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Friday, July 08, 2005

London and the Left

The 7/7 atrocities in London yesterday once again present an interesting dilemma for the intellectuals, culture-shapers, and politicians of the Left. On the one hand, there is the tempation to succumb to knee-jerk tendencies to be anti-war (a term begging to be deconstructed), to place the blame directly on Britain's participation in Iraq, and to call for appeasement. Renegade MP George Galloway reflects this approach nicely with his statement yesterday:
The loss of innocent lives, whether in this country or Iraq, is precisely the result of a world that has become a less safe and peaceful place in recent years.We have worked without rest to remove the causes of such violence from our world. We argued, as did the Security Services in this country, that the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq would increase the threat of terrorist attack in Britain. Tragically Londoners have now paid the price of the government ignoring such warnings.We urge the government to remove people in this country from harms way, as the Spanish government acted to remove its people from harm, by ending the occupation of Iraq and by turning its full attention to the development of a real solution to the wider conflicts in the Middle East.Only then will the innocents here and abroad be able to enjoy a life free of the threat of needless violence.

Astonishingly, he not only defended himself today, after receiving a "rapturous reception" at Socialist Workers Party Marxism 2005 conference (an entire post could be dedicated to the irony of that image), but he also asserted, "I don't believe Mr Blair or Mr Bush are capable of solving this problem - I believe they are the cause of this problem." So much for nuance. So much for having any broad appeal beyond the fringes, where hatred of Bush and Blair borders on the irrational.

It's not that one couldn't have principled opposition to the Iraq intervention or the War on Terror, mind you. There is plenty of healthy debate to be had and criticism to be doled out regarding the policies--and execution of those policies--by the Bush and Blair administrations. But there is another approach that the Left could take: realize that even your values and ideals are at stake. London Mayor "Red Ken" Livingstone exemplified this approach with his hit-the-right-chord response yesterday:
This was not a terrorist attack against the mighty and the powerful; it is not aimed at presidents or prime ministers; it was aimed at ordinary working class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christians, Hindu and Jew, young and old, indiscriminate attempt at slaughter irrespective of any considerations, of age, of class, of religion, whatever, that isn't an ideology, it isn't even a perverted faith, it's just indiscriminate attempt at mass murder, and we know what the objective is, they seek to divide London. They seek to turn Londoners against each other and Londoners will not be divided by this cowardly attack... I wish to speak through you directly, to those who came to London to claim lives, nothing you do, how many of us you kill will stop that flight to our cities where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another, whatever you do, how many you kill, you will fail.

This type of resolve recognizes that what happened yesterday has an urgency and genealogy that extends well beyond recent American and British intervention in the Middle East. You can snort at the cowboyisms and moral certainty of George W. Bush all you want, but you must also come to grips with an untraditional battle involving ideas and values as well as flesh and blood, fought across porous and mythical borders in addition to concrete geopolitical entities, and foisted upon you whether you asked for it or not.

Christopher Hitchens sums up the options nicely:
If, as one must suspect, these bombs are only the first, then Britain will start to undergo the same tensions—between a retreat to insularity and clannishness of the sort recently seen in France and Holland, and the self-segregation of the Muslim minority in both those countries—that will start to infect other European countries as well. It is ludicrous to try and reduce this to Iraq. Europe is steadily becoming a part of the civil war that is roiling the Islamic world, and it will require all our cultural ingenuity to ensure that the criminals who shattered London's peace at rush hour this morning are not the ones who dictate the pace and rhythm of events from now on.


(P.S. Credit to Andrew Sullivan for full Galloway and Livingston quotes)

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