Anti Fascism

“Expiation of shame through massacre”

Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker writes about the July 7 London attacks:

In the absence of fear, what asserted itself was, simply, tradition—a habit of responding shaped not only by memories of the Blitz but, more acutely, by the I.R.A. bombings of the past three decades, which were random and deadly… And without the corrosive presence of fear the argument about what had happened in London became, very quickly, starker, blunter, and more faceted than the argument has been allowed to be in America [after 9/11]… The London argument pits not left against right but the old right and the old left against the Thatcherite right and the Blairite left. And, while in America the argument that a war on terror might not be “winnable,” or that the terrorists might not be madmen but shrewd and calculating militants with a clear cause, has often seemed almost unsayable, everyone in London was either offering it or offering a refutation of it.

One early casualty, for instance, was “The Power of Nightmares,” an influential three-part BBC series that argued that Al Qaeda does not exist, except as a kind of collective hallucination on the part of American neoconservatives. This hypothesis, and, with it, the theory that the terrorist threat was manufactured or hyped, had become extremely powerful on the respectable left. To be fair, the show’s producers never argued that there were no Islamist terrorists—their argument was, instead, that there was no coördinated network of terrorists run by an old Man of the Mountain in hiding. But the popular, anti-Blair, dinner-table view had long ago become that the terrorist threat was exaggerated, or that it wasn’t immediate. That view was destroyed in a morning.

Yet the antiwar left (and right) did not hesitate to blame Blair and Bush for what had happened in London. The bizarre left-wing M.P. George Galloway was the first off the mark, insisting within hours that the bombings were the inevitable payback for the war in Iraq. He was so clearly lacking in tact and a sense of fitness that no one took him seriously. But serious people quickly made the same argument; as early as Friday morning, journalists like Tariq Ali, in the Guardian, were saying flatly that what had happened had happened because Britain was in Iraq. The United States and Britain began the war in Iraq with the certainty, the argument goes, that they would cause many civilian casualties in pursuit of their political goal, and that the response, however brutal and inhumane, is part of the normal calculations of organized violence.

Against this argument is the view that the new kind of terrorism is essentially nihilist and apocalyptic, and that Iraq is only a kind of inchoate excuse. “After all, the African embassy bombings happened before Iraq,” Mark Urban, the diplomatic editor of the BBC program “Newsnight,” said. “The I.R.A. had a political arm, and a political goal, however unreal: they killed to get people to the table. What is there to negotiate with these people? An end to the American presence in Saudi Arabia? All right, we’ll consider it. The elimination of the State of Israel? Hmm, that may be a bit more difficult. The restoration of a universal Islamic caliphate? It may be a bit of a deal-breaker, that. This is not a program, really. It’s a wraparound justification for a violence whose real end is the expiation of shame through massacre.”

I’m not sure I understand the difference between the “Thatcherite right” and the “old right,” or what makes Tariq Ali more “serious” than George Galloway. But I think Gopnik raises some good points. And the quote from Mark Urban raises my opinion of the BBC– at least for now.