Buffoon gets bitch-slapped

I’ll be honest, the Nation is in the normal run of things not a publication I read very often, and that’s deliberate on my part. It goes back to too many years of being much too annoyed at the Dude’s pronunciamentos, although that’s a little unfair as he’s long since gone.

Likewise, I would normally not take much notice of a new book by Bernard-Henri L’Oréal, far and away the most aggravating of the Nouveaux Philosophes. (Glucksmann is probably just as offensive politically, but at least he doesn’t do that hair-flicking thing.) The news that BHL had a new book out on the moral bankruptcy of the left excited me not at all, since it seems to be a variation on the man’s long-running theme of proclaiming himself the conscience of the left while simultaneously dumping enormous buckets of shit over everything the left has historically believed in.

My curiosity was piqued somewhat by a rather strange review from Nick Cohen. As usual these days, this says rather more about Nasty Nick than it does about his putative subject, but the theme is that the Nouveaux Philosophes are the French analogue to Britain’s Decent Left. This manages the remarkable feat of actually lowering my opinion of the Nouveax Philosophes.

However, I note that BHL has now been taken to task in a manner befitting, and in the Nation no less. (Hat tip.) The assassin in question is the estimable Scott McLemee, and while Scott’s always worth reading, this finds him in top form, not least on the great Yankophile’s invincible ignorance of American politics. And all I can say about that is, it’s probably better than the old windbag deserves.

Bernard-Henri Lévy. Because he’s worth a good kicking.

I find myself cheering on Eamonn McCann


There’s something I always find a little frustrating about Eamonn McCann. Articulate as he may be, he does have a tendency to play up to his audience. I’ve always suspected on that basis that he had a strong streak of the ham actor in him. If you see him at a meeting sponsored by the SWP, or on a strike platform, he’s always dead militant, often entering what Jeff Dudgeon calls his “I have a scream” mode. But when he’s on the likes of BBCNI’s Let’s Talk, he gets terribly wishy-washy, goes into “on the one hand, on the other hand” quite a lot… this is why everybody think Eamonn is their friend. You saw this at water charges meetings, where Bob McCartney would loudly proclaim his agreement with Eamo.

It was therefore nice to see Eamo showing a bit of spark on last night’s Hearts and Minds. The discussion was on the legacy of Che Guevara, which is the sort of nostalgia trip Eamo loves, and his antagonist, mirabile dictu, was Oliver Kampf. Kamm, of course, was billed as an author (of a book nobody’s read) and Times columnist (he’s actually a blogger who, due to some unaccountable weakness on Danny Finkelstein’s part, gets the occasional op-ed piece in the Thunderer) and, although Kamm knows less about the Cuban Revolution than I know about the mating habits of the millipede, dancing on Che’s grave was right up his street. If he could do it to poor old Monty Johnstone on his blog, how could he resist doing it to the iconic Che on telly?

On watching this, I am reminded of why Kamm doesn’t get more TV work. There is that curious diction, modelled I assume on his uncle the Man in the White Suit, but while Martin is fairly fluent, and actually writes quite well, Kamm gives the impression that English isn’t his first language. This impression is reinforced by his written English, which is more stilted even than my Gaelic. (Probably less so, since my Gaelic leans towards the “drink, feck, arse” end of the spectrum.) In any case, he didn’t say anything interesting. What you got was “Che was a Stalinist thug”, and with inordinate prolixity. Plus, Kampf seemed to feel that Che’s role in the summary execution of prisoners pretty much damned the entire Cuban Revolution.

Eamonn was rather good on that, pointing out that Umkhonto weSizwe had also been involved in some rather dodgy things but that didn’t invalidate the struggle against apartheid. Nice point, given that Kamm’s baffling insistence that he, a Tory-voting hedge fund manager, is a “man of the left” depends on him paying obeisance to certain metrosexual shibboleths, of which the South African struggle, now safely in the past, is one. But I was again frustrated at Eamonn’s politeness. He really should have gone to town on the smug little fuckwit. Kamm is in no position to moralise about the treatment of prisoners at the Bay of Pigs when you consider his fulsome support for whatever the Yanks are doing in Iraq. In general, and Eamo should have made this point, Kamm’s real problem with Che is that he didn’t kill nearly enough people. Or, to put it another way, that he was against the Empire rather than for it.

So Eamonn acquitted himself pretty well and put up a reasonable defence of Che. But he was far too nicey-nicey about it, and I dread to think what kind of performance he would have put up had he been up against someone more substantial than the ludicrous Kamm. Eamonn is an affable bloke, but there are times when you can safely dispense with the affability and call a mendacious warmongering prick by his right name.

Conspectus of the latest Decentiya

I’ve been putting this off, but it will be put off no longer. Disappointingly, the current Democratiya does not contain Marko Attila Hoare explaining how the Serbs sank the Titanic and kidnapped Lord Lucan, nor Oliver Kamm droning on about his older brother’s penis the charlatan Chomsky and how he prevents our Ollie from being rightly recognised as the world’s most important intellectual. In the absence of the obvious targets, however, there are still a few zingers.

There is a letter about the repression of trade unionists in Iran. A worthy cause, but it’s notable that about the only time Democratiya shows any interest in the labour movement anywhere in the world is when you can bash Ahmadinejad.

Todd Gitlin writes a not entirely coherent piece on anti-Americanism, which somehow winds up with a denunciation of “Chomskyites” for opposing intervention in Bosnia, which apparently they saw as “an assault on decent socialists”. Not surprisingly, Gitlin does not quote Chomsky himself on Bosnia, because he couldn’t find anything approximating that.

One David Adler writes on Amitav Ghosh. Ghosh has of course written many interesting things about many subjects, but what interests Adler is Ghosh’s opposition to political Islam, which he can then use as a stick to beat Arundhati Roy, who is brought into the argument at a dubious tangent.

There is an extract from Barry Rubin’s new book on Syria. I don’t know if Rubin has been faithfully excerpted, but he seems to be arguing that Washington is straining every sinew to create a Palestinian state, and has been for two decades, only to be thwarted at every turn by the Assad regime. Why do I not find that convincing?

Irfan Khawaja writes on international law and war. His conclusion is that, for the good of all, international law should be ripped up. No, I tell a lie. International law should only apply to the Third World – the Empire should have a special dispensation to do whatever it pleases.

Gerard Alexander asks, Why aren’t we hearing all the good news from Iraqi Kurdistan?

Mark Gardner, press supremo for the Community Security Trust, writes on anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Not surprisingly for someone working at the CST, he believes British society is awash with anti-Semitism, as exemplified by hostility to the Israeli state. The best summary of this is in the old joke that the Engageniks are worried about anti-Semitism because it might lead to criticism of Israel. Gardner also sees something sinister in the SWP’s description of Israel as the US’s attack dog in the Middle East, and asks why the SWP protests the dog and not the master. Perhaps he’s missed all their anti-war activity. [Update 2.10.07: Mark is keen to point out (see comments below) that he is referring specifically to boycotts, and not to protests more generally. I still think the question is a loaded rhetorical one, and I don’t believe the SWP to be an anti-Semitic organisation, although I do think they could save themselves a lot of grief on this issue by being more subtle.]

Dave Rich, Gardner’s sidekick at the CST press office, reviews Ed Husain’s The Islamist. Bearing in mind that Husain hasn’t been involved in Islamist politics for a dozen years, and has spent most of that time outside Britain, we might wonder what Husain can tell us about present-day political Islam in Britain, even assuming that he’s being honest and accurate. Nonetheless, Rich (they couldn’t have got a tame Muslim to review this?) loves it, not least because Husain provides lots of ammo for anyone looking to smite the enemies of the Jews call for the banning of Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the marginalisation of the MCB. This is really a slightly more sophisticated rehash of the Ratbiter column in Private Eye. All we need is a plug for the neocon farmhands of the fraudulent “Sufi Muslim Council” as representing “decent Muslims”.

Dan Erdman has a swipe at the American palaeoconservatives, a group who I rather prefer to the Decent Left. Dan writes, “The website antiwar.com is another popular outlet. The site’s title and amateurish design have led more than one confused commentator to mistake it for a left-wing site – an effect which may not be wholly unintentional – but the brains behind the operation belong to an old-right libertarian by the name of Justin Raimondo.” Nothing gets past Dan – I would never have guessed it myself, if Raimondo didn’t write a weekly column for antiwar.com. Michael Crick had better look to his laurels.

Evan Daniel calls for the Yanks to box smarter in their drive to overthrow the Cuban regime, considering that the embargo and Congressional funding for the ultra-right yo-yos in Miami may not be a good idea.

Tristan Stubbs writes on the slave trade, contrasting civilised Britain with barbaric Sudan. That’s for the benefit of anyone who thought Sudan wasn’t a repressive hellhole. Never mind, Tristan, wait till the next issue and Todd Gitlin will be claiming the “Chomskyites” support the Sudanese regime.

Jean Bethke Elshtain posthumously enlists Sidney Hook in support of the invasion of Iraq. Well, perhaps Hook in his dotage might have done so.

There is also a short review of Primo Levi, which doesn’t really fit with the rest of the journal but I assume is there for connoisseurs of Judaica. It’s not bad.

Finally, Alan (Not The Minister) Johnson conducts a rambling interview with Anne-Marie Slaughter about ethical foreign policy. The essential points are: America – yo! Genocidal dictators – boo! International law – maybe, as long as the Big Moral Empire still gets to be the enforcer of values. Armed intervention – can we get back to talking about high-flown values?

And that’s the house journal of Decency for this quarter. We read it, so you don’t have to.

More from Aaro Watch on the Scoopies’ turn at the Labour conference.

Update 30.9.07: Barry Rubin points out to me that of course Washington was opposed to the idea of a Palestinian state before 1993, and the failure of the Oslo process had other causes than the Damascus regime. I look forward to reading his book, which no doubt will have more nuances than I picked up from the extract.

Decency, rhetorical dishonesty and psychological projection


So, let’s return today to considering the rhetorical tropes of Decency. This time around I want to postulate that the Decents’ characteristic rhetorical style is closely linked to their group psychology. You see this demonstrated clearly in the methods of argumentation they use.

Guilt by association is a prominent one, and sometimes the associations are pretty tenuous. As in: the Socialist Workers Party, via the Stop the War Coalition, has a relationship with the Muslim Association of Britain; the MAB is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood; the Brotherhood reveres the obscurantist theologian Yusuf al-Qaradawi; therefore the SWP must endorse the teachings of Qaradawi, especially the more outré ones about gays and women. Now, the SWP may be opportunistic in their alliances, but I’m fairly sure they don’t endorse stoning gays. It’s a bit like saying that, because Marko Attila Hoare endorses Chechen separatism and so does Osama bin Laden, therefore the Decent Left are fellow travellers of al-Qaeda.

Another one is “if you’re not with us you’re against us”. This draws not only on the rhetoric of GW Bush, but also on many of the Decent cadre’s background in far-left sectarian groups. A basic part of the sectarian’s psychological makeup is that anyone not entirely enamoured of his sect is on the side of the enemy. A sort of reductio ad absurdum of this appears below, with the assumption of SWP comrades that if I’m cynical about their little campaign around the Glen Road barracks site, then I must want West Belfast to be overrun by the Greedy Developers, who seem to be doing a pretty good job without my support. A considerably more annoying version is the tendency of the Decents to throw epithets like “appeaser”, “apologist” and “pro-fascist” at anyone dissenting from their agenda.

But, beyond this basic sort of rhetorical dishonesty, we have to consider the possibility that many of the Decents believe what they’re saying. This is where the concept of psychological projection comes in. There is a Decent Left equivalent of this, which I term “Chomsky in your head syndrome”, because, thanks in no small part to Oliver Kampf, poor old Chomsky seems to get the rough end of this more than anyone else. You found this with the Grauniad’s infamous hoax interview with Chomsky, and the Francis Kammovitch letter urging the Graun to retract its retraction. To the average rational mind, the idea that Chomsky had “denied Srebrenica” could be easily disproved by the multiplicity of quotes in Chomsky’s writings and interviews explicitly saying that there was a massacre at Srebrenica. This, however, did not deter the likes of Nick, Francis, Ollie and Attila from blowing lots of smoke about how Chomsky was an “all intents and purposes denier”. They seemed to be suffering a form of cognitive dissonance quite common on the Decent Left – so Chomsky must have denied the Srebrenica massacre because that’s just the sort of thing a reprobate like Chomsky would do, in the same way that the Decents don’t need a quote from Socialist Worker to “prove” that the SWP supports stoning gays – you just need the Decent equivalent of mystical intuition.

This sort of thing happes all the time. Let’s do a compare and contrast between Tariq Ramadan and the late Alija Izetbegović. Ramadan is an outspoken modernist who frequently speaks and writes on how European and North American Muslims will not only have to adapt their religion to their environment, but in doing so will transform Islam on an international scale. Izetbegović, on the other hand, was a conservative adherent of political Islam – not a mad fundie by any means, but someone with a distinct Islamist ideology not a million miles away from the politics of the Muslim Brotherhood. You would expect, then, that the Decent Left would embrace Ramadan in preference to Izetbegović. Wrong! They simply take the subject’s position on issues dear to the Decent worldview, and extrapolate a whole set of politics based on that. Therefore Tariq Ramadan, because he has said somewhat Indecent things about Israel and the War on Terror, must be a mad fundie. And, because Bosnia was the Good War, Izetbegović must have been a liberal multiculturalist who definitely had nothing to do with political Islam.

There are further things flowing from this, not least the increasingly hysterical tone as it becomes ever clearer that Iraq and Afghanistan are disaster areas. It’s a worldview that is both Manichaean and Antinomian, positing that, because we are Good and Decent, therefore anything that contradicts our position doesn’t exist, and because our opponents are Indecent, their villainy is boundless indeed. It’s deliciously ironic, isn’t it, to watch people who have built up reputations as scourges of postmodernism – without, mind you, bothering to find out what postmodernism is – themselves becoming ever more detached from empirical reality. This might be classed as the revenge of the simulacrum.

Decency and the English language, with a little help from Baudrillard


I’ve been tempted to comment on the spat between Nick and Johann, but that’s been quite adequately covered elsewhere. But I do want to make a few comments on Decency, and I’ll come back to these points in greater detail later. In particular, I’ve been meaning to write about the uses and abuses of Orwell for quite a while. But for the time being, let’s take three basic points: on the apple not falling far from the tree, on the incidence of multiple Orwells, and on the linguistics of Decency.

Firstly, as has been observed on multiple occasions, the Decent Left, and especially its more ideological wing, contains a huge proportion of former leftist sectarians. This shouldn’t be surprising. People rarely outgrow completely their early selves, much as they might like to believe otherwise. A good example is the late Monty Johnstone. It is well known that, prior to becoming the CPGB’s expert on Trotskyism, Monty had himself been a Trotskyist, during the Second World War, when it was neither fashionable nor profitable. This was not only important for his hatchet work – many a Trot made himself look an idiot by debating Monty, only to find Monty knew much more Trotsky than they – but arguably played a big role in his long-term dissidence within the CPGB.

Hitchens Bros are another good example. Pete, of course, likes to paint himself as a conservative nowadays, and affects the air of an old-time Home Service announcer, but he retains an SWP streak a mile wide. As for the Dude, on reading his recent biography of Orwell I was struck by its resemblance to Cliff’s Lenin. Not stylistically – Chris is still a much better writer than Cliff – but structurally. It is in fact a book about the kind of man Orwell could have been had he been lucky enough to have the Dude around to advise him. So it isn’t, or shouldn’t be, surprising that British Decency embraces lots of superannuated sectarians, many of whom retain their sectarian habits.

Secondly, Orwell. Many of the journalistic Decents, and I’m thinking especially of Cohen and Wheen, hail poor old Orwell as their precursor. Well, there were at least five different Orwells, depending on the period, so it depends very much on the Orwell you mean. Nick claims as his role model the Orwell of 1936, picking up his rifle to go and fight fascism in Spain, but this is more than a little disingenuous. Firstly, Orwell’s actual politics of his Catalan period – his semi-Trotskyist period in other words – would instantly repel Nick. They would seem to him Chomskyan, or even reminiscent of the Nick of yesteryear. Actually, the Orwell that seems to inspire Nick and Francis (Aaro I discount as owing more to Ehrenburg) is Orwell’s wartime writing, and not even the good stuff – most of that writing was pretty lively – but the large percentage of his wartime writing that consisted in heaping abuse on those intellectuals who continued to hold positions that Orwell himself had held only a little while earlier.

Finally, the role of linguistic criticism in analysing Decency. Wheen and Cohen (who nicks his writing on this wholesale from Wheen) may not recognise the linguistic turn in philosophy, but the linguistic turn recognises them. Let’s start with the application of cant phrases. To take an easy example, when the Engageniks say “racism”, they don’t mean racism. They mean anti-Semitism, and they are so promiscuous in that allegation that it has no meaning from that source, except to mean “people we don’t like”. Similarly, if you read a Guardian article on Serbia by Ian Traynor, it’s a fair possibility that Traynor will be writing about “democrats” versus “extreme nationalists”. Leave aside Traynor’s prejudice and incomprehension – you need to understand that, when Traynor refers to “democrats”, he usually means Sonja Biserko, Nataša Kandić and the little coterie of neo-Jacobin farmhands in Belgrade who actively want the Yanks to occupy their country; meanwhile, “extreme nationalists” refers to, er, most of the population, including principled anti-nationalists who, for whatever reason, baulk at the full Imperial agenda. Now apply this to the Eustonite discourse on the need to support “Iraqi democrats”. If this isn’t an entirely platonic reference to entirely hypothetical people, it usually excludes most of the Iraqi people, including most of their elected representatives. In fact, sometimes it seems to refer exclusively to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

I’ll just conclude with Baudrillard. The linguistic turn in philosophy does not claim that there is no reality outside language. What it does posit is that language is a means for ordering cognition, and we can’t have unmediated knowledge of reality. The most we can hope for is to achieve a working approximation. Got that?

Now, there is no shame in not understanding Baudrillard. Alex Callinicos, the Greatest Living Philostopher Known to Mankind, doesn’t understand him. Nor does Johann Hari. Then you have the dumbed-down version from Wheen. What all these characters in common is that none of them seem to have read, or understood, The Gulf War Did Not Take Place. Rather, they prefer the weasel argument of referencing the title and taking it absolutely literally. What Baudrillard meant was not that there wasn’t a war – his essay dealt with the gap between the actual war experienced in the Gulf, and the simulacrum of war experienced by the media audience in the West (or better, the global North).

Now, let’s apply this to Decency. Orwell, let’s remember, picked up his rifle and went to Catalonia to really fight fascism, putting his life on the line in the process. During the Balkan wars, there was a segment of the commentariat who thought that “fighting fascism” was coterminous with writing op-ed pieces calling for the bombing of the tribe they had decided to be the epitome of evil. The laptop bombardiers of Farringdon were, in a magnificent vindication of Baudrillard, virtual warriors playing at fighting a virtual war against a simulacrum of a foreign nation. This might have been amusing, but it was intensely aggravating for those of us who went out to the Balkans and tried to do some useful work, only to be derided as “appeasers” or even “Chetnik fascists” by people whose only contribution had been to hold forth over lunch at the Gay Hussar.

And so it goes. We hear endless calls to “fight fascism”, “show solidarity”, “support democrats” and “take sides”. What this seems to boil down to is “write columns in the Observer” and “slander the people we used to agree with”. Hear that? It’s Baudrillard chuckling, and Orwell spinning in his grave.

Solicitations for the next Decentiya


Alan (Not The Minister) Johnson: “Three quarters of British academics are pathological anti-Semites. But you can prove you aren’t by supporting Engage, Democratiya, Unite Against Terror, the Euston Manifesto or any one of my dozens of websites.”

Paul Berman: “The State Department is a nest of Chomskyans and Qutbists. As America’s leading leftist intellectual, I demand the immediate reintroduction of loyalty oaths. Can I have a slot on Fox News please, Mr Murdoch?”

Nick Cohen: “Johann Hari’s demand for Maoist self-criticism in his hic review of my bestselling book just shows his political degeneracy thanks mate I’ll have another if he refuses to understand the lucid prose of the only true successor to Orwell.”

Paul Anderson: “I explain what Nick’s book means. And the geopolitical significance of that time Chris Harman was rude to me in 1978.”

Oliver Kampf: “On carrying out a detailed textual analysis of chapter five of Hegemony or Survival, I have come across incontrovertible evidence that I have a much bigger willy than the charlatan Chomsky. And my dad could beat up his dad any day.”

Norman Geras: “Oh God, do I have to do Iraq? I’d much rather write about Monty Panesar.”

Attila the Hun: “On a recent visit to the state archives in Zagreb, I came across a dusty manuscript marked ‘For the attention of Mr Attila’, the contents of which allow me to exclusively reveal that the recent flooding in Tewkesbury was meticulously planned by the late Slobodan Milošević, who after faking his death escaped to a secret lair underneath a volcano in the Kurile Islands, where he operates his dastardly weather machine with the aid of his assistants Richard Seymour and Seumas Milne.”

Archive of Decency: “Watergate, Schmatergate” by Max Shachtman, with a scholarly introduction by Paul Berman.

The Splintered Sunrise preview tape

Damian Shellsuit: Hello, I’m Damian Shellsuit. No doubt you’re familiar with my brilliant weekly column for the Blackshirt’s Gazette, where I deliver a scorching critique of modern Britain from the safe vantage point of my luxury gated community in Florida. Or maybe you don’t read it, since if you’re watching Channel 4 you’re probably queer. Tonight we’ll be looking at the rise of anti-Semitism on the British left. I must admit, I’m not Jewish and I know frig all about anti-Semitism, but this allows me a chance to get stuck into the loony left, the Muslims and the nancy boys. My guide on this journey is loony left columnist Nick Cohen.

Cohen: I never noticed a real problem with anti-Semitism in Britain until 2002, when I started to get lots of nasty emails. This was just after I’d announced my support for invading Iraq, but no reasonable person could oppose that, so I’m assuming it was anti-Semitism behind this hostility. Then I started to see anti-Semitism everywhere, with people at Islington dinner parties toasting Osama Bin Laden and trendy bookshops in Notting Hill having buy-one-get-one-free offers on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. That’s when I decided to research the problem.

Shellsuit: This goes back a long way, doesn’t it Nick?

Cohen: More than most people suspect. Did you know that in the 1970s Gerry Healy was involved in a dastardly plot with Gregory Peck to clone Hitler? At least, I was in the pub with Norm Geras and Paul Anderson, and I seem to remember a conversation along those lines. Or maybe I dozed off watching The Boys from Brazil. Anyway, it’s all in my book What’s Left?, available from all good booksellers, even in Islington.

Shellsuit: This sawn-off speccy bint is former Labour MP Lorna Fitzsimons. Now Lorna, I believe some kebab-eaters ran an anti-Semitic campaign against you even though you’re not Jewish?

Fitzsimons: Yes, some Muslims put a leaflet around Rochdale calling me a Zionist, just because I was in the Labour Friends of Israel. It lost me my seat, but luckily I got a job heading a pro-Israel lobby group.

Shellsuit: And you’ve had trouble with the loony left as well?

Fitzsimons: When I was democratically elected leader of Britain’s students, the SWP forced me to apologise for slandering Tony Cliff. How was I to know he was Jewish? I just repeated what the UJS told me.

Shellsuit: The Socialist Workers Party are a deeply sinister outfit, and they’re probably all shirtlifters as well. Let’s hear from a close friend of mine who was seduced by them as a young man.

Garry Bullshit (for it is he): They made me stand outside Willesden Green tube station and sell papers on a Saturday afternoon, even when it was raining. And they hated white working-class culture, which you can get a good sample of on my CD Strength Through Oi! (Takes out onion) I still haven’t got over my shocking experiences with the SWP – these totalitarians used to call me Bluto and made fun of me for liking Jim Davidson.

Cohen: And I’ll tell you something else. French postmodernist philosophers have been in league with the Islamofascists for decades. In fact, I have it on good authority that Jean Baudrillard was trained as a sleeper agent by Sayyid Qutb. Or at least my mate Francis said something like that in the pub. It’s all in my book.

Shellsuit: I’m joined by distinguished lawyer Anthony Julius. Anthony, you’re an expert on left anti-Semitism?

Julius: As a distinguished lawyer, I am known worldwide for my brilliant forensic mind. And I wrote a PhD thesis on TS Eliot and anti-Semitism, so I can infallibly spot coded anti-Semitic innuendo. Now I direct you to this newspaper, the Socialist Worker. You will notice the headline saying “Tax the rich”. This is obviously code for “Kill the Jews”. What is more, my attention has been drawn to an article in the London Review of Books saying “Maybe Israel’s use of torture isn’t totally ethical”. I have teamed up with distinguished lawyer Alan Dershowitz to investigate these anti-Semites and bring them to heel.

Shellsuit: And these intellectuals are banana benders, aren’t they?

Julius: Is that code for Jews?

Shellsuit: I’m joined by Ed Husain, who used to be an Islamonazi but saw the light and now supports the War on Terror. Ed, you have personal experience of Muslim anti-Semitism?

Husain: Yes, I went to an al-Muhajiroun meeting where Omar Bakri said it was a pious act to wage jihad against the Zionists.

Shellsuit: This Bakri, was he a woofter? Did he try to bugger you?

Husain: Pardon me?

Cohen: And I’ll tell you something else. The so-called Guardian may seem like a harmless liberal newspaper, but it’s really a wholly-owned propaganda vehicle for al-Qaeda and Alan Rusbridger is a crack assassin trained by the Serbian secret service no that doesn’t sound right I must ask Attila well anyway it’s all in my book.

Shellsuit: So there you have it. The danger posed to Britain’s law-abiding Jewish community by pinkos, towelheads and bum bandits who abuse our tolerance. My name’s Damian Shellsuit, good night.

Traynor, Kamm and cognitive dissonance

The judgement of the International Court of Justice in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina vs. Serbia and Montenegro is interesting in a number of respects, not least in how it knocks holes in the arguments of the cruise missile left and puts question marks over the approved history of the Balkan wars of the 1990s. It also dents the increasing tendency for the activist school of law to get mixed up in international affairs.

The case, alleging that the Serbian government of the late Slobodan Milošević was responsible for waging a campaign of genocide against non-Serbs, was brought by the Izetbegović government in Sarajevo in the early stages of the Bosnian war. This, it should be noted, was long before the Srebrenica massacre, which was added to the case later. Thus, the ICJ has thrown out the original case – except for a few riders relating to Srebrenica – and implicitly recognised that the very real atrocities which took place in Bosnia, although definitely war crimes deserving of punishment, were not the replay of the Holocaust alleged by the media coverage of the time; and that the myth of the evil genius in Belgrade directing everything was just that.

The Srebrenica riders are there, of course. These represent the basic legal genuflection necessary to the ICTY (the US-NATO Inquisition in The Hague, no relation to the ICJ down the road). Although the ICTY is of dubious legal standing and has a tendency to make up the rules as it goes along, the ICJ was not asked to review its operations. The riders flow from the conviction of General Radislav Krstić on charges of genocide for his role in the Srebrenica massacre. This verdict falls within the letter of the Genocide Convention, and I will say no more about it except that the ICTY is adopting a rather broad definition of genocide which could lead to all sorts of other atrocities being considered genocide – I prefer a narrow definition, on the grounds that throwing around concepts like “genocide” or “fascism” promiscuously removes their power.

Under the ICTY system, the Krstić verdict is the bottom layer of a house of cards. The charge of genocide is extended to Ratko Mladić, on the assumption that Krstić must have been acting under orders; likewise to then Republika Srpska president Karadžić, according to the doctrine of “command responsibility” which the ICTY applies only to crimes committed by Serbs; and an unsuccessful attempt was made to pin it on Milošević, on the general principle that the leader of the officially designated Evil Nation must have been responsible. Thus the ICJ condemns Belgrade for failing to use its influence to prevent Srebrenica (although that is itself a notable retraction from the assumption that Belgrade had direct control over the Republika Srpska army) and for failing to hand over Mladić to the ICTY (assuming Mladić is in Serbia, and not say Bosnia or Montenegro). But this is thin gruel for the Milošević = Hitler school of thought.

There are a lot of people for whom this verdict will be unwelcome. The neocon-Wahhabi alliance who were the main outside protagonists will be annoyed, but they have other fish to fry now and will go on their merry way. More severely put out will be the Bosnian Muslim leadership, who had hoped to get an official designation of Serbian collective guilt and impose a Versailles-style settlement that would have propped up their failed statelet with reparations imposed on Serbia’s already ruined economy. But then, they don’t run Bosnia anyway.

What is interesting in this is the effect the verdict has on the liberal hawks, whether the hardcore neocons of the soi-disant Decent Left or the more woolly Guardian tendency. For both Bosnia has a huge significance – either justifying Iraq in the former case, or in the latter by contrasting the Iraqi disaster with the Good Intervention led by the Holy Clintons. It is also worth noting, as Conor Foley points out, that the liberal hawks like to ignore the UN Charter, Nuremberg judgements and the entire corpus of international law according to which “humanitarian intervention” is extremely illegal. Rather, they prefer to give imaginative interpretations of the Genocide Convention and extrapolate from that a “duty to protect” the citizens of enemy states from their own governments, whether or not those citizens actually want to be invaded.

So it was predictable that the Grauniad’s long-time Balkan correspondent Ian Traynor should turn in a report headlined “Serbia condemned for Srebrenica despite acquittal on genocide charge” while referring in a subheading to a “damning verdict”. Traynor skates lightly over the bulk of the verdict, while focussing almost entirely on the Srebrenica clauses. He also bellyaches about how ethnic cleansing carried out by Bosnian Serbs in 1992 was not condemned as genocide. (Traynor makes no mention of atrocities carried out against Serbs, which is par for the course for him.) As if to underline that Traynor is no loose cannon, a leader in the same day’s paper alleged that “an entire nation has been held to judicial account for genocide”.

This sort of thing is what might be expected from the Grauniad. Let’s recap what happened in the September 2006 Bosnian elections. In the Republika Srpska the nationalists – Karadžić’s SDS and the Radicals – were heavily defeated by the Independent Social Democrats, under the leadership of Milorad Dodik, long the pet moderate of the “international community”, which is how he got to be prime minister in 1998 when his party only held two seats out of 83 in the People’s Assembly. Dodik’s election platform was to uphold the Dayton Accords and make the governmental structures work. In Croat districts the Tudjmanite HDZ was not defeated by the Social Democrats, but was run relatively close. Meanwhile the Muslim community was divided between mad chauvinists and even madder chauvinists, who competed with each other on a platform of who was most enthusiastic about ripping up the federal Dayton constitution and establishing a Muslim-dominated unitary state – exactly the demand that got them into the 1992-95 war in the first place.

How did Traynor report this election? With an article entitled “Serb move may trigger new war”, based on a remark by Dodik that, if Kosovo was entitled to a referendum on independence, so too was Republika Srpska. For Traynor’s fertile imagination, this signalled that “Serbia may be plotting to annex large tracts of Bosnia”, although Dodik had said no such thing. This is to be explained not by any deliberate dishonesty on Traynor’s part – I can’t read his mind – but by his attempts to make sense of inconvenient facts within a rigid ideological framework. If Traynor regards the anti-nationalist Dodik as a “hardline nationalist”, this is only to be expected from one who regards virtually all Serbs, except for Sonja Biserko and her little clique of Imperial caddies, as “hardline nationalists”.

Turning to the more hawkish wing, I notice this load of gobbledegook from the egregious Oliver Kamm. Our boy huffs and puffs a bit about the Guardian’s coverage; argues that it doesn’t matter that the evidence was not legally sufficient to convict Serbia, because he (Kamm) was convinced by the circumstantial evidence; and maunders about the judgement of history. Generally, one could say that Kamm is not writing about the judgement the ICJ actually delivered, but about the judgement it would have delivered if the panel of judges had included great minds of our time such as Norm Geras, Dave Aaronovitch, Francis Wheen, Marko Attila Hoare, Martin Bell and, er, Oliver Kamm.

It will come as no surprise to regular readers of Kamm that he manages to drag this round to a discussion of his bête noire Chomsky, and specifically yet another defence of Emma Brockes’ notorious hoax interview in the Guardian. (At this point, I actually feel really sorry for Emma. With the Grauniad brass who set up the Chomsky hatchet-job having piled all the blame onto her, it will take years for her to live the episode down. Her task is made no easier by Kamm and Cohen offering unsolicited defences of an article she doesn’t defend herself.) In that case, despite both the Readers’ Editor and External Ombudsman giving short shrift to the Francis Kammovitch letter in Brockes’ defence, Kamm blustered about deficiencies in the Graun’s appellate procedures. The chief of these being that Kamm et al were not allowed indefinite appeals until such time as they got the right result. Even Alex Ferguson might look askance at that.

If Kamm’s article doesn’t appear to make much sense, there is a reason for that which, despite Kamm’s style giving this impression, has nothing to do with a lack of intelligence on the part of the reader. Roger Ebert says that the first rule of movie criticism is: A film is not about what it is about, but how it is about it. Applied to literature, the Iliad is not about the Trojan War, but about the wrath of Achilles. Kamm is no Homer, but the same rule applies. When Kamm writes about the Middle East, the Balkans, George Lansbury or Reinhold Niebuhr, these articles are not about what they appear to be about – their real subject is what a clever clogs Oliver Kamm is. This goes in spades for Kamm’s slightly disturbing cyber-stalking of Chomsky, which for some reason puts me in mind of a teenage boy obsessed with his older brother’s penis.

PS. I also notice in the Grauniad a letter from an old mucker of mine, Prof Martin Shaw, taking issue with the ICJ’s “perverse” judgement. Martin’s logic seems to be that Slobo must have been guilty of genocide because he (Martin) has said so in a book, and so have several other people he respects. Well, I’m certainly convinced by that. This is an obvious trick the eminent judges missed in their 10-month deliberations. After all, if the judges had had the benefit of reading Martin Shaw or Branka Magaš, there would be no question of reasonable doubt.

Update 6.3.07: For more on the ICJ judgement and its reception, this typically excellent article by Nebojša Malić is well worth a look.

Watching Nick

Well, I have held my nose and procured Nick’s little book. From first impressions, it’s even worse than I feared. This is sad in a way, because a lot of Nick’s latter-day comrades are people I would expect no better from. Nick, on the other hand, has quite an illustrious history and used to be downright brilliant on domestic politics – Cruel Britannia was probably the best analysis of Blair’s Britain, and Pretty Straight Guys was a good read too, although the incongruous chapter on Iraq, which gave all the signs of having been added at the last moment, pointed the way to his current position. Foreign policy was always Nick’s weak point, so it was probably inevitable that his downfall would come from that quarter.

So, what are we to make of What’s Left? Well, as I say, there are people from whom nothing better could have been expected. Kamm’s book was utter bilge, but then we all knew what Kamm was like. To find Nick, sometime one of my favourite journalists, writing something like What’s Left? is deeply depressing, and it gives me no pleasure to say that he has been digging ever more frenziedly since publication, probably encouraged by good notices. It seems to me that Nick is completely losing his grip, and one thing we don’t need is a lefty Britney Spears (or, perhaps more accurately, David Icke) on our hands.

The best way to approach this book is in chunks. Nick’s previous books were after all collections of his journalism, and What’s Left? carries this on by being a series of disjointed little essays – and the essays are bad enough singly without Nick’s desperate attempts to make them fit an overarching thesis. So, when Norn Iron commitments allow, I will be blogging a review of Nick in instalments. Since the good folks over at Aaro Watch are finding the book too depressing to cover in much depth, the Sunrise will step into the breach.

Reviewing What’s Left? will also give us an opportunity to look at the phenomenon of the Decent Left as a whole. Since most of the book, those bits not recycled by Nick from his old columns or springing out of his fertile imagination, is lifted from his mates’ books and articles, and sympathetic blogs and websites, some examination of Nick’s sources will be in order. Just look at the rogues’ gallery in the acknowledgments at the back for a veritable Who’s Who of Decentism.

So, readers may expect to be regaled with occasional looks at Nick. Feedback will as always be welcome; and, unlike Nick’s composition of his dire screed, the reviewing process will involve some homework and concern for factuality.

PS. This rather intemperate review by my old friend Ian Birchall in Socialist Worker may be of interest. Not that I am likely to be more temperate, but Ian does have the advantage of concision.

Hot air from the Eustie Boys

If you haven’t already seen it, I urge you to read this article by Stuart over at Indecent Left. This is, by far, the best review I’ve yet seen of Nick Cohen’s What’s Left? – it really obviates the need for me to write one, although I probably will by and by. Nick is too tempting a target to miss, and from the look of it his book has enough howlers, tendentious assertions and jarring logical jumps to keep a critical reader busy for months.

While on the subject of the Euston Manifesto crowd, I note this precious little piece from Norman Geras favourably quoting his pal Oliver Kamm on the question of whether blogging is good for democracy. Norm and Ollie conclude that it is indeed a good thing to let a thousand flowers bloom, but unfortunately “blogging debate… includes a lot that isn’t conducive to deliberation, in a good meaning of that word, or to open-minded consideration of the views of others”. Norm argues that what is needed is “to improve the culture of Internet discussion”.

I need hardly point out that Norm and Ollie promote open discussion by running blogs that don’t allow comments. Physician, heal thyself, I think is the phrase.

Update 21.02.07: For another cracking review of Cohen, check this out.

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