UK Politics

A Very Civilised Clash

This report from Ken Livingstone’s “A World Civilisation or a Clash of Civilisations?” event is a guest post by Ami.

I disagree with those who say that Ken Livingstone’s A World Civilisation or a Clash of Civilisations was inappropriate as a mayoral event and would commend Jonathan Hoffman’s account as an excellent and accurate reflection of the event.

London by its nature has concerns which extend beyond the parochial. As an opportunity for gauging and assessing the mood of Londoners towards international phenomena which now impinge willy-nilly on their lives, this was a revelation. Accustomed as I am to the monolithic baying and sloganeering of much of public leftish meetings, I was cheered by the diversity of views of this 3000 to 5000 (estimates vary) strong crowd. It was also an opportunity to hear public response to arguments which usually do not spill over from the blogosphere. The free lance consultant next to me said she was totally apolitical and had been given her ticket by a client. She ended up very impressed by (Douglas) Murray’s arguments in particular. In front of me, a boy of 11, there with his parents, responded enthusiastically and knowledgably to the debate, cheering even more arcane points of Murray’s argument. His mother (Yorkshire accent) told me proudly he went to one of Tony Blair’s new City academies, and loved this kind of debate. I do not begrudge my tax money being spent on this.

(Daniel) Pipes set out his stall by stressing it was not Islam the religion which had to be resisted, but political Islam, which he then defined in terms familiar to readers of this site: Totalitarianism- a personal faith transformed into an ideology, which was anti modern, misanthropic, misogynist, anti semitic and radically utopian. It espoused complete adherence to Sharia and extending it to areas it never extended to before. Neither he nor Ken wanted to be subjected to Sharia. (first round of applause) The difference was in the means between Pipes the liberal, and Ken of the left with its “let’s all get along” approach; which led it to form alliances with fascist Islamist groupings. He then gave the Pinter, Chomsky et al quotes (see Hoffman at Adloyada) and when the audience cheered the references to Israel U.S and G.B as terrorist states being run by criminal lunatics, I thought I recognised an only too familiar audience.

But Pipes continued that to focus on a generalised terrorism rather than Islamism and to blame terrorism on colonialism and poverty, was patronising and racist, while he himself respected the role of ideas and ideology. No change in foreign policy could make this go away; it must be fought and defeated. And then first surprise of the day- this got a substantial cheer! So unexpected was this, that my initial fear was “Is this a strategically placed BNP claque?” From then on I carefully scanned the audience to check who cheered, engaged as many of the applauders around me in conversation as I could, and concluded it is a reasonable impression that they were a good representation of the General Public.

Pipes said that to overcome Islamism, we must stand firm with liberal voices in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Iranian dissidents. We should support people like Hirsi Ali and Irshid Manji (clapping!) He referred to other dissidents whose names whose names I did not catch.

Salma Yacoub said the usual: She was not here to apologise for terrorism but it was the result of despair and hatred in parts of the world whose people had previously no quarrel with the west- the result of state terror was the reprisal events like 7/7. (Sir Martin Gilbert asked her in Q & A “reprisal against whom?” She did not respond) Her reference to disguised plans of the U.S. to remap the Middle East, was met with shouts of Rubbish! As were her references to the U.S. as a weapon of mass destruction. Her level of analysis was limited to the usual sloganising. Pipes continually pulled her up later, for attacking his views by misrepresenting them, e.g saying he was advocated support for Saudi regime, when he said support for dissidents within such regimes. I don’t think her approach is devious, so much as preconceptions obviating the need to listen and comprehend.

Douglas Murray’s address was the most confrontational. He criticised Yacoub’s explanations as racist by denying people of their own culpability -that they can never screw up unless it is our fault (cheers!) If so, why are there Muslims killing Hindus, Buddhists, Animists in Sudan (wild cheers!) Why had Ken not invited someone from the French woman’s group Ni Putes ni Soumises to be on the panel, who refuse to submit to tribal backward norms. (clapping!)

Instead, Ken invites.Yacoub: spokesperson for Birmingham Central Mosque where the Iman believes 7/7 was not caused by Muslims, and is a member of Respect, an organisation so far beyond the pale they support the insurgency in Iraq. I thought, oops, a mistake, surely to end on an ad hominem. But his speech got the biggest ovation of all four speakers, several dozen even standing to applaud.

Q & A; Bunglawala challenged Pipes for opposing Islamicism even if it used lawful means of non violent Islamification. What kind of democracy was that, he yelled. A: A totalitarian movement uses different means to reach power, vide Hitler. Hitler achieved office through the ballot box, not that he got the support of the majority of the electorate,

Ken got the biggest groan of the day, when he answered a question about supporting moderate Muslims by saying he supported the progressive Qaradawi, the strongest force for modernisation in Islam today. He said: I don’t agree with him on homosexuality, but he is the future! Up till then, his main address had been very judicious and politic: you could agree with parts, disagree with much, but still entertain his arguments. Now he descended into the loony Ken persisting in defending the indefensible. This elicited forceful responses from Pipes and others about what Qaradawi stands for.

Pipes said that that wars end when one side gives up. His statement that this could lead to Israel and its neighbours having harmonious relations, got hisses. But his next statement that the Palestinians had to give up on their dream of eliminating Israel got a big clap.

Murray was challenged on British support for the Saudi regime, including supply of arms. He responded that he detested the Saudi Regime.

A Kurdish man spoke up for a Kurdish homeland; he had heard said that as Churchill was a drunkard, he was drunk when he drew up the map of the area.

Ken concluded by saying Islam will evolve and change, but it had to happen from within, not by others standing outside and denouncing it, any more than in the case of the Christian reformation. He reiterated again his support for Qaradawi, as he represents hundreds of millions. Murray retorted that if it is to evolve from within, the moderate forces need to be elevated, and not by praising Bin Laden as Bunglawala has done.

Pipes said we have become uncomfortable with the notion of victory. There could be no compromise. Vietnam ended not because the US ran out of bullets but because it gave up. War has been declared on us. (cheers and applause!)

David Aaronovitch debated John Ross, a specialist in economic and business relations, and Director of Economic and Business Policy, Mayor’s office. The topic was progressive colonialism, but as neither speaker subscribed to such a notion, Ross gave what Aaronovich described as a tour d’horizon of the evils of colonialism which encompassed Jade and BB, while Aaronovitch focused on the merits of interventionism such as Kosovo, citing the blockade of the international slave trade by the British as an early example. Whereas colonialism was intervention solely in the interests of the intervening country, he supported intervention in the interests of the inhabitants. The Chinese, who were acting solely in their own interest in Africa, are getting zero criticism. He was his usual witty pithy self, responding to hecklers with elan.

Ross kept justifying, as he had done in Q & A in the morning, the freedom fighters in Iraq who were simply doing what the British did in WW2, which is to fight and drive out the Nazi invaders until they leave. Finally Aaronovitch got round to demolishing this posture with the obvious counterarguments.
He also pointed out that in cases such as Darfur, it is possible to kill hundreds of thousands and not have them exploding themselves all over Arab countries; some people just die quietly. He decried the belittling of democracy as cynical; try not having it. (applause) it was not the least worst system, but the best, and did not merely mean voting, but freedom of speech.

A member of the audience asserted that unlike Western colonialism, the Caliphate was wholly a Good Thing, bringing prosperity and social justice everywhere. Aaronovitch observed that people did not think so, and thus in the end had told the Caliphate to sod off. Some non muslim inhabitants only accepted their second class citizenship as on balance it was preferable to death in Christian countries.

He ended by saying that while war was a calamity, tyranny was the great understated calamity.