Wednesday 1 September 2004

The broken Left.

Tim Newman points out this excellent article about Arab journalism by Mamoun Fandy, an Arab journalist.

I also talked with fellow Arab writers and journalists to seek further answers, and it became obvious that many were outraged over how the beheading stories had been handled and why so many Arab journalists are afraid to express their anger publicly or put it in writing.

Considering the history of terrorist movements in the Arab world and the way in which they have targeted writers - the killing of Egyptian writer Farag Fouda in broad daylight in Cairo in 1992 comes to mind, as does the stabbing of 90-year-old Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz two years later - their fear is justified.

Islamic radicals have killed writers in Algeria, Egypt and elsewhere whose work challenged the logic of martyrdom and "random jihad," or killing foreigners in the name of Islam.

But the lack of condemnation of the beheadings, despite their barbarism, is a direct result of a broad and dangerous trend in Arab media and in Arab culture broadly. The Arab world today swims in a sea of linguistic violence that justifies terrorism and makes it acceptable, especially to the young.

I used to be a left-winger. I changed my mind about that for a number of reasons, but what it really came down to was disagreement over technique, not principle. For instance, I still want to give economic aid to the poor, but I now believe that Capitalism does a far better job of that than the welfare state does, and private charities do a better job than state-run programs. I still want to see peace in the world, but I no longer believe that nuclear disarmament leads to peace — quite the opposite. And I still believe that tyranny and despotism should be fought against, militarily if necessary. This is a belief of mine that has never changed: that the strong should help the weak when they can; that with a powerful military there therefore comes a moral duty to use that military to help people who live in oppressive tyrannies. This is a thoroughly left-wing belief. Most of the British Right and a sizable chunk of the American Right have no time for such ideas, preferring self-interested, pragmatic fatalism in foreign policy.

So what's changed on the Left? Why has it become racist in their eyes to support civilised Arabs rather than barbaric Arabs? Why are most of them singing the praises of Al Jazeera? Why is it that, when I condemn these fascist journalist-killing bastards, I'm met with a barrage of abuse from the very people who taught me to condemn such behaviour in the first place? What happened?

1 comment:

David Foster said...

I think what happens is that people often attach their allegiance to labels, organizations, and groups of people, rather than to coherent sets of ideas. Thus, many Jews (and others) in 1930s Germany failed to understand just how endangered they were because they identified the label "Germany" with a set of positive associations: music, culture, science, etc. Similarly, I have read that in a remote town in Russia during WWII, the local Jews eagerly awaited the arrival of the German troops, because they remembered the polite and correct officers from the prior war--much preferable to the local anti-Semitic government thugs. Again, the label "Germany" had remained the same, but the content beneath the label had changed.

Today, many who consider themselves "Democrats," "liberals," or "progressives" are making the same error.