One view of a recent debate at Trinity College, Dublin from Clifford May, a somewhat neo-conservative character…
From The News Tribune
We had gathered at the venerable University Philosophical Society of Trinity College in Dublin to debate the resolution: “This house believes that George W. Bush is a danger to world stability.”
But those tasked with defending the resolution were disinclined even to discuss what they clearly considered gross understatement. Instead, Patrick Cockburn, a British journalist, began by angrily accusing the United States of embarking on an “old-fashioned imperial war” in Iraq and beyond. As for terrorism, that he dismissed as “something people believe in like they believe in witchcraft. What does it mean?”
Though he was unsure of terrorism’s definition, he harbored no doubts about who was responsible for it. President Bush, he said, “is not fighting terrorism, he is provoking it.” This brought vigorous applause from the students assembled in the stately hall.
Richard Downes, an Irish journalist, recited Humpty Dumpty. His point was that Iraq had been broken by Bush, whom he called a “maniacal egg killer.” This evoked gales of laughter. He called the U.S. military “astonishingly incompetent.”
Craig J. Murray, formerly British ambassador to Uzbekistan, asserted that the crimes committed by that country’s rulers are “subsidized by the government of George W. Bush.” Bush has done this, he said, for the benefit of Enron. The goal of Americans, he instructed the students, is to “get at the oil and gas so they can guzzle it.”
He added: “George Bush talks directly to God. He is the most dangerous religiously inspired fanatic in the world.” This, too, brought an enthusiastic ovation.
Tim Llewellyn, a former BBC Middle East bureau chief, began by charging that in Iraq there have been “more casualties of civilians by Americans than by insurgents.” He announced: “George Bush is a threat to world peace on so many levels we can’t begin to discuss it.”
So he didn’t try. Instead, he turned to the topic that really fires him up: Israel. Yasser Arafat, he said, had been correct to reject the offer of Palestinian statehood made at Camp David in 2000 because it was “a pro-Zionist type of approach.” In other words, it would have allowed the Jewish state to survive. He clearly found that a distasteful prospect.
I was not surprised. At dinner before the debate, he’d noted that he had heard a BBC host cut off a caller who wanted to discuss Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s threat to “wipe Israel off the map.” The caller didn’t see what was so terrible about this idea and didn’t understand why British Prime Minister Tony Blair had felt obliged to denounce it. Llewellyn lamented that there now seems to be a taboo against expressing such opinions.
In addition to these invited speakers, a number of students took the lectern. Among them was Chris, an American, who pleaded that “the current regime in America is not my America. Bush doesn’t represent my America. … We’ve lost our way.” On a personal note, he confessed that he had watched Fox News. “I know I shouldn’t be doing that,” he said.
On the other side of this debate, there were just two: myself and Charlie Wolf, an American-born, London-based radio-talk-show host. Wolf was so flabbergasted by the attacks on America and Israel that he threw away his notes on global stability and attempted to improvise rebuttals.
As for me, I did address the resolution. I had given it some thought and I hate it when my thoughts – rare as they are – go to waste. I then went on to challenge a little of what I had been hearing.
I criticized Cockburn and others in the media for having failed to report extensively on Saddam Hussein’s mass murders and routine use of rape, torture and ethnic cleansing. Cockburn got so angry that he approached the podium and for a few moments it appeared he might take a swing at me.
I told Llewellyn – politely, but to his face – that he was an anti-Semite. That term, I explained, used to mean those who wanted a Europe with no Jewish population; today, it means those who want a world with no Jewish state.
The moderator of the debate, Charlie Bird, an Irish TV reporter, made no effort to disguise his sympathies – they were not with anyone who would defend Bush. But he effusively praised the apologetic American student – perhaps he thought that would help bridge geographic and political divides.
Finally, Bird noted that next week the Society would debate whether militant Islamism is a legitimate form of resistance to American hegemony. While I’ll be sorry to miss that event, I have a hunch how it will turn out.