Monday, March 16, 2009

The Left and the irredeemable Back Foot Syndrome

The dominant rhetoric over the Luton protests highlighted the way the 'Liberal Left' feels it's got to justify every single one of its moves.

I don't know if the British left is doomed, but they most certainly look terrified. Whether it's the economy, the welfare state or the military, large swathes of the self-appointed 'Liberal left' in the UK are plagued by the Syndrome of the Back Foot. Last week's major overreaction over the Luton events at a parade of troops returning from Iraq highlighted the Left's depressingly defensive approach.

Let me explain. Few now can deny the political discourse is increasingly set by Fleet Street. The tabloids hiss and diss and shout at every corner, rolling out story after story against 'political correctness', the foreigners, 'social workers', 'welfare scroungers', the Muslim or any of the usual targets.

But instead of challenging the right's myths and suffocating narrative, instead of regaining the initiative, the cornered liberal left appear permanently on the back foot, lest they cause an all-out conflict with the right wing media or get branded as 'loony', 'traitors' or similar.

Yet you'd have thought that, given the spectacular failure of the neo-conservative 'Us and Them' approach (enthusiastically backed by the British tabloids since 9/11), at least on Iraq the Left would have a field day, grab hold of the initiative and push back the tabloids' oily concoction of ignorance, opportunism, jingoism and goldfish memory that has caused this and other countries so much grief.

Dream on. Following the Sun's vicious onslaught against 'sick Muslim extremists' who "hurled abuse" at Our Boys, left-wing politicians have been queuing to show that they too can spell out the words "Our" and "Boys" and more generally ape the tabloids' jingoistic tone. But if hardly any better was to be expected from the Labour government (for it was them who actually started the war), the reaction from a number of journalists and bloggers has been remarkably disappointing.

Liberal Conspiracy is a case in point. Most (though not all) on their website expressed the opinion that protesters shouldn't conflate the troops with the political decision to go to war, which was basically the line given by the oh-so-authoritative Ross Kemp in the Sun. Nevermind conscription ended a long time ago. Nevermind the fact that thousands of new recruits joined after the first allegations of torture and WMD-related lies were already coming to surface. 'Our Boys' are never to blame.

Sunny Hundal, editor of Liberal Conspiracy and Guardian writer, wrote that rather than the troops, as far as Iraq is concerned, "we are even more responsible as voters" and, as such, we shouldn't "take an antagonistic attitude towards [the military]". So check this out. It is not the soldiers who are responsible for this. It's the voters, presumably even those who - repulsed by the Iraq war - did not back Blair in 2005.

Meral's musings and Obsolete also take it as a given that the Luton protesters were "extremists" and "idiotic". "Look", they seem anxious to point out, not all anti-Iraq war people are like them and only 20 people joined the protest.

Then there's the Independent. Their article is called The Enemy Within?, and in case you hadn't grasped the tone, it quickly describes the eerie background of "identical black tunics" and "long full beards".

So what we say is: come on, 'liberal left'. Challenge those myths. Tackle that empty rhetoric. Say it loud and clear: clutching at the "extremist card" will not deflect from the fact that the Iraq war was illegal, a murderous disgrace, a disaster, a massacre, a military aberration that seriously undermined Britain's reputation in the world and made us all less safe in the process.

Grab the initiative with both hands. Post this video everywhere. Stop being defensive. Stop having to justify yourself. Make it clear that the sickening 'Our Boys' rhetoric is exactly the type of crap that is at the root of most of what is going tits-up with this world. Don't let the tabloids turn it into something to be taken for granted - that chavvy concept that because they're 'ours' they can't do no wrong.

Stop whimpering that those banners were "bad taste". How about this for bad taste? And this? Or this? Don't hide behind the flimsy "but the Conservatives too" or the trite "but the politicians...".

The British Army went to Iraq to invade and did so on the basis of a lie. And in doing so they killed people. And in the process a number of soldiers got also tangled up in barbaric episodes of torture. That was wrong. Full stop. And I don't care if al-Muhajirounn also happens to be against what happened in Iraq. That doesn't make our position any weaker. You don't see the Tories mincing their words about the Euro because the BNP are also barking against the single currency, do you?

Like solicitor Phil Shiner said with regard to some of the evidence of abuse, "We do not want to be talked about in the same vein as the Japanese in the second world war or the Americans at My Lai, but unless we stand up and say as a nation that this cannot happen in our name, that is where we seem to be headed."


Anonymous said...

To all the people that say "war is war" and innocent people will be hurt; explain that to a 12 year old boy who has to live the rest of his life with no arms and who has lost his entire family. How would you feel if your son or daughter had their arms blow away by a missile? Do you not think that this is creating a 1000 more Bin Ladens? As in the Old Testament, "an eye for an eye" is a way of life in the Middle East.

septicisle said...

I'm not sure you fully give my post justice. As well as denouncing the protesters I did challenge the media's ridiculous overreaction, and I also denounced the fetishisation of "Our Boys". Much as I agree with most of your points, the army themselves are for the most part blameless in all of this: the abuses that there were in Iraq, swept under the carpet as they were again by the tabloid press, were far fewer than those involving the Americans. The blame must rest on the politicians for putting them in that situation, much as those individually involved in abuses must also be prosecuted.

Anonymous said...

Oh my god. They hurled abuse at the troops! And what exactly was that?
The word "butchers"...????
Well, the Sun should read back what most of their columnists write.Like Mr Clarkson. Then they'd learn a thing or two about abuse.

Anonymous said...

There are only four people who are still stubbornly convinced Iraq was a good idea: George W Bush, Tony Blair, Melanie Phillips and Nick Cohen.

Paul said...

'Stop whimpering that those banners were "bad taste". How about this for bad taste? And this? Or this? Don't hide behind the flimsy "but the Conservatives too" or the trite "but the politicians...".'

A few problems persist with this blinkered narrative. Firstly the 'protestors' were in fact Muslim extremists. Those who seek the imposition of Sharia law in the UK and they support Al Qaeda typically describing them as 'Mujahedeen'. The problem I have with the media treatment of them is it does not actually tell us properly who they are and what their aims are. If it did we would see the hypocrisy of those who call Soldiers 'cowards and butchers' and yet support Al Qaeda.

As to the 'atrocities' in Iraq which you mention repeatedly on this website I am not going to defend them. It is only fair to point out that in the cases you mention, two of them led to court martial and sentences were dished out. The case involving Phil Shiner however is simply propaganda. The local Sadrists told lies to support their cause. In the absence of any other evidence, Phil Shiner took their statements and now reproduces them as fact. As a lawyer he should now better, these are allegations. There is no evidence to support them apart from written statements (supposedly by 'farmers', captured in an area near Amarah where there is no farmland and any case in Iraq women often do such work!) and a video that shows a few corpses but no one actually being killed, nor are the injuries as described.

I don't expect you to support the military's rapidly de-escalating role in Iraq or to 'support our boys'. We live in a democracy and diversity of opinion is welcome. However if you are going to repeatedly judge all soldiers by the actions of a minority who were subject to military law and believe enemy propaganda a counter argument ought to be heard. Implying that all soldiers are unthinking thugs is a bit like saying all teachers are lazy, petulant leftists. Just because they keep demanding more pay, go on strike and yet receive paid leave 13 weeks of the year (far more than the squaddie or anyone else gets).

claude said...


blinkered narrative. And hw is it blinkered...?

This blog will most certainly never defend Islamic extremists who advocate Sharia law and the stoning of homosexuals etc...Of that you can be sure.

But this is NOT the point. We are not talking about that. We're on about the jingoistic crap that wants us to sing in unison that the British Army in Iraq were HEROES.
They weren't.
They were an invading army.

The point of the article is that the nature of the Luton protesters' is being used to eflect the attention from what the Army did in Iraq.

If the Tories say something and the BNP happens to say it too, you don't start picking at straws about that do you? There are times in politics in which, by chance, you may find yourself agreeing with people you don't particularly like.
I'm a vegetarian and I read Hitler was one too. That doesn't make me change my mind about both respectively Hitler and vegetarianism.

By focusing on the "Muslim extremists" angle, the Sun & co are trying to reclaim the argument they had lost over Iraq. The danger is that too many on the left may let them do so with their overly anxious "I'm not like them (as in the Luton protesters)" stance.

Also, and most importantly. A few episodes of torture may not have been proven, but far TOO MANY have. And don't forget that when news of Abu Ghraib first surfaced Donald Rumsfeld was still denying it all. So the "hasn't been proven argument" sounds a bit flimsy here.

Any episode of torture is an episode too many. The Army's job is to represent the country abroad more than anything else. The British Army used to have a decent reputation abroad as balanced and fair. Two, three, ten, twenty proven episodes of torture (within AN ILLEGAL invasion lest we forget) can be extremely detrimental for the whole country.

By definition, their job is to perfom under EXTREME pressure. It is their job. That cannot be a justification for torture etc

claude said...

By the way I would like to state that there is a list of conscientious objectors both from the US and UK army who actually left because of the policies of the so-called "Coalition".

These are the soldiers I salute.

Paul said...

When did I justify torture? Who did most of the killing in Iraq? That would be a good start to consider. Another point to consider is that amongst other things the Army (all right is was the Americans mainly that did this supported by Brits) did defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq who killed untold thousands.

I mean you now say you don't support Islamic extremists and yet you went out of you way to defend them. You did so with obfuscation, by continually pointing to the excesses of camp breadbasket. In fact it is you who provided a smoke screen to cover up wrong doing. You kept wishing the media would dwell on abuses in Basra and not pillory the Muslim extremists that is irony.

'Two, three, ten, twenty proven episodes of torture (within AN ILLEGAL invasion lest we forget)'

Really where's your proof? I mean twenty examples of torture come on cite me twenty examples of tortures by British troops here is your chance to move from rhetoric to reference? I can think of two that you have already mentioned and ended in Court Martial.

Finally as I have already said I do not expect you to agree that is fine. But to suggest that the entire British experience in Iraq is characterised by cases such as Mousa's or Camp Breadbasket (where the locals wanted the Army to shoot looters but that's beside the point)misses several good points.

1. The country is free from Saddam.
2. Clerical fascism is being rolled back from Basra thanks to the Iraqi Army.
3. The big killers in Iraq were not US/UK troops.
4. Al Qaeda were defeated in Iraq.
5. The Iraqi government is elected and it is they that have now negotiated the withdrawal of UK and US forces.

I will respect your opinion however if you say that you feel Saddam should have been left alone. I disagree but I can understand a viewpoint that sees a tyrant as necessary in Iraq to ensure stability. The problem would have come when he handed over to his sons.

Stan Moss said...

Al Quaeda was never in Iraq.
Until the war started.

claude said...

I mean you now say you don't support Islamic extremists and yet you went out of you way to defend them.

Went out of my way to defend them?
This is the type of lie and smoke and mirrors that will get you barred from this blog.

Look at this piece of pathetic debating on your part:
Really where's your proof? I mean twenty examples of torture come on cite me twenty examples of tortures by British troops here is your chance to move from rhetoric to reference? I can think of two that you have already mentioned and ended in Court Martial.

Well, you need to think better.
For someone who thought Al Qaeda was in Iraq, you're hardly credible. Do your homework. I did it and I have no further time to waste. You have the internet. Find out for yourself. The cases are many. As always, loads of people were acquitted. Like the killing in custody of Baha Mousa. It was clearly the work of a pack (93 injuries to his body, beaten to death) but only one was found guilty out of SEVEN court marshalled.
Philip Shiner alone has evidence of AT LEAST 40 cases of torture.

Find out for yourself. I give you some help on top of the other links on this blog. Look at this
for instance

Paul said...

Al Quaeda was never in Iraq.
Until the war started.'

Er yeah they were Zarqawi had a base in the Zagros mountains near Halabja.

Stan Moss said...

Paul: you are talking absolute shite.
Even George fucking W Bush now concedes the iraq war opened the floodgates and made the country become a beacon of Al Qaeda recruits!

You are quoting (via Wikipedia) George Tenet, the CIA operative whose words were used by the Bush administration to say that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destrucions, for fuck's sake!
Tenet resigned in 2004 BECAUSE Of this.

See how ridiculous your argument is?

You quote somoene whose words are totally discredited and recognised by the whole worlds as absolute shite.

Madam Miaow said...

I'm trying to imagine how I'd feel if British troops had piled into China (or Hackney, my other heritage) in an illegal war and killed a lot of Chinese (or Hackneyites) on their own turf. Then came back in full uniform to a public parade ... Hmmm.

Or if a load of US/Russian/Chinese soldiers came here in an illegal war and killed a load of my fellow Brits and then went back in full uniform to a public parade ...

Yes, I wonder just how polite I would be under those circumstances. You can just imagine Melanie Phillips defending their right to their triumphalism.

claude said...

Madam Miaow,

Unfortunately it's not just Melanie Phillips.
And this is what I found out much to my surprise yesterday.

This very same article was in fact published also on Liberal Conspiracy. Of course the comments were varied. Some were Tory trolls. Some (not too many) shared our same opinion about the jingoistic shit.

But the majority were self-professed left-wingers who went apeshit because the British Army was being criticised.

"How can you say that EVERY single soldier is a torturer?". Excapt that I never said that, of course. I'm fully aware it's a minority. However, I also said that one episode of torture is an episode too many. "Thanks to the British Army in WWII, you can exercise freedom of speech" or "the Army is full of working class kids", etc etc...none of that to do with Iraq.

But the most PATHETIC one was a number of commenters who kept asking: "Where did you get that photo from?" (the one with the prisoner on the floor being kicked). And more..."Yes, I'd like to know where that photo came from!"."Yes, me too".

When I gave them the link (which pointed to an article by Der Spiegel featuring 8 photos of British soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners in Basra. Those that inspired the film The Mark of Cain), the replies were -believe it or not- "oh we don't need pictures of American soldiers torturing". (link)

Unbelievable, certain left-wing liberals were still in denial, choosing, god knows how, to read them as "American" and not "British".

Those photos had captions. They sported the culprits' name and surname (all sentenced) and the words "Royal Regiment of Fusiliers".

Our liberal left friends kept pretending they were American!

To them, "Our Boys" can do no wrong, even when you shove the photographic evidence against people's faces..

I concluded that, except for a minority, in Britain the Army and "Our Boys" are untouchable. A bit like the Royal Family amongst the elderly. They may concede Prince Charles is a bit odd. But you question the Monarchy as a whole and rational debate goes AWOL.

Interesting Johann Hari in today's Independent on the subject. "How can we trust an Army that cannot be trusted on its own?", he asks. Read it here

Madam Miaow said...

I'm with Orwell on this one, Claude.

"Bullets hurt, corpses stink, men under fire are often so frightened that they wet their trousers ... A louse is a louse and a bomb is a bomb, even though the cause you are fighting for happens to be just ... Our memories are short nowadays, but ... dig out the files of New Masses or the Daily Worker, and just have a look at the romantic warmongering muck that our left wingers were spilling at the time. All the stale old phrases! And the unimaginative callousness of it! The sang-froid with which London faced the bombing of Madrid! ... But here were the very people who for 20 years had hooted and jeered at the “glory” of war, at atrocity stories, at patriotism, even at physical courage, coming out with stuff that with the alteration of a few names would have fitted into the Daily Mail of 1918. If there was one thing that the British intelligentsia were committed to, it was the debunking version of war; the theory that war is all corpses and latrines and never leads to any good result. Well, the same people who in 1933 sniggered pityingly if you said that in certain circumstances you would fight for your country, in 1937 were denouncing you as a Trotsky-Fascist if you suggested that the stories in New Masses about freshly wounded men clamouring to get hack into the fighting might he exaggerated. And the Left intelligentsia made their swing over from “War is hell” to “War is glorious” not only with no sense of incongruity but almost without any intervening stage. From Looking Back On The Spanish Civil War, Collected journals and essays, Penguin 1970

Stan Moss said...

Wise words, MM. The problem is how tribal human nature can be. But I used to think that the job of theleft was to challenge that. If you just think the number of wars triggered by tribalism. And like Orwell said, the left has consistently shown their discourse is no better. Particularly irritating i find the Aaronovitch-brand of interventionism.