth. We are being lied to. We are being lied to systematically and consistently, with knowledge and aforethought, by our politicians and our friends in the media.
At the start of every war there have been lies, whether it’s babies thrown out of incubators in Kuwait City, weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the imminent slaughter of civilians in Libya, or the 70,000 troops on the ground only waiting for British airstrikes to begin massing on the borders of Isis-controlled territory, in preparation for a coordinated attack.
Lies, lies, lies.
None of it is true. None of it was ever true. All of it is spun, in one way or another, by missing out essential facts, or by exaggerating certain elements, by twisting and turning the story this way and that, to create a narrative of “us” against “them”. Us, the noble West, with our civilisation and our values, against them, the evil and tyrannical forces of destruction, the mad jihadists with their death cult, out to kill us. Never mind that Isis have killed more Muslims than they have Westerners, by a factor of hundreds, or that we have been supporting terrorist groups all along in our quest to secure the supply of Middle Eastern oil. The West had been itching to get into Syria long before the Isis threat gave it the excuse it needed. We have been stoking the fires of discontent, inserting jihadists into a volatile situation, funding and supporting terrorists, and telling a whole string of lies; or, if not telling the lies ourselves, allowing our agents in the country to tell the lies and us leaping upon them with a ferocious appetite for vengeance and war.
So there was a massacre in Houla that was blamed on Assad which may have been perpetrated by the rebels, and then a red-line event in Ghouta, with accusations of the use of chemical weapons. But according to Seymour Hersh in a celebrated article for the London Review of Books, it probably wasn’t the Syrian government who made the attack, it probably was one of the rebel groups, aided by Turkey and the United States; and all the while it’s made out as a black and white issue, so if you question the narrative they call you an appeaser or an Assad supporter, saying that you defend tyrants and murderers.
You’re either with us or you’re against us. Both the United States and Isis tell us that.
And despite the fact the report on chemical weapons may well have been false, we still hear casual commentators in the media referring to Assad and his chemical weapons attack as if it was an established fact.
Which is not to say that Assad isn’t a brutal dictator or that no massacres have taken place. It’s just that brutal dictators are the norm, and we support and then drop dictators in regular succession depending on how useful they are, and consistently overlook massacres when they are carried out by allies as opposed to official enemies.
War is a dirty business and everyone is killing everyone else.
Saddam, too, was a brutal dictator who we supported, and then turned on when it served our purpose.
Manuel Noriega was a brutal dictator, who was also a notorious drug smuggler. We supported him too for a while, until he attempted to nationalise the Panama Canal, when he became a sudden enemy.
We continue to support dictatorships in Kazakhstan and in Azerbaijan and in other countries of the old Soviet Union on the borders of Russia and all over the world, as well as autocratic monarchies in the Middle East, in Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia, in particular, is a corrupt, venal and hypocritical nation. What other country on the whole planet is named after its ruling family, the House of Saud, whose members drink, whore, take drugs and philander even as they lay down the restrictive rules of Islam on their population? It is almost as violent and fundamentalist as Isis, and, in fact, the source of that narrow and backward-looking form of Islam on which Isis feeds.
And yet we are allied to Saudi Arabia, even as British made weapons are finding their way into Syria through Saudi backed rebel groups, some of which are hardly distinguishable from Isis, and some members of whom may turn tail at any time and go to join Isis, taking our weapons with them.
It’s an unedifying process: us fighting one form of terrorism, while backing others, destabilising some dictators, while supporting others, calling out official enemies for their crimes, while ignoring those of our allies, and generally interfering in the Middle East, despite the evidence from previous escapades that we only ever bring chaos and destruction.
And meanwhile, of course, all that spare money which has been generated through the government’s austerity programme, and which had previously been squandered on such unimportant and trivial things as public services, can now be redirected to where the Tories have always thought it belonged: in the pockets of their friends in the arms industry.