Sometimes you come across a thing you find it virtually impossible to credit, and yesterday this is just what happened to me. It started over at Harry's Place, on one of my several daily visits there. Because I'm behindhand on the particular thing in question I've thought of just letting it go: you know, some you post about, some you miss. But to me this one is so grotesque that I cannot forbear to pass comment on it, late as may be.
For the thing which the thing I'm referring to is, is that the anti-war liberal left has apparently stood in peril of being silenced, of having its dissenting voice smothered. And by whom? Why, by us - those within the same broad sector of left and liberal opinion but who supported the war in Iraq, as well as that before it in Afghanistan. Well, stone me and/or the crows (except don't do it really since it would be cruel), but... flabbergasted. I can't do better than to quote the words of Christopher Hitchens on yesterday's Today programme (the link to which is at Harry's), responding to Scott Lucas, one of the people currently pressing this complaint:
You have no idea how ridiculous you're being, no idea how ridiculous, how pathetic, you sound. There was not only no attempt made to silence anybody, but those who take the view that you take, that it is in fact liberal democracy that's at fault in this war and not the forces of jihad and Baathism, are everywhere regnant in the American culture and tremendously powerful and influential in the European echo chambers of the media as well.Anyone disposed to quarrel with this last statement in relation to the broadly invoked 'American culture' as a whole will certainly have a hard time challenging it as it applies more specifically to what we call the liberal left, whether American or European - which is the context relevant to Lucas's claim. On the same programme Hitchens went on to share with Lucas a little bit of his own experience:
I get emails every day, and I read in an extraordinary number of outlets, that because I take the regime change case or side in Iraq and Afghanistan - that I'm a member of a Jewish conspiracy run by sinister neoconservative power figures. I don't like reading this and I must say I find it objectionable, but I don't say anyone's trying to silence me. Actually, it rather encourages me to speak up.Yes, other 'outlets' here, though I don't know if Hitchens had them in mind, could include many left-leaning blogs and their comments boxes in which the barest mention of his name will as often as not induce a paroxysm of insults about the decline of his intelligence, his lack of principle, and more. To the 'sinister conspiracy' notion which he mentions might also be added the stuff about renegacy, selling out, becoming right-wing, and all the rest of it.
From an earlier post at Harry's Place, you will also see that George Monbiot - who complains of having felt 'surrounded' in his lonely anti-war view by the likes of Christopher Hitchens, David Aaronovitch, Nick Cohen and John Lloyd - sets out some of the reasons he thinks 'our former allies might have turned'. (How charmingly put.) Monbiot offers three reasons. 1) Not wanting (as a columnist) to be boring; wanting to shock people, shake things up. 2) Success; having the ear of the powerful; not wanting to lose this. 3) The rewards of supporting those with power, and the lack of opportunities if you don't.
It couldn't be that they - we - felt compelled by moral and political reasons? No, a preposterous thought. Boredom and the desire for rewards.
What a wonderful exercise in the sociology of knowledge. Nothing here on the powerful media outlets that have been open to George Monbiot and others sharing his views. Nothing about the international reputation and acclaim enjoyed by many of the key spokespeople for those views. Nothing about the disbenefits of being traduced and putatively excommunicated, which pro-war, pro-liberation leftists have gathered to themselves from many (not all) in the anti-war camp - from the segment of it constituted by the 'true believers'.
Well, here's my little counter-exercise in the sociology of knowledge. It answers this question: how on earth could individuals belonging to a global movement of millions of people, and whose point of view had widespread representation in the world's media, being in some sectors of this almost suffocating - how could these individuals have seen themselves as 'surrounded' and their dissent as under pressure, under threat of being silenced? I wonder if what they're saying is a displacement of something else which they may have acutely felt: namely a painful discomfort at the substance of what the critics of their position kept pointing out - that if their view had prevailed it would have meant the survival of quite monstrous regimes of murder, torture and political and social oppression. If any of them did feel the force of this discomfort as surrounding and discouraging them, then that is in some measure to their credit. But it still ain't the silencing of dissent.
Update at 11.15 AM on April 18. Eve Garrard emails:
I think there's another plausible motive which you didn't mention, and nor did anyone at Harry's, as far as I know. That sector of the liberal left enjoys seeing itself as subversive, as speaking unwelcome truth to power, as undermining the easy certainties of more conventional people. But how can you be sure you're doing all this if everyone's allowing you your say? Hence it's important to believe (or at least have others believe) that you're being silenced. It means that when you do speak up, it shows how very brave you are to overcome that silencing.Paul Anderson at Gauche discusses the Lucas book:
[L]ast week I was reading Scott Lucas's new diatribe against George Orwell and the contemporary left-wing writers who supported the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, The Betrayal of Dissent: Beyond Orwell, Hitchens and the New American Century - and by the time I'd got two chapters into it my blood was boiling.