Could do better

I have to say that this is, unfortunately, a classic example of the thinking of the academic blog Crooked Timber – a site noted for its inability to take a stand on any major issue whilst never ceasing to look down its collective nose at those who do.

CT blogger John Quiggin feels the need to announce that he will not sign the Unite Against Terror statement because some journalists he disagrees with have already signed up and because it focuses on Islamist terror at the expense of the IRA.

Oh and also because he somehow has convinced himself that: The implication of the statement, read as a whole, is that unity against terrorism requires unquestioning support for the Bush Administration, and denunciation of its opponents.

Actually George Bush and his administration are not even mentioned in the statement. In fact, if you take a look, there is not even a single mention of the United States at all other than to recall the attacks on New York and Washington. So quite how support for the Bush administration is implied is hard to understand.

Well, whatever, John, take it or leave it. But your rejection of this statement, or rather the reasons you give for it, serve as a useful reminder of the way in which the fear of being seen to be on the side of domestic political opponents (be they Bush or Blair) has led many on the left to be unable to take a stand on some fairly basic matters of principle.

I don’t know if there is some philosphical term for this sort of thinking but we can maybe call it Quiggling?

Update: The Unite Against Terror statement was largely written by myself and Alan Johnson. Here is Alan’s reply to Quiggin:

Dear John Quiggin,

I think you should sign the Unite Against Terror statement (which I co-wrote with Harry of HP). To take up your points.

First, you imply there was something underhand about the way the Unite Against Terror email you were sent gave only the first and last paragraphs. Well, it also urged you to read the full statement at the site. Signers have to scroll right down, reading the full statement, in order to reach the signing box.

Second, you say, “Briefly, the text omitted from the email summary included a lengthy argument to the effect that the attacks are the work of ‘terrorist groups inspired by a poisonous and perverted politics that disguises itself as a form of the religion of Islam’, and the gnomic, but easily decoded, statement that ‘these attacks did not begin in 2003’. These claims are factually false or misleading”.

Well, no, both claims are true. The groups carrying out the suicide bombings we referred to are indeed inspired by “a poisonous and perverted politics that disguises itself as a form of the religion of Islam’. Of course if you don’t think it is true, if you don’t think that something has gone badly wrong within the Islamic world, that a Jihadi terror network, global in scope, fascistic in political character exists, and has emerged from that disorder, and is waging a war, then, yes, don’t sign.

It is also true that ‘these attacks did not begin in 2003’. Palpably so.

You assert that “The implication of the statement, read as a whole, is that unity against terrorism requires unquestioning support for the Bush Administration, and denunciation of its opponents”. No, it does not. That is just you being silly and, forgive me, a little hysterical. I think, by the way, that this silliness and hysteria is an example of what Nick Cohen meant by the Michael Mooronification of the left. (I noticed one of the comments at CT seemed to object to Nick’s happy phrase). As a matter of fact, I opposed the invasion. Harry of HP supported it. And Harry is a social democrat, as I am, not a Bush supporter.

You then say “I don’t know the details of the Netanya and Baghdad attacks”. This, note cheek by jowl with your confident assertion that our sentences about those attacks were ‘tendentious’, but let that pass. Well, go and look them up on the net. Both Islamist suicide bombers, both targeting civilian non-combatants, including children. In the case of the attack in Iraq, 24 children. The terrorist watched them congregate and then killed them all.

You then say “many terror attacks in Iraq have been organised by secular Ba’athists”. In fact there is not one documented case of an Iraqi suicide bomber, let alone ‘many’. Not one. So, more confident assertions expressed in a confident, slightly weary (do I have to engage these idiots?) tone that as Harry points out CT does seem to have made its own, but which turns out to be, well, ignorant. The perpetrators are Jihadi terrorists coming over the Syrian border. The fascistic Saddamists sometimes work with them and give them a target, such as this Shia mosque, this Shia marketplace, and so on. I am sure you do not intend to defend the murder of civilians in Iraq when carried out by ex-Saddamists. I am sure you are not defending suicide bombs aimed at Jewish kids in Israel if their planters are secular Palestinians (the UAT statement, note, calls for mutual recognition and political dialogue).

You ask “why be so specific about the kind of terrorism that is being condemned here?” Because we have to be in order to measure the threat, its source, and decide how to respond. Isn’t that just obvious? The threat we – in London, Iraq and Israel – faced that week, and face today, was and is from that kind of terrorism. As was the attack in Egypt (or are you claiming the attack in Egypt was a direct consequence of the invasion of Iraq and the Luxor tourists were killed because someone might, one day, invade Iraq). I would point out that some leading Muslim community activists in the UK have signed and not one has made this complaint. The statement also says “The terrorists seek a closed society of fear and conformity. They are opposed by Muslims the world over. Muslim community leaders have condemned the London attacks unequivocally. We reject the terrorists’ claim that they represent authentic Islam. They do not”.

You then complain about some of the short 200 word ‘why I signed’ statements of the signers (You don’t say what it is you object to in those statements).But look, we make it clear on the site that these statements are “personal to the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organisers”. It’s the statement you are singing up to not the personal views of this or that signer. Mine, for instance, is here.

But signing up to my personal statement, or anyone else’s, is NOT part of the ‘contract’ between signers and organisers. Only the full UAT statement is being endorsed by a signature. Today Francis Wheen signed on. And Robert Fine. And yesterday Anne Showstack Sasson, and Cynthia Fuchs Epstein. I don’t think they were supporting Bush, or being tendentious.

Finally, you say you found it a “highly unpleasant experience” to read statements that “drip with venomous hatred” toward the perpetrators of these acts. Why do you find that unpleasant? The perpetrators are fascistic. They are killing us. They do so in the name of everything we hate and to deny us everything we value. Don’t you want to fight to keep those things? If not now when? For my part I do feel hatred toward the perpetrators, just as I feel love for those they harm. I feel that in both instances I am, to be terribly pretentious, in an Aristotelian ‘mean state’. Sometimes anger, and a willingness to fight, to engage, is right and appropriate while a meandering meditative ‘analytical’ scepticism that paralyses action is, well, something of a mistake, to say only that about it.

Alan Johnson