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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Our Opinion

The System

If there is any consensus among the ruling elites of the West, it is that the current Global War on Terrorism (to use the Bush administration’s official nomenclature) is precisely that, a global struggle against a global menace. Just last week, Tony Blair reiterated that the attack on London was not the latest outrage of a “clash of civilizations,” but the deadly spawn of an “evil ideology.” Of course, Mr. Blair was not exactly clear on what the specific constituents of that “ideology” were except to rehash the stale (indeed petrified) notions of a “cult of death” and a vile (and, naturally, utterly lunatic) “hatred” of “our way of life.” The fact that three of the four suicide bombers who wreaked their carnage on London were native-born Britons and that the fourth had lived in the country since the age of one; that they generally seemed to be both intelligent and relatively educated; and, above all, that they were so young—ideal representatives, one would have thought, of what Mr. Blair used to call (but does no longer, to avoid ridicule) “cool Britannia”—should have made even the British prime minister pause, despite his well-known contempt for anyone’s else’s opinion or, more to the point, anything that vaguely approaches the truth. What has always been most terrifying about Mr. Blair is his quickness of mind—and his consequent capacity to justify the most tortured distortion of reality. The fluent, steely response has always been his version of George Bush’s smirk. But they both (badly) camouflage an infinitely dangerous character, ruled not so much by unbridled egotism (a trait shared by many politicians) as—and this is the danger—by the delusion that pride is the same as conscience, and therefore speaks for collective principle instead of private aggrandizement (or self-justification).

Indeed, never have there been two leaders of the US and UK who were, ostensibly at least, so programmatically different politically and yet so psychologically identical, to the point that this interior identity overrides, and in fact negates, their political differences—at least in Mr. Blair’s case. That is why the rest of the world—although, regrettably, not yet Messrs. Blair and Bush’s fellow citizens—has become so suspicious of the platitudes repeatedly mouthed by the two, since this jointly delivered rhetorical fraud has come at the increasingly heavy cost of lives, as we saw again, tragically, on July 7.

An “evil ideology,” Mr. Blair said, assuming, like his counterpart in Washington, that the meaning, or judgment, is self-evident. According to the American Heritage dictionary that we use at, the word, evil, has five meanings in its primary, adjectival form, and another four in its secondary form, as a noun. As an adjective, it means: “1. Morally bad or wrong….2. Causing ruin, injury, or pain; harmful….3. Characterized by or indicating future misfortune; ominous….4. Bad or blameworthy by report; infamous….5. Characterized by anger or spite; malicious….” The noun, evil, means: “1. The quality of being morally bad or wrong; wickedness. 2. That which causes harm, misfortune, or destruction….3. An evil force, power, or personification. 4. Something that is a cause or source of suffering, injury, or destruction….” As for “ideology,” American Heritage defines it as: “1. The body of ideas reflecting the social needs and aspirations of an individual, a group, a class, or a culture. 2. A set of doctrines or beliefs forming the basis of a political or economic system.”

On the prior definitions, we have no doubt that at least half of the people of the UK and US, and the vast majority of the people of every other nation in the world, would contend that “evil” has been done consistently and even remorselessly by the UK and, especially, the US, not only, most recently, in Iraq, but in many countries on every continent on the face of the planet over the last many decades. Power predisposes to evil, and vice versa. To believe that empires have been built on altruistic motives is not merely to wallow in credulity. It is—as in the case of the recent academic propagandists for American empire, such as Harvard’s Niall Ferguson and Michael Ignatieff—to traffic in hypocrisy and a particularly transparent mendacity (especially for “human-rights advocates” such as Ignatieff). If nothing else, the evil that has been done in the name of fighting evil since time immemorial is not simply a part of humanity’s historical record; it is, in more ways than is decent to recount, the historical record.

Which is, of course, precisely where ideology comes in: “1. The body of ideas reflecting the social needs and aspirations of an individual, a group, a class, or a culture. 2. A set of doctrines or beliefs forming the basis of a political or economic system.” Well, yes, quite. We have no idea what the four suicide bombers in London—and their accomplices, wherever they may be hiding—believed in. What is clear—the only thing that is under the circumstances—is that they did not share Messrs. Blair and Bush’s vision of the best of all possible worlds. In this, however, they were—are—not alone. That is why to accuse them of being hostages to, and perpetrators of, an “evil ideology” is, quite literally, to say nothing at all. It is, in fact, to admit, not only that you hardly know anything about them, or their motivations, but—much worse—that you don’t care to. It is to adopt the moral stance of the aggrieved colonialist when the benighted colonized rises up in vengeful violence and slaughters the innocent along with the guilty. It is to denounce Mau Mau “atrocities,” or FLN café-bombers, or Tupamaro “terrorists,” but to refuse to ask what those English in Kenya, or French in Algeria, or Americans in Uruguay were doing there in the first place.

On July 18, Britain’s Royal Institute of International Affairs, in cooperation with the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council, released a detailed and scathing report on security and terrorism in the UK whose central conclusion was that, “Riding pillion with a powerful ally[the US] has proved costly in terms of British and US military lives, Iraqi lives, military expenditure, and the damage caused to the counter-terrorism campaign.” British foreign secretary Jack Straw’s response was predictable: “The time for excuses over terrorism is over.” The next day, the Guardian released the results of a poll that showed that two-thirds of Britons believe that the attack on London was related to British participation in invading and occupying Iraq, while three-quarters think that there will be more attacks.

On the day after London was struck, one of Britain’s finest journalists, Robert Fisk, wrote in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (“Blair’s alliance with Bush bombed,” July 8) that, “It is easy for Blair to call yesterday’s bombings ‘barbaric’—they were—but what were the civilian deaths of the Anglo American invasion of Iraq in 2003, the children torn apart by cluster bombs, the innocent Iraqis gunned down at American military checkpoints? When they die, it is ‘collateral damage’; when ‘we’ die it is ‘barbaric terrorism.’” And the product, always, of “evil.” Which it is, and which is why what happened in London was evil, but, sadly, no more so than what happens in Baghdad every day. To understand that is also to begin to understand the nature—and likeness and connection—of the crimes in both Baghdad and London. Once upon a time, before “New Labour,” when English socialists were deeply honest men, George Orwell wrote an essay entitled “Not Counting Niggers,” in which he reminded his fellow Britons that, “What we always forget is that the overwhelming bulk of the British proletariat does not live in Britain but in Asia and Africa.” Such, Orwell concluded, “is the system in which we all live on.” Indeed.

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