Tuesday, October 03, 2006

No Excuses for Aaronovitch

Aaronovitch Watch called it “Euston: the movie”, which is a reasonable summary, although it never reached beyond the intellectual level of a pantomime. David Aaronovitch’s programme, No Excuses for Terror, was the whole absurd routine one more time – the same questions, the same pat answers, from the same monotonic commentators. The only novelty came from unintentionally hilarious tough liberal cut-n-paste rhetoric – that Hizbollah is “the armed wing of Iran” was the insight from geopolitical heavyweight Kim Howells.

As usual, government propagandising was portrayed as marginalised truth telling. According to Aaronovitch, his collection of freelance Blairites “do sometimes struggle to get a hearing.” But don't worry, because “today all that changes” – as if regurgitation of Tony's conference speeches is some sort of samizdat dissent.

Although the documentary was not primarily a defence of Iraq War (decentists have largely given up on that) Aaronovitch did give it a go. He did this by ignoring everything happening there. In April 2004 Oliver Kamm declared that “[t]here is no development that would cause me to conclude I was wrong to support war. It’s not that type of issue.” In other words, the horrors suffered by Iraqis since the invasion are irrelevant. In the same vein, Aaronovitch’s only bid to defend the war was a melodramatic false dilemma that ignored current reality:

“I defy anyone to stand at the edge of a mass grave like that and say Saddam was a good man, why did you get rid of him?”

This is an only slightly more dishonest version of what Blair has been saying for years. In 2004 he told the Labour conference that he could not “sincerely” apologise (as if sincerity had ever bothered him before) for removing Saddam Hussein because it was axiomatic that “[t]he world is a better place with Saddam in prison not in power”, irrespective of tens of thousands of civilian deaths.

This was all Aaronovitch could manage: an attack on something not even slightly resembling anything said by any serious Western opponent of the war. Even George Galloway, who of course featured prominently in Aaronovitch’s stock footage, and who was taken – as usual – as being representative of the entire anti-war Left, said no such thing. And if he had it would have made no difference at all to the morality of launching the Iraq War.

Yet Aaronovitch harped relentlessly on that favourite decentist theme – the shocking alignment between the anti-war Left and “fascist” Muslims exemplified by Respect, as if discrediting Stop the War marchers somehow legitimises what they oppose. On this subject we heard “Professor Alan Johnson”, who apparently makes up for his lack of a doctorate by launching pompous websites (see “Unite Against Terror” and “Democritiya”). Naturally enough, since he’s a full-time decentist, all we got from this academic titan was the usual boilerplate about why people oppose American wars and Israeli oppression: they are instinctively anti-American; they think they’re standing up against imperialism; etc. – all treated as revealed wisdom, without any evidential underpinning.

So, quite naturally, opposition to the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and its attack on Lebanon, could only be irrational anti-Americanism born of an inability to confront the new deadly terrorist threat. Because Israel is an unfortunate “lightning conductor”, it attracts an unfair share of criticism. “Increasingly what has become the... a sort of sewage of the fringes of the far right and far left... political discourse concerning Israel have now become increasingly... have contaminated mainstream political discourse”, opined Shalom Lappin. It is apparently “far right” or “far left” the action of “sewage” to object to Israel killing a thousand Lebanese civilians.

Decentists' principles are rarely universal, however much they claim otherwise. Take Jane Ashworth. Another co-organiser of the Unite Against Terror wheeze, according to the Democratiya website “Jane is a lifelong Labour Party member and a graduate of it’s [sic] youth and student movements”. She is a “consultant specialising in working class access to sport”. She’s only slightly less qualified than Alan Johnson, then, to pronounce on what the Left must do. “The Left should have a moral benchmark,” she tells us. “One of the things where we should draw that line is around the bombing of civilians.”

That is, bombing by Muslim terrorists – not Israel. She somehow failed to draw this line when Israel bombed civilians in Lebanon. Her “Engage” website (a nascent UK equivalent of the ADL, it would seem) instead ran criticism of Jews who objected to the bombing of civilians in Lebanon. Thus does Engage battle “contemporary antisemitism”.

Aside from ceaseless ululations over Europe's rampant anti-Semitism and the “existential threat” facing Israel, another major preoccupation of the Bush-boosting Left is denial of any causal link between the Iraq War and terrorist attacks on the West. Aaronovitch's entirely unbiased framing of the problem went like this:

“The apologists for terror state it as a fact that only a fool would deny that 7/7 was primarily caused by Blair's adventure in Iraq. Now, that's the same as saying that without Iraq it wouldn't have happened.”

He then goes on to recite the standard list of Islamist terrorist actions predating the war, thus supposedly disproving the link. The same day, Blair was conveying this view – recall that its proponents have struggled to get a hearing – to the Labour conference:

“This terrorism isn't our fault. We didn't cause it. It's not the consequence of foreign policy. It's an attack on our way of life. It's global. It has an ideology. It killed nearly 3,000 people including over 60 British on the streets of New York before war in Afghanistan or Iraq was even thought of.”

It is wrong to assert that war in Iraq hadn't been thought of in 2001. Several key members of the Bush administration had signed a letter in 1998 demanding exactly that. But Aaronovitch anyway immediately undercut his case by switching to Dr Martin Navias, who revealed that al Qaida's stated purpose was to drive US troops from the Arabian peninsula – troops that had been there since 1990, before any of his exemplary incidents. Furthermore, regardless of preexisting grievances, or whether Iraq was the primary cause of 7/7, the Iraq War is widely recognised by analysts as having exacerbated the Islamist terrorism problem that Blair claims to be fighting. If anybody who holds that view is an “apologist for terror”, then these include at a minimum the US and UK intelligence services, Chatham House, and a third of the UK population in the immediate aftermath.

Decentists get round this basic fact by exploiting the ambiguity of the word “understanding”. “Understanding in terms of justification is dangerous territory”, because according to Aaronovitch one might conclude that 7/7 was “our fault, or Tony Blair's”. Except he immediately draws from this, as Blair does, that “understanding” the London bombings in any sense is disallowed. To point out the obvious fact – that they were indeed linked to Iraq – is not to understand “in terms of justification”; it is to understand in terms of causes. This is what rational people do, and it has no connection with apologias for terrorism. Indeed, this principle is selectively accepted by decentists: according to them, the recent attacks on Lebanon could only be understood, and justified, by reference to Hizbollah actions before Israel began its bombing.

The Iraq War was right because some of its opponents are wrong. Bombing civilians is always wrong, but not when Israel does it. Our foreign policy has nothing to do with terrorism, but it will make us safer from it. The value of this documentary was in collecting together all the standard decentist positions. By doing so, Aaronovitch neatly illustrated their lack of coherence. That they make no sense is unsurprising, given that they are a rebadged selection of Republican talking points grouped according to whether they can be sold under the Left banner, however desperate the accompanying arguments.