So it turns out Norm Geras has died. To be honest this wouldn’t matter to me one way or another, if not for the fact that his death has caused otherwise sensible people to behave as if a great intellectual has passed away (reaching dizzying heights here). It’s a repeat of what happened when Hitchens died, with even less justification.
Even the backhanded compliment flyingrodent gave that he “can’t imagine blogs without the Professor — Normblog really should be seen as the archetype of the form” is giving him too much credit. What Norm Geras did is no different from what the rightwing and “decent left” US warbloggers did and do: smear, lie, distort to manufacture outrage. The only thing Geras added was to play up his seventies marxist credentials to imagine how Marx and Engels would’ve totes supported the War on Iraq. Oh, and of course a certain sort of (imagined) upperclass English loquaciousness (e.g.).
In short, my opinion of Geras remains unchanged after his death, a bullshitter who used his writing talents to help make the world slightly worse, though only a minor offender compared to people like Hitchens.
Do not do anything like invading Afghanistan again. Or, as he puts it, ‘Are we, pliant planters of the Nato flag anywhere in the world the Pentagon prescribes, going to get involved in another Iraq – or, worse, another Afghanistan? Of course not, says bitter experience.’ So, were Britain ever to be on the receiving end of a 9/11-type of attack, prepared from a country hosting an organization dedicated to carrying out such attacks against it, and resulting in the deaths of thousands of people in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh or some other British city, the government of the day should just ‘pass’ on the idea of a military response.
What actually happened was that the UK invaded Afghanistan and Iraq and then the “9/11-type of attack” took place, with the people responsible explicitely stating that it was these invasions that motivated them. Something war supporters like him having been trying to wish away ever since, but the truth remains that invading “a country hosting an organization dedicated to carrying out such attacks” did not make Britain safer but instead made it a target for people who before these invasions had no reason to attack Britain. Note also that the UK never found it necessary to invade the Irish Republic to end IRA terrorism or attack the main source of its funding, a certain terrorist loving country called America…
In the middle of a comment thread on liberal Conspiracy on the desirability of a no-fly zone over Libya, Sunny Hundal says:
I’m happy for people to make valid points, but if the only response is IRAQ IRAQ IRAQ!!! – then frankly one should join Stop the War coalition and hang out with Lyndsey German. That is about the extent of your political nous.
Sunny Hundal is one of the founders of Liberal Conspiracy as the name implies a soft left blog that over the past five years or so has become one of the more important UK political lefty blogs. Sunny has his heart in the right place, but also an eye firmly on a possible political career so sometimes tend to let conventional Westminster wisdom overrule his own intelligence which makes him sound much dumber than he really could be. As a prominent leftist, even a soft leftist, Sunny has also been a frequent target of rightwingers and Decentists, and as with many people who are subjected to such hate campaigns he has internalised some of their assumptions. Put the two tendencies together and you have an explenation for the above quote.
For those of us who can remember as far back to the runup to the Wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, it’s quite clear that “Lyndsey German” (sic) and the Stop the War Coalition were right to oppose them, that all our fears about what these wars would be have been fully justified and that in fact far from the outcast fringe group Sunny paints them as, millions of ordinary people were smart enough to share their views and march with them in opposition.
So if Sunny and co want to argue that a no-fly zone in Libya is urgently needed and that this time, western military intervention will work, that calling for it is done for more substantial reasons than just wanting to show how morally upright and brave you are, that it’s needed in this particular occasion and not say in Ivory Coast for more substantial reasons than that Libya is on the telly, they need to do more than get hysterical. Some choice quotes:
Sunny: If the Libyans rebels want some support against Gaddafi, then I’m afraid the arguments against helping them fall apart.
We definitely need some way to stop Gaddafi massacring his people and its a shame some on the left want to just sit back while it all happens in front of our eyes.
Galen10: Doing nothing is only an option if you have no conscience.
Sunny again: Gaddafi’s son Saif Al-Islam says the time has come for full-scale military action against #Libya rebels – Reuters
Clearly, the correct response is to sit by and vent outrage on blogs and twitter while people are killed in their hundreds.
This sort of posturing and emotional appeal reminds me more of the prowar “debate” in the runup to Iraq than anything opponents to the no-fly zone proposal argued in that thread. It’s an attempt at emotional blackmail by people who will never ever have to suffer the consequences of their advocacy. Or more succinctly:
Ok. I hereby announce the formation of the Free Libyan Legion. Since we all care so much, we’re going to follow in the footsteps of Byron in Greece and Orwell in Spain and get ourselves over to Benghazi and actually fight for Libyan Freedom. In person.
The definition of chutzpah: looking like this man and calling somebody else a hollow-eyed onanist. Bonus: Nick Cohen being tired and emotional at the Orwell Prize award ceremony last year — an oldie but goodie.
“Hirsi Ali, who described her decision to leave Islam in 2007′s Infidel, was subsequently driven from her refuge in Holland by death threats that followed her from Somalia. And by the murder of her friend and supporter, Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, whose slashed and bleeding body was found with a note that called Hirsi Ali next to die. ”
No… Just no…
She left because it came out she told fibs about her real background, wasn’t actually Ayaan “Hirsi Ali” at all and the then minister for Deporting of Brown People (Rita Verdonk) still had a personal score to settle with her and attempted to take away her Dutch citizenship for it. Ayaan then left parliament in a huff and buggered off to America to her wanktank job. Nothing to do with death threats, certainly none that followed her from Somalia. In reality, nobody gave two figs about her until she jumped on the anti-Islam bandwagon.
The above quote is a typical example the mythology build up around Ayaan Hirsi Ali by writers like Rosenbaum, mostly for US and UK consumption. She’s supposed this brave fighter for the rights of women oppressed by Islam, a liberal freethinker refusing to bow down before terrorism. But again, she was silent about all of this until after “9/11″ changed everything, until there was a market for this image. In the Netherlands she’s largely seen as a hinderance rather than a help in emancipating Muslim women, as her rhetoric puts the back up of those she’s supposed to help, while any real practical engagement by her remains elusive. But for those who regard The War Against Terror is the Greatest Intellectual Struggle of Our Times this is more of a feature than a bug, as witnessed by Rosenbaum’s judgment on a Decentist villain, Tariq Ramadan:
The problematic nature of Ramadan’s moderation can perhaps best be illustrated by his call for a “moratorium” on the stoning of women to death in Islamic societies for “honor” violations. The fact that he called for a “moratorium” at all has been hailed by Western, particularly European, intellectuals as a comforting sign for those concerned about women’s rights in the growing Muslim communities of the West.
The fact that he did not condemn the practice outright or call for its outlawing, and instead only called for “debate” with Islamic scholars and theologians on the matter during the “moratorium,” is not entirely reassuring to others.
Leave alone the twisting of Ramadan’s words, what comes across is that Rosenbaum rather would’ve had him make grandiose but futile pronouncements that make them feel good, than offer a practical, face saving measure that might just stop stonings because it offers conservative, suspicious theologians and the governments that employ them a way to change their religious laws while claiming to be completely orthodox and true to Islam. You don’t convince genuine believers by loudly denouncing their faith and demanding they should adjust to your moral worldview immediately. Or to put it in words even Decentists should understand: you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
He would not have time in his busy schedule to roll up his sleeves and organize like-minded people to build a coalition conforming to his own ideals. If you read his blog, you will learn that when he is not writing articles on cultural theory or redbaiting the left, he is playing hockey or the drums. In other words, he is not actually sufficiently motivated to put his crappy politics into action, the way that a serious political person might. Fundamentally, we are dealing with a dilettante who enjoys shitting on people whose views he disagrees with. Like Walter Mitty, he must have fantasies about leading people into a more just world but like most liberal intellectuals he does not bother since the Democratic Party does all the work that is necessary to rout the Taliban and al-Qaeda. After all, the Obama administration that Berube genuflects to has all the guns and money it needs to kill Afghans. Why would they require any kind of volunteer activism from a college professor who has better things to do with his spare time?
I’ve had my runins with Bérubé as well; he fancies himself as somewhat of an enforcer of acceptable leftwing behaviour but suffers from the usual liberal blinders. Especially in the early years of The War Against Terror there were quite a few liberals like him as much or even more outraged that resistance against it was largely organised by socialists, anarchists and other dirty fucking hippies than by the war itself. Hence those huge rants against Chomsky, ANSWER and such targets, who, no matter how outrageous their statements, never actually killed anybody or ordered bombardments on civilian targets in the name of freedom, but who did have the temerity to find good things to say about America’s officially designated enemies. All part of the policing political debate so that only serious people get to participate. The irony is, people like Bérubé got exactly the same treatment from the “respectable” right, but thought that the correct response would be to offer them better targets…