John Walker's Electronic House

Who’s Left?

by on Aug.08, 2005, under Rants

For the longest time I have been trying to articulate my political position in the wake of the events of the last few years. This is not to say that it has changed – it has become more articulate, self-aware and educated, but still essentially stayed in the same place for as far back as I can remember. But as the broadest acceptable title for where I stand, “the left”, increasingly becomes a phrase I fear, what is going on?

‘The left’ now refers to the groups of people who will happily go on “Stop The War” marches co-run by extreme right-wing organisations, explaining that it wasn’t all run by anti-Semitic bodies, so it’s still ok. ‘The left’ now refers to the people who will endorse George Galloway simply because he disagrees with someone they disagree with, and in doing so accept his fondness for spending time with extreme right-wing dictators, and his endorsement of extreme right-wing groups, and his calls for violent actions against others. ‘The left’ runs around screaming “TONY BLIAR MORE LIKE!”, reducing painfully complicated situations down to black and white arguments wherein they label the perceived opponents as the ‘black’, and then seem to think that the ‘white’ requires no definition or identification beyond “not the same as the black”.

That’s not ‘the left’ that I used to think of when I heard the phrase. Perhaps the whole association with the extreme right is the immediate giveaway. And it scares me. Because as New Labour moves to the centre, and obviously the Conservatives keep rushing right, the Liberal Democrats still haven’t figured out what to do with their new-found leftist position, and those on the left who didn’t go with Labour are now acting out on the anger at the betrayal they feel. This anger pushes them to where my friend Martin describes as “around the back of insanity, where they meet up with the extreme rights”.

Articulating this, and the peculiar feeling of standing in the gap left over, looking around and wondering what happend, is pretty disorientating. Somehow the vocabulary of what was previously the left is now perceived to be nu-intolerance. Standing against oppression is only acceptable if it’s perpetrated by the Western world. Which is why it was so utterly bloody fantastic to read this by Nick Cohen:

I still fight oppression

68 Comments for this entry

  • Ben Hoyle

    I once voted for George Galloway in something or other.

    I’m all better now.

    I agree with you, though, about the sense of disorientation.

  • Rev. S Campbell

    At least you didn’t vote for that bastard *James* Galloway. Whatever happened to him, eh?

  • Nick Mailer

    When “the left” complains just as loudly and strongly about this as it does Guantanamo Bay, will be when I feel able to rejoin its ranks:

  • Geoff

    But you don’t understand, Cohen is right wing, he’s very right wing, very very right wing or, according to Peter Wilby, just bored.,7558,1540266,00.html

    You clearly not with the programme being ‘left wing’ isn’t about freeing people from tyranny or resisting terrorists wanting to blow up commuters and restoring a Caliphate; it’s about not liking America and siding with everyone else who doesn’t like America.

  • Jonh

    That Cohen piece annoyed me when I read it. He is a slippery fish and appears to be doing a Hitchens. Nicks post, the left deplore that stuff as you know Mr Mailer.

    Cohen has written some good stuff. He now appears to be increasingly right wing. I celebrate the fact that he has the right to be so.

    It seems to me (and I’m sure you will tell me I’m wrong) that a lot of the apologists for the war, Cohen and Parsons included) have painted themselves into a corner and are not prepared to stick up their hands and say they were wrong.

  • John W

    Jon, I am aware that you will not consider an alternative opinion to your own being anything other than automatically right wing, so I’m aware that I will achieve nothing by responding. And yet I do anyway.

    However, I will say that your perception of slipperyness is horribly telling. He is stating his position absolutely. It’s just that it’s one your black/white mindset cannot tolerate. So rather than accepting that his stance is indeed far more solidly left wing than your own, you instead re-write it as right wing so it can be dismissed without the inconvenience of thought. It just could not be put better than this:

    “The least attractive characteristic of the middle-class left – one shared with the Thatcherites – is its refusal to accept that its opponents are sincere.”

    You are entirely unwilling to accept that this is a sincere, left wing, Socialist position, because it doesn’t fit into the screaming fireworks of your friend Galloway.

    Look at how coloured your vision is. You see Cohen’s stance as one of denial that he was definitively wrong for having not stood against the invasion of Iraq. In fact, you call it apologism – a word that only makes sense from your viewpoint, and is irrelevant from his own.

    So long as you continue to endorse those that tolerate fascism, you will be unable to recognise the terrifying extreme-right position you have adopted, and will continue to perceive those genuinely extolling left wing principles (to fight against injustice, to oppose oppression and fascism) as being against you, and therefore right wing.

  • NM

    JonH, let me know when the SWP is going to arrange its march against the brutal treatment of women, homosexuals and other faiths in Islamic states. I’ll even help paint banners. But, oh, sorry, I forgot, that can’t happen, because, as your mate Marxist George said:

    “”[S]ocialism and Islam are very close, other than on the issue of the existence of God. We are synthesising the socialist idea with religious
    ideas in Britain in a way no-one else in the world is doing. It’s one of the reasons for the success of the Stop The War Coalition. It’s one of the reasons for the success of Respect.”

    And this is less scary than the Christian Coalition’s pernicious hold on US politics how exactly?

  • Wilko

    You find The Left increasingly simplistic and reactionary, and that’s fair enough; they are. What you don’t seem to realise is that it’s *always* been like that. For as long as I can remember. For as long as my Dad can remember. And for as long as his Dad can remember.

    It’s up to the critical thinkers amongst those who describe themselves as being ‘on the left’ to reclaim the badge, and to *educate* those who think in these too-simplistic, black and white terms.

    I’ve tried, I’ve failed. I’ll try again. But then, I’m not as eloquent as you are. ;-)

  • bob_arctor

    I think it would be nice if muslims (M?) who converted to Christianity did not get bricks through their windows and general alienation.
    And have equal rights for women and homosexuals whatever the religion, and if that religion doesn’t like it then tough. The state should be separated, and I believe overrule religion as it is in France.

  • John W

    Bob – you’re so right wing!

    Steve – it would be lovely if it worked that way, but the consensus of stupidity tends to carry the labels. Look at the way JonH responds: he perceives purist left wing thinking as right wing rhetoric – it’s already too late for anyone willing to spend a neuron’s worth of effort.

    And stop hiding behind your perceptions of eloquence in others. Someone being able to string their insults together all pretty doesn’t mean a great deal.

  • Wilko

    You’re probably right in that it’s difficult to change some people’s thinking once set in place (especially those on the hard left or hard right), but all I was really trying to say was that contrary to your opinion that The Left has seen a gradual swing towards reactionary thinking and stubbornness, I reckon it’s always been like that and most positive outcomes from the work of such groups have been a product of luck, or because of those few individuals who have worked bloody hard from within.

    It’s certainly something I came across when I first flirted with leftist organisations in my college years. I became disenchanted not long after and spent several years away from such groups because they were more than willing to use the same tactics they were railing against in the right. I tentatively decided to ‘go back’ to help organise a couple of local Stop the War rallies, but cut ties for good after seeing the same bloody thing.

    That said, it was mostly in the upper echelons of the organisation; the people on the ground being mostly good people. The crunch probably came when we (seemingly) successfully argued during a committee meeting against the courting of ‘Lord’ Nazir Ahmed to speak at a rally (a vile man, who amongst many other things, publicly and vociferously preached against the scrapping of section 28).

    But the higher-ups went ahead and got him anyway. I only found out when he got up at the mic. to speak.

  • John W

    You’re right – it’s terrifying. Also, eloquently put.

  • Chiarina

    You might like to peruse this site! Also I can’t believe how often people think it’s ok to say that people who agree over one issue and who form alliances to further that particular end are obviously supporting each other over all issues. Do you really think that it was illegitimate to go on the anti-war march to signal how you didn’t wnat Iraq to be invaded (and nothing but that) because mab had a hand in organising it and wanted to promote their own message (get out of palestine) too? Be intelligent about it! Anyway:

  • John W

    Yes, I think it’s abysmal to go to a march organised by an anti-Semitic hate group, who endorse terrorism, and advocate the murder of Muslims who have changed their faith, or are gay. I find it especially distasteful when said march is emblazoned by banners reading “FREE PALESTINE”, while all those marching repeat to themselves “I’m only here about Iraq, I’m only here about Iraq”.

    In order to be clear, as it seems necessary, I fully support and endorse the call for a Palestinian state. The slogan “FREE PALESTINE” has nothing to do with this, as only a moment’s research into the march’s organisers would have revealed.

    Laziness and ignorance does not excuse stupidity. It creates it. Were an anti-war march to have been subverted on the day, while I’d still be asking each and every person attending just what exactly their brilliant alternative to fighting the oppression of the Iraqi people might be, I would be more sympathetic. But since it was openly organised by these hateful extreme right-wing bodies, my tearducts suddenly run dry.

  • Nick Mailer

    Chiarina: imagine you were concerned about the state of the NHS, and that the National Front is helping to arrange a “Save the NHS” march. They are one of the two banner organisations in this march. Would you walk happily behind their banner, saying “never mind, it’s a good cause”? I would bet you would not. Indeed, you would be disgusted that such an organisation were tainting a cause you supported.

    I imagine you believe that the MAB is not comparable with the vituperative nastiness of the National Front; this is because you are naive and have not done the research necessary to extricate yourself from the charge of “Useful Idiot”. For your information, MAB is the British branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. I invite you to research the politics and ethics of the group, and then to reconsider the morality of sharing a platform therewith.

  • John W

    Haven’t done Political Compass in a while.

    Look at me, all right wing. Oh, wait:

    Economic Left/Right: -7.50
    Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -7.54

  • Wilko

    No, Chiarina, much as it once might have pained (or at least embarrassed) me to admit it, it was wrong to propagandise other issues, no matter how sincerely people felt about them, at a march which had been promoted to most people as being about opposing the war and *nothing* else. I’m sure that the majority of those present who had not until then been involved with any kind of left-wing organisation did not know that the invasion would be only one of several things on the agenda.

    If it had been advertised as such, or (as John says) if this had been a spur of the moment thing, then allowances could be made, but the fact is that the Coalition planned it all along. They just forgot to tell anyone (or at least made little mention of it).

  • John W

    I think Steve’s last point is made all the more chilling when you read Galloway’s stating that the coalition was a “success”. I seem to remember some sort of invasion of Iraq occurring, so presented with the stated aim of the coalition, you have to wonder what exactly he sees as having been successful. It must be… no, surely not… that it was never really about stopping the war at all!?

  • Jonh

    No that is fair comment John and Nick both. I accept this. I don’t want to head down this road again. But lets try and put it on a level headed footing. Nick I can put you in contact with the people painting and marching with those banners if you like. They exist. The fact that they are not in the main stream media does not detract from that.
    Steve yes I agree with you as well.
    It may have been misguided but it led to a massive demonstration. I regret many things.

    Galloway OK. He can be a cunt. He can be annoying and say rubbish. He is a fantastic orator (yes I realise Hitler was as well).

    We have far more in common as far as I can tell than otherwise. I’m saddened that I didn’t stop our discourse spiraling out of control before.

  • bodnotbod

    “JonH, let me know when the SWP is going to arrange its march against the brutal treatment of women, homosexuals and other faiths in Islamic states. I’ll even help paint banners.”

    Good job we had our war to stop all that. Oh, shit, wait (first para tells the tale, but well worth reading all of it):,2763,1508193,00.html

    So, before war: job and jeans.

    Post war: no job and male suppression.

    In fairness she was writing before the elections, so I hope things change.

  • John W

    Graeme – how do you equate the call to make a public stand against the oppression of women and gays in Iran, with endorsing an illegal invasion of Iraq?

  • Jonh

    Graeme have you been drinking?

    You have just attributed a Nick quote to me. Which is fine I don’t disagree with it in any particular way. But I spend far too much time fighting my own verbal wars without being lumbered with ones I have not originated.

  • bodnotbod

    “Graeme – how do you equate the call to make a public stand against the oppression of women and gays in Iran, with endorsing an illegal invasion of Iraq?”

    My understanding is that Nick supports/supported the invasion. I’d be flabberghasted and delighted to be informed otherwise.

    “You have just attributed a Nick quote to me.”

    No, I didn’t. I merely included his original use of your name in the quote. But sorry, I suppose that was confusing.

  • John W

    Jon, have you been drinking? He was quoting Nick, as evidenced by the quote marks around the thing Nick said. I know this is a comments thread, but let’s keep it all on topic.

  • Jonh

    Oh sorry.

    Yep OK I sit corrected.

  • John W

    Graeme – it doesn’t seem relevant to me whether Nick supports the invasion or not. His comments were about what those on the left claim to be protesting against. It didn’t seem relevant to me to compare it with his decrying the cretinoleftists and their support-the-trendy-who-cares-who-organises stance.

    Of course there are stories of people who have suffered in Iraq. It’s just, I didn’t see all these oh-so-caring liberals making a big old stinky fuss while Hussein was slaughtering Iraqis in their hundreds of thousands.

  • Jonh

    This is where we get into real trouble.

    First we have to agree was this regime built by the US and funded by it,or not?

    Secondly John those throw away figures need some sort of back up.

    I just know I am about to turn your blog into old bemli so I am bailing out.

    I’m happy to answer both those questions and hope we can discuss it in a civilised way.

    So off list if you are bothered. Otherwise we are just going down the same route.

  • John W

    Jon, go, shoo. I’m not interested in this flapping rubbish. This is a blog with a comments option. You post comments. It’s not foreplay for a special private conversation in which you get to offer your apologetics for a brutal fascist dictator in a comfortable email made just for two. You can post your comments here, and you can face the replies. But you don’t get to play this ridiculous game of peek-a-boo.

    There isn’t a route to go down. In fact, if it’s all too much, you simply just don’t have to read the blog. Ta-da! All the problems go away, and you’ll never have to think a single thought as long as you ever shall live. It’s such a happy ending, I could just sing!

  • bodnotbod

    “His comments were about what those on the left claim to be protesting against.”

    ‘Claim’? Ah, so this “assuming the other side has an ulterior motive and isn’t just plain old sincere” pathology exists on both sides then.

    “It didn’t seem relevant to me to compare it with his decrying the cretinoleftists and their support-the-trendy-who-cares-who-organises stance.”

    Fine. Believe that everyone that went on the march was ignorant or worse. Now, let’s take a look around. Well, everything still looks as exactly as shit as before. No progress at all. If anything there’s more division.

    “Of course there are stories of people who have suffered in Iraq. It’s just, I didn’t see all these oh-so-caring liberals making a big old stinky fuss while Hussein was slaughtering Iraqis in their hundreds of thousands.”

    And I didn’t see all those on the right, who ended up supporting the war, dancing around saying “bomb them! bomb them! bomb them!” until it started to look like a serious propostion either.

    Both left and right of the spectrum were more interested in Coronation Street and going to Tescos prior to that.

    I certainly didn’t make a stinky fuss prior to countdown. With your more sophisticated leftism, did you? Did any of us?

  • bodnotbod

    In addition, Nick takes every opportunity to twist the knife over the march. And yet he also berates the left for being more concerned about Guantanamo Bay than Iran.

    Perhaps both of you should care more about any one of those issues than the march.

  • John W

    Come on – I’m not interested in Bemli arguments being dragged into here. I left the mailing list for a good reason, and 99% of the people reading don’t and don’t want to know what is being alluded to. Let’s stick to the comments made here, and not in another place that exists solely for extreme opinions to be batted around.

  • bodnotbod

    (sorry, sometimes I press ‘carriage return’ and it’s posting the comment).

    I feel I was sticking to comments made here, because you spoke about the march – but OK, fair enough, I’ll try not to draw parallels with previous conversation as I go along.

    Do you really think phrases like “oh-so caring” are helpful?

    Are you confident and comfortable as the arbiter of the extent of feeling people have on an issue? You can bestride the left wing opinion like a colossus and sweep their apparantly flaccid, apparently unmeant worries aside so easily?

    Incidentally, for the non-BEMLi I’m less left-wing than pessimistic misanthrope – so come the thousand mile wide meteor I’ll be happiest of all – but in the meantime I have to deal with minor quibbles like massive abuse of power.

    Oh and surely you can sense a bit of strangeness in criticising Galloway (of whom I am no fan) for siding with right-wing dictators when you know full well Western democracies cosy up to them all the time? Galloway / the left do not have any kind of monopoly on unpleasant bedfellows.

  • John W

    I don’t believe that everyone on the march was “ignorant or worse”. I believe that they were either ignorant of a very important fact, didn’t care, or supported the fascists’ cause. It’s one of those three if you were there. It does mean that everyone was stupid or evil – but it does mean it was one of those three things, and they deserve recognition.

    And no, I did not do my part before the invasion. What I did try to do was become educated about the situation as it unfurled, which was certainly too late.

    What I found most distressing was that while I did not support an illegal invasion of Iraq by an imperial force hell-bent on infecting its own form of corrupt, capitalist faux-democracy, I also could not find a single person who was marching who would offer me an alternative response that valued left-wing thinking. I learned that there was none. It wasn’t a reaction to the plight of the Iraqi people – had that been the case then there would have been marches for the previous decade against Saddam – but instead an angry and upset middle class wanting to complain about its own government. Why did no one I asked have an opinion on Iraq? Because they didn’t care about Iraq – they cared about Tony Bliar-more-like and how cross they were with him.

  • John W

    “Do you really think phrases like “oh-so caring” are helpful?”

    No. But in the safety of my own blog, it kicks off debate. I was only ever posting my personal thoughts, trying to encapsulate my frustration and confusion, and linking to an astonishingly good article that I hoped a few people would read and consider. I’m angry and upset because I feel abandoned by any recognisable politics, while those who should be representing me are racing in either direction away from anything I value.

    So that’s the voice with which I write here. My honest, angry, upset, confused, often wrong, often unfair, voice.

    I’m not speaking for The People, or claiming The Left for myself. I’m writing about why “the left” has become a phrase that scares me, and speaking up against what I perceive. And I’ll do that vociferously and forcefully, because I believe this is just about the most important thing to recognise right now, because this is the way things go right before they get really messy.

    No. I do not recognise strangeness in criticising Galloway. Of course I criticise the same in major political parties. The difference is, Galloway has become the poster-child for the people who are supposed to oppose that, and instead has entirely become it. And that means… there’s no one left. And that scares me.

  • bodnotbod

    “and they deserve recognition”

    Even now? All this time down the line? Especially when surely you assume (I know I certainly do) that the numbers were overwhelmingly in the “didn’t know” category.

    “What I did try to do was become educated about the situation as it unfurled”

    I’d say that was fair enough. Me too.

    “I also could not find a single person who was marching who would offer me an alternative response that valued left-wing thinking.”

    I think that might be because the response would have been incredibly boring. Ie you use slow political processes to undermine the leadership of countries that destroy the lives of their citizens by many and complicated means that take a long time to work.

    Clearly that’s nowhere near as catchy as “Get him!”

    “It wasn’t a reaction to the plight of the Iraqi people – had that been the case then there would have been marches for the previous decade against Saddam”

    If the plight of the Iraqis had had its own Bob Geldof everybody would have started looking at it more closely.

    I suppose the only thing we can do to try and stop the general “not caring” that you correctly identify is to have a better media to raise levels of awareness. But that seems like a non-starter.

    I think there’s some very sound reasons why we criticise our own government more than an overseas one that behaves more abominably.

    1) We put them there, so we feel responsible.

    2) We feel (stupid as it often seems) that we can have an effect on them.

    3) Here’s an illustration:

    SITUATION A – you are sitting in a restaurant and your friend harangues the waiter in a way you deem unfair.

    SITUATION B – …a stranger harangues the waiter in the same way.

    You’re much more likely to intervene with your friend, who you feel some sense of duty to speak to than the stranger, I would guess. I know I would. I only came up with that just now, so perhaps it’s flawed, but it seems to be a useful comparison.

    Of course if the UK is haranguing the waiter I suppose Iraq is battering his head in with a crow bar…

    I need to put more thought into that I suppose…

  • bodnotbod

    “So that’s the voice with which I write here. My honest, angry, upset, confused, often wrong, often unfair, voice.”

    Yeah, fair enough.

    I strongly suspect there are lots of people on the left with whom you will identify.

    If you write to Nick Cohen and ask him for journalists to follow or books I’m sure he’d answer such a request. I’ve been surprised that (if I recall correctly) about 4 writers who I’ve pestered out of the blue have always responded usefully.

    Good luck with it.

  • Wilko

    Though it seems to have run its course, I did want to add just one more thing to this. Several have suggested a negligence on the part of The Left in opposing things such as women’s rights in Iran, or the previous brutal regime in Iraq, and of course Dafur, and I wouldn’t really argue with that other than to offer up some purely anecdotal evidence.

    Where I live at least, there was a strong call amongst leftist organisations to oppose the Taliban’s regime before the Afghan invasion. Regularly I would get calls or e-mails detailing their oppression of women, their citizens and their support of extremist organisations. It was only in the very short run up to the invasion that these calls subsided and the focus of the left began to be directed against the US, for more or less doing what they had been demanding for years!

    I suppose as Graeme says, it’s far easier and more convenient to criticise your friends or political and economic allies than it is some far-removed group which you feel you can’t really do much about, and the Iraq situation fell under this too. The march was one thing which was promoted, rightly or wrongly, as something which *might just* have been something that affected a situation that people could do something about. No matter how large or vocal the protests there’d always been a feeling of impotence in the public about issues such as Iran or Afghanistan or Iraq, situations which it was felt that our leaders had more power to affect if only they bloody well would.

    Do I think that protests about Dafur will have any significant outcome, convince the government and the UN to stop using the letter of the law to defeat the spirit of the law, as with Rwanda before it? No. But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying to convince them otherwise. It would be remiss of us not to – and this was the overwhelming feeling I got from those in the Stop the War coalition too, no matter how much I disagreed with their methods and choice of allies.

  • NM

    I went to a Dafur protest. It was very small, and very few Muslims, and no SWP/Stop The War type people were there at all. Peter Tatchell was, though. It seems that we don’t really care when darker Muslims butcher one-another, only when generally paler folk do. There’s a word for that.

  • Wilko

    I’m tempted to say that’s unfair, but that would smack of petulance when there are far greater evils being propagated. But that doesn’t disprove my suggestion (and that’s all it is) that the reason a lot of people were willing to support the march is because they saw it (however wrongly) as something which *could* have a positive effect, something about which they felt they had a power, a voice which would be heeded, unlike those other issues I mentioned which it is probably felt by these same types that a protest outside Downing Street would have no progressive effect. I’m not saying this is right on their part of course. As it happens, over the last year and a bit I have tried to motivate several former associates in the direction of Sudan.

    All I am trying to do here is to rationalise the thinking behind the focus on one issue over another without resorting to (hopefully erroneously) labelling people as racist. Or using the word ‘armand’ of course. So, there’s all that, plus a shameful lack of mass media coverage of the situation. I suppose it’s not as easy for them to condense it down to the black-and-white issues they managed with the similarly-complex Iraq.

    Ah, I was wondering when that would turn up; the eternal call of the lefty: blame the press. I sound like bloody medialens. I think I need a bath.

  • John W

    But surely it’s now time to call racism racism?

    Johann Hari writes:

    “For example, what would you do if, in your block of flats, there was a white family where the women of the house rarely left without the patriarch’s permission, and – on the very rare occasions when they did – they covered their face so only their eyes were visible? What would you do if, in the same family, there was a gay son who knew he could never tell his relatives, because he would be beaten and then ostracised from everybody he has ever known?

    The answer is easy (I hope): you would be disgusted, and you would try to help them. But there is a family just like this in the building where I live, and there is only one difference – they are Asian. So I do nothing, and nor do any of the other nice liberals who live here, even though this family is as British as we are. Isn’t there a word for treating people differently because of the colour of their skin?”

  • Chiarina

    I would like to plead ignorance, not stupidity, about my own personal reasons for marching under the same banner as unpleasant organisations. One learns from experience. Ignorance can lead to knowledge when noted. Wilko’s comments probably most accurately represent what happened to most of the marchers. In fact, of the million people who went, I’m sure that that’s what most people thought. That they were there to oppose the war. We could say that we hijacked the march from some of the unpleasant organisations that organised it. So I am still happy I went. I think in the end their agenda was dwarfed…the media coverage certainly suggests this!And you can’t pretend, John, that no one had any alternatives to war, whether or not the people you asked had thought about it. There were people carrying banners asking for a second resolutions. People wanted the inspectors to have time to finish their jobs (let us not forget, Iraq had no WMD, and that is the grounds upon which the war was waged and NOT to fight the oppression of the Iraqi people. If however you wish to align yourself with Blair and Bush because of your concern for Iraqis and not because of your concern for the consolidation of the West’s power in the Middle East, be my guest, and make it explicit…I don’t think that that’s wrong). Campaigns to lift sanctions to make the Iraqi society less crippled and hopefully more able to overthrow their own dictator have been going on for years, supported by many people. All sorts of opinions were represented at the march. I think that it’s not fair to suggest that people who were against the war were so because they hate Tony Blair more than they cared about ‘Collateral Damage’. That would be to set up a straw man. And I never said you were right wing! I just thought you might find the political compass helpful to orient the views of others as well as yourself. I’d rather evaluate the merits of each issue than the politics surrounding it.

  • Wilko

    “But surely it’s now time to call racism racism?”

    Yes, of course it is; it’s always been so. As I said, I was merely attempting to offer up an explanation to the promotion of one cause over another, a rationalisation which didn’t have some kind of racial discrimination at its root. But then again, no-one asked me to serve as their proxy; if they want to explain their actions they can bloody well do it for themselves. I’m done with it. I know *my* position and reasons for opposing the rush to war, and shouldn’t presume to second-guess anyone else’s.

  • John W

    “If however you wish to align yourself with Blair and Bush… be my guest.”

    This is the black and white that I’m referring to. It really troubles me that the position becomes: If you criticise the march because of its organisers and the banners under which people are marching, then you side with Bush and Blair. Or: Criticise those opposing the war for not having an alternative response, and you side with Bush and Blair.

    In fact, this really does sound strangely similar to someone else’s rhetoric: you’re either with us, or against us.

    It can never be allowed to become that simple. So when I point out that a second resolution already happened, before the seventeen that followed it, that doesn’t mean I’m siding with Bush. It does, however, mean I’m asking for the truth to be involved in the debate.

    And no, you did not suggest I was right wing. It was Jon who implied that when he said that Cohen was right wing, in response to a post in which I stated that Cohen had summed up my position on the matter.

    This situation is so much more complicated than people wish to acknowledge, so much so that it becomes White=March, Black=Don’t March, or White=Bush, Black=Galloway. It doesn’t work that way, and these extremist responses to all situations are what cause conflict and offer no hope of resolution.

  • NM

    My support of the invasion of Iraq was very simple: I have no simplistic delusions that Bush did it for any high-flying or altruistic reasons because, sadly, he is not a neo-conservative. If the neo-conservatives really held sway, rather than the pragmatics, then we’d have a much more interesting set of ethics at hand. This being the case, I knew too much about Iraq, and had too much contact with those who had fled, to wish to keep the psychopathic dictator and his vicious sons in power a second longer. I should have liked to have used a magic wand to get rid of him. Instead, we were given an incompetent and cynical American invasion. But if I had to choose to live under an American puppet or Saddam Hussein, the choice would be simple. And I am all about choosing the least worst option, rather than daydreaming for perfection whilst people are fed live through industrial shredders (a particular favourite of Uday’s). I still have great hope for Iraq, actually – because I believe that the great majority in that country want to live freely and peacefully, and have now been given an opportunity, albeit a slim one, to achieve that. This very fact is why so many foreign insurgents, particularly from Syria, are so anxious that it doesn’t work.

  • Chiarina

    But that was the point I was making John! Just because you agreed with the invasion (‘aligned with Blair and Bush), doesn’t mean you are aligned with Blair and Bush on any other issue or for the same reasons…(that’s why I said…be my guest, it’s not wrong!)just because I marched it doesn’t mean I support MAB, or Galloway, or anyone else! (Or that I am stupid or a useless idiot, for that matter). I wholly agree with you on the black/white/grey issue, and it was the point I was trying to make.

  • John W

    No, that’s the point I was making Chiarina, I have never stated whether I agree with the invasion or not. You have supposed I’ve picked a side, because you view it as a side-picking issue.

    You are not a useless idiot. However, it is my contention that you fit the definition of “useful idiot”. I’m not calling you names: see here.

  • Kieron Gillen

    To be honest, calling someone a “Useful Idiot” and claiming it’s not an insult is disingenious. Obviously, it has a meaning. But

    1) You can’t include “Idiot” in a phrase and not expect someone to get the wrong idea.
    2) It clearly *is* a patronising insult.


  • Wilko

    Yes, while the phrase has a specific meaning, the inclusion of the word ‘idiot’ can surely only lead to offence on the part of those it’s directed at, no matter what the intention.

    If one means to refer to someone by the definition of the phrase, without intending insult, then either use the definition or make up a new word or phrase.

    I’m sure you’ll see it, John, as being intentionally scathing about someone’s opinion or actions, in order to provoke them into deeper consideration about such. This may even work for some, but many wouldn’t take it that way and would just go off in a huff when they could be reached via more appropriate, persuasive argument.

  • Chiarina

    So you would say I advanced MAB’s cause by marching, even though it is clear it is not them I was supporting by going on the march? (Sorry about the typo, I did mean ‘useful idiot’). How exactly did I advance their homophobic, authoritarian, worse-than-National-Front agenda? Given my ignorance at the time of their stands on various issues, I could potentially have been ‘a useful idiot’, but I don’t think that either their intolerant or ‘free palestine’ agendas were advanced by my actions. Let’s just say, regarding the black/white issue, that we agree. I was saying that just as my anti-war stance aligned me with MAB, and therefore I was willing to take up a platform with them, it doesn’t mean I support either their reasons for being against the war or other, intolerant, stances they may have. If you align yourself with Bush and Blair on the pro-war issue, you don’t necessarily support their reasons for invasion. It did appear that you generally did not support people who were against the invasion of Iraq. And it would indeed be an assumption to think you were therefore pro-invasion. But it also seemed as though you did not believe, or at least doubted, that any of the anti-war people had a good reason for being against the Iraq war or any alternatives to it. And because you don’t propose what you would deem an acceptable reason for being against the war, or an alternative acceptable to you, it appears as though you don’t believe that there was any good reason for being anti-war. This is really why I assumed you were for the invasion. It was indeed an assumption, but not an unreasonable one. I apologise if you have stated your beliefs elsewhere and do not feel the need to restate them. If you are just taking issue with people’s reasons for being against the war then fine. I hadn’t really grasped the boundaries of your argument – you could have made it more explicit. Now, if you think there were no good reasons for being against the war but still were not for the war, then fair enough. I’m not interested in assigning you a ‘side’. Mind you -I think it unlikely that you don’t have an opinion about whether the invasion was justified though.

  • John W

    I feel I ought to point out that I never called anyone a “useful idiot”, and as Steve says, used other words that the phrase defines. When referring to Chiarana’s mis-quoting the phrase, I clarified that it was not “useless idiot”, and then linked to an explanation of the phrase that had been used by someone else, explaining its relevance.

  • John W

    “It did appear that you generally… And it would indeed be an assumption to think you were therefore… But it also seemed as though you did not believe, or at least doubted… And because you don’t propose what you would deem an acceptable reason for being against the war, or an alternative acceptable to you, it appears as though you… This is really why I assumed you were… It was indeed an assumption…”

    Can you see where I’m going with this?

    I have questions, not answers. I question the motive of the anti-war organisers and marchers. I question the motives of those pro-war. I wish to find clarity and honesty, and I believe that answer lies somewhere between these either/ors.

    “Let’s just say… that we agree. I was saying that just as my anti-war stance aligned me with MAB, and therefore I was willing to take up a platform with them.”

    This is the point. On this, we do not agree at all.

  • Kieron Gillen

    “If Hitler were to invade
    Hell, I would find occasion to make a favorable reference to the devil.”


  • Chiarina

    Nope! I think it depends really on the situation as to how happy you are to swallow ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’. In this case I would say I was; in others, I wouldn’t be.

  • John W

    Chiarina, you’re saying that you considered, in this circumstance, the MAB to be your friend. I find that devastating.

  • John W

    It’s so great when someone else says it for you. If only he’d used the odd comma here and there, but I forgive him:

    Harry’s Place – I’m alright Jack

  • Chiarina

    Oh don’t be silly John, the saying is a well known one for expressing succinctly the issue at hand, it just means that we had aligned interests and so I was willing to cooperate with them. Devastating indeed.

  • John W

    Yes. Devastating. Will you please stop being so rude as to dismiss everything I say because it feels a bit awkward for you?

    You are stating, categorically, that you were perfectly willing to cooperate with murderous, hateful terrorists because you found something you had in common with them? Good heavens – no, it doesn’t make you an idiot for having been duped on the march. Going to state your position on the war was a fine thing to do, and it’s horribly unfortunate that you were tricked into supporting and marching under the banner of some of the most appalling hatemongers on Earth. But for goodness sakes, stop trying to justify it as some sort of altruistic act!

    I would hope that the hundreds of thousands of people who were unwittingly supporting the MAB and their compatriots would, rather than attempting some sort of retrospective justification of their actions, put this down as a lesson learned, and next time research marches before attending them. Your current position merely endorses remaining ignorant and refusing to learn, unless you are genuinely stating that you willingly and happily cooperated with barbaric hatemongers. And I hope to goodness that you are not.

  • Chiarina

    Yes I am, because I can’t see how their hatemongering agenda was furthered by my actions. If it were, then I would indeed be upset and feel that I had been duped and made into a useful idiot. And I wouldn’t be at all reluctant to say how I had been foolish. Certainly the experience has made me more cautious and aware of the possibility of being used. But in the end, I don’t feel awkward about it at all because the result of the march was not to lend support to MAB, or advance its unpleasant agendas, but it did help to show the extent of anti-war feeling in Britain. I’m not being rude, I just don’t agree with you. I think that there are some situations in which accepting your enemy’s enemy as your ‘friend’ (and please don’t wilfully misconstrue the meaning of this word in this context) would be unacceptable: I think it depends on the issue you are aligned on and its importance; the alternative avenues open to you; the benefit you think you can do by coat-tailing them as opposed to the benefit they can obtain on issues you don’t agree on; and therefore the consequences of doing so. If you can show how I was helping MAB’s hatemongering, homophobic, intolerant agenda by marching, then I would think twice about my position. I would also be interested to know whether you would categorically call your enemy’s enemy your enemy too.

  • John W

    “If you can show how I was helping MAB’s hatemongering, homophobic, intolerant agenda by marching, then I would think twice about my position.”

    You legitimised them. You allowed them a platform, and you gave them a normality, an open, unchallenged vehicle for their rhetoric. You walked beneath their banners without condemning them. Your tacit support, as unwilling or unknowing as it might be, gave them credence and acceptability. And this is how it gets dangerous. As organisations such as the MAB manage to insinuate themselves into the acceptable culture of left-wing protest, they gain power and credibility. Something I would wish to stand against, not aside in the name of a convenience. That would be my answer. But clearly you disagree that this is the case.

    I’m interested to hear your answer to Nick’s question long above – would you march in a protest part-organised by the BNP?

    “I would also be interested to know whether you would categorically call your enemy’s enemy your enemy too.”

    I don’t understand how that means anything. This notion of an “enemy” seems immediately obtuse, and the idea that it can sustain two stages of removal is untenable. Were there to be a body with an incompatible ideology with my own, who recognised the same in another body, I would hope I would take more into account than merely that fact when considering my position. To be honest, that you ask the question at all suggests to me that you’re refusing to think beyond On or Off, Yes or No, Black or White.

  • Victoria

    “If you can show how I was helping MAB’s hatemongering, homophobic, intolerant agenda by marching, then I would think twice about my position.”

    Your attendance on the march legitimised MAB – they are now considered to be a proper, representative Muslim organisation. You, and the thousands of other people who went on the march to protest against the proposed war, gave MAB the publicity it craved. You gave this unpleasant organisation a voice and a presence that it did not have before. Its leaders appeared on TV, wrote articles for newspapers and spoke on the radio. They could not have done this before the march. That you didn’t know of their ulterior motive beforehand is unfortunate, but nevertheless they took your attendance as tacit support of their cause.

    You also seem utterly incapable of not assigning sides. John does not align himself with sides – they are archaic constructs anyway and should be abandoned as they stifle intelligent debate.

    Two more things: don’t anyone claim that there were 2 million on the march. The numbers have grown from 400,000 immediately afterward, to 1 million last year, 1.5 million a few months ago, and 2 million now.

    Secondly, JonH claimed that there are lots of people protesting against human rights abuses in the world, and that he could put us all in touch with them. I attended the Darfur protest. JonH hadn’t even known it was happening.

  • Chiarina

    “To be honest, that you ask the question at all suggests to me that you’re refusing to think beyond On or Off, Yes or No, Black or White. ” Not at all; I was just checking that you weren’t thinking in those terms. So that it was clear that we’re discussing this particular situation and not categorical stand-points. I was not attempting to impose ‘sides’, but am always interested to know if I am arguing with someone who has assumed one, because then of course that has to be addressed. That’s all.

    I think that no-platforming stifles intelligent debate. In whose eyes has MAB been ‘legitimised’?. In the eyes of extremist Muslims (who already thought they were legitimate to start with)? Or everyone else (who are starting to cotton on to the fact that they have extremist links and are therefore as rubbish as you like)? They certainly didn’t make a good impression on me at the march (see below); I’d rather let them have their say and let them be hoist with their own petards. I didn’t pick up the placards they supplied.I felt they were trying to inappropriately conflate the issues of Palestine and Iraq. Some people who did carry them were hissed at. If I was marching under anyone’s banner, there are plenty of those amongst the Stop the War coalition who I would have felt proud to march with (Caroline Lucas, Tariq Ali – Wiki and Sourcewatch have a good comprehensive list of who was involved). However, I didn’t really go to support the Stop the War coalition per se at all. I don’t think most people did. I felt that the involvement of bodies claiming to represent Muslims was to innappropriately frame the argument in religious terms. I felt that the people handing out leaflets about ‘common misconceptions of Islam’ e.g. “‘Islam condones and promotes homosexuality’ Repost: ‘The Koran states that homosexuality is an abomination'” were bigots and at the time I was a bit flummoxed as to why they were leafleting the marchers or what they were trying to acheive (btw, I don’t know who, if anyone, those people were affiliated to). I discussed these issues with the people I was with and others I met. So I wasn’t what you call tacit. An organisation who purposely deceives people can potentially use people but is probably under no illusion that it has people’s support. Otherwise it wouldn’t be trying to be duplicitous.
    I think that bigotry will out, no matter how hard it is attempted to give it an acceptable face. And I trust that other people won’t be hoodwinked, for long, anyway. I suspect it would be for longer if they were no-platformed.

    So I guess, to conclude, I personally feel that it was more important to show my horror regarding the possibility of the invasion of Iraq by taking part in the biggest street demonstrations in history (a unique opportunity)than to no-platform MAB, which I think is not particularly a great strategy for eradicating intolerance anyway. I mean, every time you no-platform someone, you lose an opportunity to rationally counter their position. And I really look forward to the many times in the future when I may do so. I think that the only justification for no-platforming would be if there was a danger of a group using that platform to directly foment hatred and subsequently, violence. There was no violence linked to MAB that I know of at the march or as a result of their involvement in it.

    “Were there to be a body with an incompatible ideology with my own, who recognised the same in another body, I would hope I would take more into account than merely that fact when considering my position. ”
    I agree; this is why I said that it depends on the circumstance as to whether you would choose to cooperate or not with the former body. I have outlined the considerations I made (mostly, I freely admit, retrospectively) as regards my orienting my position relative to MAB and the fact we both took part in the march.

  • Wilko

    “[E]very time you no-platform someone, you lose an opportunity to rationally counter their position”

    Fine in theory (free speech and all that), but this countering rarely, if ever, happens in the mainstream. I’m reminded of two examples from last year:

    The first was the outroar surrounding the Panorama programme which outed Nick Griffin and his cohorts as the intolerant fuckwits they are. In the interests of balance, they were allowed onto Newsnight to both explain their actions and position. All well and good, but there was not one minute of intelligent probing, not one person invited on to put across the counterargument. The presenters, in essence, said “tell us what you think” – and so they did. It was essentially a party political broadcast.

    There second example is much the same as the first. When certain Muslim clerics were on the media hitlist around the same time last year, they and their representatives were also given what amounted to free airtime on shows such as Newsnight.

    Ignoring the significant fact that they represented viewpoints which were of a very, very small minority of the Muslim population, and that it was completely out of proportion to have them on a show such as Newsnight anyway, they too were treated in the same manner as Griffin.

    In both cases, everyone seemed willing to condemn their actions and ideals, but all were content to leave it at this rather vague of denunciations – without explaining *why* what these people were saying was ludicrous and missing many, many opportunities I saw at least to make them, and their arguments, look utterly foolish. Rational examination of the issues like this wouldn’t have convinced these groups, but it might at least have sown the seeds of doubt in others who were sat in front of the tv, rubbing their chins saying, “hmmm, what he’s saying doesn’t sound so unreasonable.”

    Other than a few vague mutters and sidelong glances, who was refuting, denouncing, opposing the views of those who were attempting to usurp the march for their own ends?

  • John W

    Yes, yes, I know you’ve justified marching in their march to yourself.

    I’ll keep asking the question Nick asked you days ago:

    Imagine you were concerned about the state of the NHS, and that the National Front is helping to arrange a “Save the NHS” march. They are one of the two banner organisations in this march. Would you walk happily behind their banner, saying “never mind, it’s a good cause”?

  • Chiarina

    If the National Front decided to be part of a group of people protesting against an event that would eventually cost the lives of 100,000 people (according to some estimates) I think that I might think it was not the time to no-platform them. I would be annoyed as hell, and question the decision of the organisers. I would in all probability make an effort to not be associated with any of their insignia (so you wouldn’t see me walking behind their banner). And I probably would spend time discussing with people how I felt that they were being duplicitous in trying to coat-tail the anti-war effort, if this was indeed the case, and I would feel pleased that in the end their involvement was dwarfed by the groundswell of popular support for the anti-war cause.

    Let’s say the National Front wanted to organise a Save the NHS march with another ‘banner group’, whatever that means (as if you can ‘own’ a popular protest).
    I might, if I was involved in the organisation of the march, tell them to bog off and organise their own march, lest we give them or others the illusion of our ‘support’. On the other hand, if the National Front held that view, who am I to say they can’t protest about it with everyone else? I might tell them that they could come on their own account. If I thought they were going to use the event to promote an intolerant agenda, I might certainly try and veto their participation on any level. If they were already part of the organisation, I might decide that supporting the NHS is not as important as no-platforming them. If it looked however that it was going to be the only national demonstration ever and it was going to be huge, I might not want to let them prevent me from taking part in the popular protest and exercising said right, in most effective manner, i.e. by it being a large protest. This is why I might attend instead of organising my own demonstration, or trying to fragment the organisers to out the National Front from it and risk jeopardising the protest and the whole point of protesting.
    If in the end a million people turned up to the march, I would say, well, that’s a lot of people who want to save the NHS! Not ‘what a lot of stupid or evil people who either want to support the National Front or did so out of ignorance.’

    Of course I have justified the fact that I am glad I marched to myself. We all rationalise our own positions otherwise we wouldn’t have taken them. In this forum, as well as trying to honestly represent the mindset of someone who attended the march in good conscience, I additionally wanted to make the point that I’m neither, in your words, ‘stupid or evil’. It is not a black and white issue, after all, as we have both agreed.

  • John W

    ” I additionally wanted to make the point that I’m neither, in your words, ‘stupid or evil’.”

    Oh, what’s the point. I’m not prepared to bother with this while you constantly imply insults on my part that have never occurred. I don’t care what your imagined intention was behind that sentence – the only effect is to suggest that I ever tried to call you either of those things.

    “We all rationalise our own positions otherwise we wouldn’t have taken them.”

    No, actually, you know what? Some people are capable of having been wrong. Some people don’t need to bend the world around on itself until it feels ok to share a march with the National Front, rather than just say that their position was unfortunate.

  • Chiarina

    Ps It is indeed unwise for left-wing organisations and figures to make a habit of courting extremist Islamic groups to bolster their cause, like George Galloway has done, it does rather accentuate the ‘us and them’ mentality by encouraging said groups to think of invasions and anti-terror initiatives as anti-muslim. And it is rather hypocritical. (And I don’t think that me staying at home for the march would have helped counter this, before you ask – it just wasn’t the time or place). It’s also ridiculous to only condemn ‘western’ intolerance. But I think that it’s not overly constructive to blanket condemn people for doing so as there are a variety of reasons for it (some were addressed by others in previous comments). I can see how it does throw suspicion on the sincerity of the supporters of such causes, just as it threw doubt on the sincerity of the Blair-Bush axis that they were waging a war of humanitarian intervention when they don’t similarly intervene in all sorts of oppressive regimes but in fact support them. But also, if you believed in the humanitarian reasons for war, though, it doesn’t mean you’re not sincere about it because of this inconsistency. Just like supporters of classic ‘left-wing’ causes versus the whole spectrum of intolerance. It is worth pointing out though, in order to bolster support for all sorts of fights against oppression, including the unfashionable ones. I think that it’s not time to despair yet.

  • John W

    Bearing the first half of what you say in mind, is it not a little contradictory that you would praise and support Tariq Ali, who openly supports the terrorist efforts of the so-called ‘resistance’ in Iraq?

  • Chiarina

    The only experience I have of Tariq Ali is that when I have heard him speak I’ve only heard him talk sense. Bollocks. Disappointing to hear that he takes such a view. I stand forewarned…
    You know, it is hard I think to know what to make of people who voice support for ‘the resistance’ because the ‘resistance’ is so poorly defined; who knows what kind of resistance they have in mind when they are voicing their support. How anyone can support the suicide bombers (and there had not been a single suicide bomb in Iraq ever before the war) causing so many Iraqi and other fatalities I have no idea. I can only think that they are either imagining or are thinking of some kind of home-grown resistance with a popular Iraqi support base. Almost certainly a number of different groups are attacking ‘Western’ targets. The thing is…is the information out there available for anyone to know what’s really going on? I’m not sure that there is. It flummoxes me mightily how anyone could give such unqualified support to a group that includes such callous murderers.