Its not often I get the chance to speak in person to readers of this blog but over the weekend I was chatting with someone who (secretly) has been reading the site for several months and who made a comment that prompted some thought on my part:
“I’d enjoy it a lot more if you stopped going on about the anti-war movement all the time,” he said.
Travelling home on the train I thought about that. I asked myself – am I becoming a bore who is banging on and on about the Stoppers at the expense of more pressing issues? Is it time to ‘let go’ and ‘move on’?
If I were a newspaper columnist I suspect my editor might have asked me to ‘broaden out’ a little more in case readers get a little tired of the same arguments being rehashed week after week. But I’m not getting paid for this, I don’t have an editor and I have the luxury of being able to write here about whatever I want.
And the problem is that the issue just won’t go away will it?
The Iraq war really is still defining politics and debate across the spectrum. The Hutton report, the BBC, Blair’s position even discussions about new plays being put on at the National Theatre. It is impossible to escape the issue and few people on either side of the debate appear willing to let the matter drop.
Every day there is another article in the liberal press that pretends to deal with the Iraq war while blissfully ignoring the startling relevant facts that the Ba’athists have been removed from power, Saddam has been captured and that Iraq, horrible mess that it undoubtedly is, has begun on the long and difficult road to democracy. It was an unnecessary war says one anti-war columnist today.
The Unnecessary Liberation – what a perfect title for one of the next hundred anti-war books.
Those in the anti-war movement who are not cheering on the killers of their ‘resistance’ instead pretend that the daily tragedies are the inevitable result of unnecassarily bringing down a fascist government. Or, as we have seen this week, they celebrate their shameful, pathetic demonstrations of a year ago as though they were events that everyone on the left recalls with a warm feeling. Oh the excited thought that in twenty years time we’ll all be recalling February 15, “the day when a million people were on the streets” with the same smug nostalgia as the 68ers. Or not as the case may be.
So how can the anti-war movement, whether the activist wing in the Stoppers or RESPECT Coalition or the media wing brought to you on a daily basis in the Guardian and Independent, really be ignored by those of us who took issue with them over a year ago?
Was it all merely a difference of opinion between comrades best forgotten (Don’t mention the war?) or have we now passed the point of no return with that section of the left who suddenly discovered that ‘stablity’ and ‘legality’ were the new watchwords of the revolution?
Has the anti-war movement, in all its guises, managed one gesture, one single little attempt at dealing with the criticisms it has faced from the left? They had a chance to take at least a step in the right direction when their demonstration against George Bush was preceeded by the slaughter of innocent British and Turkish workers in Istanbul. All they needed to do was to simply reflect for a moment on their priorities, maybe include some moment of thought for the victims of actually existing terrorism in their street ‘carnival’ but they couldn’t do it. Instead, before the dead had even been buried they were leaping around Trafalgar Square declaring that George Bush was the World’s Number One Terrorist. Oh and of course there was their insulting but ultimately perfectly self-defining Bush statue toppling stunt.
Let it go? Move on?
Perhaps I am partialy to blame though.
After all no-one made me go to the audio section of the RESPECT Coalition’s website and listen to George Galloway sounding like a man firmly in the tradition of ex-Labour MP’s who get carried away by their attraction to foreign dictators. No one made me listen to his little joke about suicide bombers or to the sycophantic crowd laughing along. And now I know what one reader meant when he said he felt sick in his stomach listening to Galloway perform in front of his SWP fan club.
The idea of common ground, of putting the past behind us when the likes of Galloway are scurrying around the country demanding a million quid for a million votes, is hard to contemplate.
We did try the common ground approach though didn’t we? When Saddam’s regime was toppled and the official part of the war was over people like Johann Hari wrote that surely it was time for the anti-war movement to transform themselves into an Iraqi solidarity campaign, making sure that a commitment to democracy in the country was kept to.
And what was the reply from the media leaders of the anti-war movement, those journalists who take to the platform at demonstrations and meetings, who travel the world selling their books? John Pilger and Tariq Ali announced that far from support democracy in Iraq, far from put the war behind us, the left should ally themselves with terrorists and clerical fascists.
And that’s really the heart of the problem. We are not dealing anymore with some difference of opinion within the left, some dispute over the ‘line’, instead we are finally realising that we are not on the same side at all.
We are as far from each other as those on the left who in 1956 saw the Soviet tanks in Budapest as the defenders of socialism and their opponents who supported the oppressed Hungarian people.
I’ve made that analogy before but I really think it is an apt one. You cannot get a more stark and clearer confirmation that you are on different sides than in an armed struggle.
Of course not all of the anti-war movement supports the ‘resistance’ Many apparently disagree with the likes of Ali, Pilger and their supporters in Stop the War. But you can hardly hear the dissent can you?
And instead of support for the terrorists and religious fanatics, we get as a supposedly more palatable alternative a feigned disinterest, a neutral approach to the struggle in Iraq as though the battle between the forces of democracy and those of oppression is something people, left-wing or otherwise, can remain detached from.
Which might, just might, be acceptable if this were some minor dispute on the other side of the world. But everyone knows that the struggle in Iraq, is not just an armed conflict between terrorists and the US army. It is a conflict which clearly has an international dimension, which is connected to struggles elsewhere and the outcome will have a very real impact on the streets of many other places.
As Christopher Hitchens put it recently: “You should not believe for a second that you watch all this as non-participants.”
So my reply to the complaining reader who wishes I would move on is this – sorry, but we are all still involved.