“There is some validity in this critique, and certainly many on the left display an over-simplistic world view. But then so does this commentator, in being distracted from the truth of our illegal and aggressive foreign policy, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people – rather more important than being annoyed by a chap with a beard.”
A Complete Review Of Craig Murray’s Seminar or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Hate The Left
The other night, Bradford University’s Richmond Building was graced with the presence of Craig Murray, the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan is ostensibly a great friend of the UK and the Coallition of the Willing, so dedicated to those noble values of Freedom and Democracy and Justice that when the CIA happens to drop off an individual who may or may not actually be guilty of something, in Tashkent, their security services stop at nothing to drain the suspect of every last drop of information. The standard gamut of what the US euphmeistically refers to as “hard interrogation” techniques are employed, as well as their own homegrown notoriety: the boiling of subjects alive. Either whole or limb by limb. Let Freedom Ring, baby.
So Murray came to Bradford as part of a tour supporting his new book which goes into greater detail about his discovery of this scheme of “extraordinary rendition”, and his subsequent dismissal from his post by the Home Office after he steadfastly refused to be cowed into silence on the matter. Unlike many speakers embraced by the Stop The War movement, Murray speaks with modesty and a cool head. While he does occasionally stray toward conspiracy theorist territory with some of his musings about the motivations for various wars and military strategy, he remains rooted in the overall political mainstream. This granted him a certain credibility that managed to overcome, for example, the faux-blood spattered banner of the Bradford Stop The War Coallition slung haphazardly from the whiteboard behind him. Too bad this credibility has yet to seep into the movement that supports him.
At the end of the evening, Murray opened the floor for a question and answer session. The first participant was a middle aged white man, who stood up and solemnly intoned “I’m going to say something that’s illegal.” At this point I was already thinking “Oh Christ. Here we go. ‘F*ck Tony Blair, down with capitalism. Fight the system, man'”
“You’ll say it’s glorifying terrorism. Victory to Hamas! Victory to the Insurgents in Iraq!”
When I’m angry I typically have two mental states: Quiet seething rage, and Verbose Invective. But I was so stultified by this demonstration of pure idiocy that was I stuck trotally dumb. The brutal tidal wave of deep foolishness pouring from this man’s primary oriphice seemed to knock my brain out of joint, leaving my jaw hanging, useless, totally mute. Before I even had a chance to try to organise my cluster of outraged semi-thoughts into some sort of blistering response at least half the room erupted into spontaneous applause. At that point, hell froze over, the world became a different place and a million and one shrill right-wingers were proved totally correct.
In a room half way up a building at a university famed almost solely for it’s “World Class” Peace Studies department, at a seminar given by a man who spoke out against human rights abuses and general tyranny, invited to speak by the local Stop The War movement, headed by a Christian minister, to a crowd composed of a mixture of interested locals and various Peace Studies personalities, a middle-aged white man can garner enthusiastic applause from the majority of attendies by voicing support for organisations that sanction the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians for their own political and theological ends. It’s the sort of ludicrous scenarios that the likes of Anne Coulter use to scare and entertain their reactionary friends, suggesting that anyone who opposes the war is secretly a terrorist sympathiser. Well, ladies and gentlemen, we got one. And half a room full of people willing to cheer him on.
Personally, I thought the whole world had gone crazy when, in the aftermath of 9/11, almost every politician on the scene enthusastically supported aimless, arbitrary military strikes, effectively to wipe out the idea of anti-Americanism. The notion of fighting ideas with bullets was and is inherantly stupid. But now even the fuzzy liberals have lost the plot, subscribing to the same dangerous insanity of “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” as the authority figures they supposedly rebel against.
I guess this shouldn’t be such a shock. I don’t know about any of you, but I first fell out of love with the anti-war scene when we invaded Iraq. The day after Coallition forces rolled into Baghdad and obliterated the political structure in Iraq, anti-war protestors were on the streets of major cities, demanding the immediate withdrawl of troops from Iraq, blindly clinging to their pacifist ideology despite the obvious chaos that would rein in Iraq if we pulled out just days after removing every semblance of authority. The sort of choas that we see today would have broken out three years ago, and the opportunities we have missed to regain control of the situation would never have existed at all. The irresponsibility of any organisation mounting full-scale protests to forward such an obviously shortsighted and catastrophically dangerous idea shocked me then, and still leaves me unsettled and disillusioned today. The Craig Murray seminar was the first Stop The War event I’d attended for about two years.
Listening to the advertisments for upcoming Stop The War events announced by various movement members it was clear that the problem has gotten worse and not better. One event was some sort of direct action, the creation of a checkpoint on a busy shopping street in Leeds on a Saturday afternoon. Leaving aside the obvious counter-productive nature of attempting to gain support for your cause and educate the masses by irritating the f*ck out of the public, there was a certain breathlessness to the warnings that participants MIGHT BE ARRESTED. Indeed, this was recurrent throughout most of the announcements that dealt with direct action events. The implication was that, in the UK, people get arrested just for speaking their mind. That new laws that make it harder to organise a legal demonstration are the first savage steps on the road to facist tyranny. While there is some grounding to these claims, for example the fact that many police forces are poorly equipped to deal with large-scale protests, or that the bureacracy surrounding holding an event is often unfairly restrictive to organisers, they do not represent a significant infringment of the rights of the protestor. Let’s get a bit of perspective here, shall we? In the UK, if you speak out against the government, you will not be arrested. You may be arrested if you attended a demonstration and things get out of hand. But then what? You’ll be released with a story to tell your friends about police “brutality”, most likely with minor or no charges against you. You’ll go home, see your family, your friends. You’ll feel like a dangerous rebel. Contrast that to places like, oh, say, Uzbekistan, where dissent typically winds up with the dissenter being snatched off the street or from their home, put through a show trial, tortured, and killed. It seemed in extremely bad taste, then, to hear these fanciful exagerations about the nature of political dissent in the UK sharing a forum with a speech about a country where political dissidents face real danger.
If 9/11 sent the right wing into spasms of fundamentalist thinking and deluded group think, then the failure in Iraq has done the same for the left. Increasingly, formerly apolitical individuals are growing extremely dissatisfied with the current political climate. Average citizens are realising that the case for war in Iraq was totally fabricated and that our government has failed to achieve its publically stated aims there. The government’s reluctance to admit the painfully obvious is leading to greater public distrust. This is fantastic, as it provides a real opportunity to open up the political debate and finally move politics out onto the street, rather than keeping it confined to the news studios and smoking rooms. The problem is that as people reject the political “mainstream” in search of answers, the only place they really have to turn is the New Left. Some are turned off by the same outrageous antics that have me so riled up. Others are less savvy. Documentaries like Loose Change sucker people with little political nouse beyond a sence that SOMETHING IS UP into believing proven falsehoods, like that the WTC was brought down by explosives as part of a massive internal conspiracy. Meanwhile, the umbrella nature of Stop The War movement and its ilk foster these fairytales of massive conspiracies and shadowy global cabals with their reluctance to even challenge the more extreme elements within their ranks. The result is that rather than attempting to explain the complex nature of the current political climate, they fall back on simplified interpretations, black and white, good and evil, Palestine and Israel, just as readily as their opposite numbers do over on the right. Just as after 9/11, individuals with no understanding of terrorism or international politics would be heralded for expressing their ill-informed support for nuking large swathes of the Middle East, now in the post-Iraq era we see similar support being given for equally idiotic statements on the left. In place of the swarthy bearded terrorist, there’s the man in the suit, instead of Islam, capitalism, consumerism, the surveilence state. Neither of these visions of the world is remotely useful in forming coherant political policy, as the parade of self-inflicted wounds since 9/11 quite aptly show. The question is, what sort of catastrophy does the anti-war movement have to wander in to before it realises it’s own misguidedness? What will be the Afghanistan of the New Left?
Last month, the Peace Studies department held a departmental debate, focusing on the issue of the polarisation of political discourse with regards to the War on Terror. Ironically, it wasn’t much of a debate; all three speakers, Paul Rogers, Oliver Ramsbottom and John Russell, agreed that there was a lack of moderate voices and that this was ultimately a Bad Thing. The centre ground in politics has traditionally acted as a brake on the more extreme elements of either wing, while also providing an area where compromise and the better suggestions of each side can be explored. The absence of this is felt well beyond simply the debate about terrorism. We now live in the age of fanatiscism, where even mild-mannered preachers, anti-war activists and believers in peace are seemingly unable to forgo choosing sides.