Can we talk?
After working together in the local Stop the War group we fell out. Do you remember how you called me a neocon because I wrote, 'For many left intellectuals the dirty bomb that al-Qaida was getting closer to creating in its Afghan camps will never be finished and explode in London. Parts of the left are in denial'?
Al-Qaida bombs have now killed over 60 people in London and many more lives will be forever full of pain and anguish.
We stopped speaking altogether when Stop the War leaders recognised 'the legitimacy of the struggle of Iraqis, by whatever means they find necessary'. Those words - any means they find necessary - look more chilling than ever today. (The words were retracted under pressure.)
You thought there was an anti-imperialist 'resistance' in Iraq. I said it was fascistic and you should be supporting the Iraqi democrats instead.
We are menaced by theocratic fascism, organized through networks outside international treaties and that render meaningless traditional Westphalian war goals such as the defeat of an army or the defence of territory. We are also menaced by states – such as Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran - that assist those networks.
Tony Blair has warned of an 'existential threat': the coming together of WMD and Terror Networks. Do you still think Blair was just 'whipping up a story for George Bush', as you put it?
You used to quote Michael Moore at me, a man whose appeal is beyond me. Moore said, 'There is no threat! Repeat after me, there is no threat!' Well, there was, and there is.
Galloway was one of the first to say: 'Londoners have now paid the price.' Others agreed. The message is 'Give Them What They Want!' But it is a fantasy to think what they want is a Middle East Peace Conference (as Tony Benn claimed, idiotically comparing the terrorists to Nelson Mandela, of all people, on Newsnight on the very evening of the atrocity). The perpetrators want to end democracy, women's rights and Muslim modernity. Ken Livingstone spoke for London, not your friends in Respect. Norman Geras rightly says: 'They are the enemies of democracy and the enemies of all humankind. They must be fought till they have been defeated.'
And will you now stop putting scare quotes around the word 'terrorism'? It's time to stop talking about 'the power of nightmares' and face facts.
Can't you see that a new political force is emerging, part 'anti-imperialist', part fundamentalist, each chasing a purity without spot? It's not the fighting democratic left you say you want. The true democratic left needs to raise our dropped jaw and take its measure. We could do with your support in that.
The last time we spoke, you said that you thought the rise of Jihadi Fundamentalism was only blowback against imperialism and was therefore progressive. I spluttered some profanity and left. Sorry. Let me explain why I disagree.
Four factors are vital. First, the secular, often state-capitalist, modernizing projects of the elites in the region became stalled in corruption, tyranny and cultural stagnation.
Second, these closed societies failed to compete and the resulting dislocation pressed upon the middle class, sending it into panic and rage, disintegrating welfare systems, ravaging old social relationships but not creating new ones. This threatened the old exploiting classes - the bazaar merchants, the religious establishment, sometimes landlords.
Third, the traditional left organizations were discredited for having tailed the nationalist projects of the elites.
Fourth, the working class and labour movement, repressed, shackled, lacking independence, was no alternative.
So the middle classes and those classes created by primitive capital accumulation and pauperization were 'opened up' for recruitment by the traditional intellectuals of political Islam, the ulemas.
These social forces were swept up into a mass movement aimed at 'the West' or 'Imperialism' or 'the Infidels', chasing the entirely reactionary and illusory solution of using modern military technology and state power to turn back the clock to the pure Islamic state of the 7th century, based on Sharia law.
'What went wrong?' asked a desperate people. The fundamentalists had an answer - 'They did it!' - pointing to a cast of villains such as 'infidels', 'westernizers', corrupt oil sheiks, Jews and uppity women.
Islamists became the repository of the hopes and dreams of millions. In turn, the Islamists sought to redefine those dreams as nihilist fantasies. The result has been a wave of violence against moderate and progressive Muslims, and al-Qaida, a global Jihadic terrorist network.
When Islamic Fundamentalism first emerged the Left defined it as analogous to fascism. The Arab Trotskyist Salah Jaber wrote in 1981 that 'the fundamentalist movement shares many of the characteristics of fascism... its social base, the nature of its political ideology, its fierce anti-communism and its totalitarianism'. He warned that the fundamentalists were not genuine anti-imperialists but represented an inchoate reactionary hostility to 'the hated "west"... and to all the political and social gains of the bourgeois revolution'.
Once fundamentalism gained a mass base and - all-important, this, for an essentially anti-American left - came into conflict with the USA, then some on the left lost their heads entirely. They decided fundamentalism was progressive.
Left-wing rhetoric about the USA being 'the heart of the beast' now merged with the political Islamists' talk of 'the Great Satan'. Reactionary Islamic fundamentalism was redefined as 'Radical Islam' and the anti-Semitic zealots of Hamas, for instance, were redefined as bone fide 'anti-imperialist' forces.
This redefinition was part of a wider collapse of radical politics. Leftism has been reduced to negative and incoherent opposition to whatever America does. A complex world has been reduced to two camps - 'Imperialism' versus 'the Resistance'. You can dress it up in post-structuralese and quote Negri at me all you want. It's still a crude reduction. To redefine the political Islamists as part of 'the Resistance', is to redefine yourself as a critical supporter of the political Islamists. I appeal to you to break from all that.
Our job is to push on past a stalled modernity and a demented reaction. How? By consistently fighting for global democratization and global development: making tyranny history and making poverty history. That's how the decent left will come to know itself and challenge the pro-tyrant left. Are we talking again?