False Equivalence: The logical fallacy of defending Jeremy Corbyn

By Connor Pierce

The company Jeremy Corbyn keeps should by now come as a shock to no one.

On 11 July, Jeremy Corbyn was photographed enjoying a pizza with a man called Marcus Papadopoulos. Papadopoulos tweeted the picture with the caption: I spent the evening with @jeremycorbyn , who the United Kingdom desperately needs as its next Prime Minister…

Papadopoulos is known primarily as a chief apologist for Slobodan Milosevic, the president of Serbia who was convicted by the Hague in 2002 for crimes against humanity during the Bosnian war. Amongst other things, Papadopoulos has openly denied that the Srebrenica massacre — during which 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were slaughtered by Serb nationalist forces, ironically 22 years to the day before his meeting with Corbyn — ever took place.

Papadopoulos has also repeatedly voiced support for the Assad regime in Syria, declaring shortly after Assad’s chemical attack on Khan Shaykhun in April, that he would ‘stand with Assad 100%’. In short, he is a conspiracist crank whose appeal should stretch no further than the spotty adolescent sofa masturbators that populating obscure MRA Reddit forums that no doubt make up the majority of his fanbase. No mainstream politician should touch him with a bargepole. None would, of course — except for the leader of the opposition.

Those familiar with Corbyn’s ‘questionable’ relationships with dictators, terrorists and anti-Semites no doubt greeted the news of their meeting with the same air of weary despondency and resignation that has become routine. Given his vocal support of the dictatorial governments of Venezuela, Cuba and Iran; his admiration for Putin and his reluctance to openly criticise the atrocities committed by Assad’s government, it is no surprise at all that Corbyn would attract the support of a man like Papadopoulos.

The reaction amongst Corbyn’s supporters has also been grimly predictable. His most ardent defenders — those who are so emotionally invested in the deification of Jeremy Corbyn that their reaction to each lurid revelation can only be either disbelief or deliberate, willful ignorance — always give two deeply unsatisfactory responses to news of his connections.

The first is that famous retort Corbyn has espoused himself in defence of his links with Hamas: the peacemaker excuse.

When challenged on the company he has kept in the past, Corbyn has made much of the importance of open dialogue with the enemy in the aim of achieving peace. Such a sentiment might of course be laudable, if only it were true.

In his frequent meetings with members and supporters of Hamas, Hezbollah, the IRA and any number of other deplorable people and organisations, Corbyn has never made any attempt to challenge the insidious views of his hosts.

Instead he has either passively endorsed them — by keeping quiet and toeing the line, as he did when he called Osama Bin Laden’s death a tragedy on Iran’s PressTV — or has actively embraced them, as he did when he called Hamas a ‘movement for social justice’, or when he reminded us all of the achievements of the viciously homophobic Cuban regime after Fidel Castro’s death.

Neither has Corbyn ever met with these organisations’ counterparts — Loyalist terrorists like the UDA, for example, or Israeli settlers in Gaza.

When one considers how little scrutiny his peacemaker claims stand up to, it is depressing how many people — including those in the supposedly hostile ‘MSM’ — are willing to take him at his word. Given his form, the likelihood that Corbyn used his evening with Papadopoulos to challenge him on his propagation of warped conspiracy theories and support for Ba’athism seems somewhat slim.

The second strand of the Corbynista’s defence is that most infuriating of argumentative tactics: Whataboutery.

The act of responding to any argument with a separate, unrelated point that exposes the hypocrisy of an opponent rather than engaging in a meaningful discussion, Whataboutery has always been endemic amongst sections of the left. It was a popular propaganda technique of the Soviet Union that has been employed with a new vigour by Corbyn’s acolytes when asked to address the issue of his unsavoury relationships.

Whataboutery is the last refuge of the debater with nowhere to go. It is a logical fallacy, the purpose of which is to wilfully mislead, serving only as a kind of character assassination of an opponent rather than a genuine attempt to justify or defend a position. That in itself is enough to disregard it — but one particular strain used by Corbynistas relies on a certain twisted logic which is not often enough addressed.

It is that which seeks to justify Corbyn’s chumminess with oppressive governments in conjunction with Britain’s own diplomatic ties to questionable regimes — popularly now, though not exclusively, Saudi Arabia. In response to a question over Corbyn’s allegiances, a typical retort runs: “Well, what about Saudi Arabia? Their government is killing people in Yemen — and we still sell them arms!”

If one were to make a list of the most heinous, despicable countries, of the most repressive, patriarchal or corrupt regimes on the planet, Saudi Arabia would likely come somewhere close to the top by almost any measure. It is hard to imagine a country that more embodies the antithesis of liberal democracy, or that has done more to spread hateful, violent ideologies that unsettle the safety of the world.

The UK’s cosy relationship with Saudi Arabia is both morally repugnant and politically myopic. Saudi Arabia’s intervention in the civil war in Yemen has taken a backseat in comparison to Russia’s intervention in the war in Syria, but it is no less vile or indiscriminate. Saudi Arabia has shown scant regard for human rights on both domestic and international fronts. The humanitarian case for severing links with Saudi Arabia has, in short, never been stronger.

Similarly, from a purely pragmatic point of view, the UK’s close ties with Saudi Arabia are also an increasing liability. Its rife Islamism arguably undermines whatever national security benefits Britain gets from the relationship. Furthermore, Britain can hardly claim to be setting a moral example with its tacit support for the militant Wahhabism that governs the country.

The UK government should halt the arms trade with Saudi Arabia if it continues its campaign in Yemen, and it should also take measures to reduce its dependence on the country. I say this without qualification and fully aware of whatever ‘commercial’ price the country may pay.

That said, international relations are seldom simple. Reducing dependence on Saudi Arabia would at the very least be complicated. Ties between the west and the Kingdom of Saudi go back decades — long before many of today’s politicians were even born, and the fragile global order means that such decisions can rarely be made unilaterally. The reality of international governance is that sometimes, despicable regimes remain allies.

This is not to say that criticism of the UK’s relationships cannot be made, or that it is justified. But political necessity and the pressures of power are legitimate defences for maintaining them. Part of the nature of power is that principles must sometimes be compromised.

Comparing Corbyn’s support for hostile governments like Iran to a Prime Minister’s support for Saudi Arabia is therefore a false equivalence. From a purely moral and ethical perspective, they are totally different.

Corbyn has never held any position of real power. There has never been any real need for him to compromise with his principles. However, he still lends his support to some of the most brutal regimes on the planet. The defence of compromise in the face of political necessity, or even expediency, is not available to him: he chooses to support these regimes, causes and organisations regardless of their conduct and the suffering they cause, all without the excuse of the pressures of power.

Duty did not call for Jeremy Corbyn to share a pizza with a man who denies genocide and supports General Bashar Al-Assad. Just like his countless other friendly meetings with apologists for murder, terrorism and anti-Semitism, Jeremy Corbyn met with Papadopoulos in his free time because he wanted to — and not to disagree with him, but because he views him as an ally.

If this is the company he chooses to keep, one can only wonder at how he might react when the pressure is really on. It should worry everyone that we may well find out soon enough.

 

This article originally appeared on the author’s Medium account and is kindly reproduced with permission here.

Carrying Water for Jeremy Corbyn

By Jamie Palmer

How things have changed. When Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party in 2015, British conservatives could scarcely believe their luck. Labour’s crazy lurch into the mouldering weeds of anachronistic hard Left politics was supposed to usher in a long and possibly terminal spell in electoral oblivion. Labour moderates were inclined to agree, and Corbyn’s listless dispatch box appearances, comically inept comms operation, and consistently dire polling figures seemed to bear these fears out.

Nevertheless, in deference to party loyalty and the democratic will of the membership, Labour MPs attempted a show of unity for a while. But outside the parliamentary party, in the press and the blogosphere, Corbyn’s ascension provoked a furious backlash from Labour centrists and moderates. In electing Corbyn, these critics argued, the membership had committed an act of self-lacerating naivety and unpardonable irresponsibility. Not only were his dusty Marxist politics an electoral liability in a forward-looking 21st century Western liberal democracy, but his longstanding associations with and support for anti-Semites, conspiracists, terrorists, theocrats, and totalitarians were morally disqualifying.

Political debates over crime and social policy, health and welfare, taxation and economics, and so on can be bitterly divisive. But they deal with complex issues about which people of goodwill from across the political spectrum ought to be able to reasonably disagree. Governing in a democracy is not easy, and nor is navigating a fraught and cynical geopolitical landscape. Jeremy Corbyn may rail self-righteously against Britain’s relationship with Saudi Arabia from the stump; taking such a position is easy given the barbaric nature of the regime there, and doing so costs him nothing. But should he be elected prime minister, he will discover that he too must accommodate that distasteful alliance in the national interest. Compromise comes with the responsibilities of power, which is precisely why inflexible ideologues are better suited to protest than governance.

The alliances Corbyn has made over a long career as a backbench MP and activist, on the other hand, have been unconstrained by the demands of statecraft and geopolitical diplomacy. His outspoken solidarity with terrorist actors like the IRA and Hamas, and his support for the savage revolutionary theocracy in Iran and the Chavez regime in the starvation state of Venezuela, were all freely chosen positions and affirmations of political conscience. When Corbyn appeared on Iran’s propaganda channel and declared that the killing of Osama Bin Laden and Bin Laden’s premeditated murder of nearly 3000 American civilians were somehow comparable tragedies, it was an expression of his own ethical worldview, not some mealy-mouthed diplomatic fudge.

Such arguments, however, left Corbyn’s supporters unmoved. Some of them shared his jaundiced view of Israel and America and the West more broadly as no better­ – and quite possibly worse – than their despotic enemies. Others had barely heard of Hamas, still less bothered to familiarize themselves with the organisation’s Hitlerian charter or its long record of pitiless suicide murder. If Corbyn said his casual description of such people as ‘friends’ was a requirement of his self-appointed role as an international peacemaker then that must be what it was. Here, they decided, was a gentle idealist who spoke softly about injustice and made his own pots of jam. Everything else was just so much mass media defamation from right-wing elites threatened by a sense of virtue they were too jaded or corrupt to understand.

But this latter view required Corbyn’s more benign supporters to overlook rather a lot. The anti-Zionist ideology he had vehemently espoused throughout his political career emboldened and empowered a particularly nasty section of the radical Left, and the Labour Party soon found itself consumed by an ugly anti-Semitism scandal. The Chakrabarti Report into the controversy commissioned by the party leadership was supposed to put a firm lid on the matter. But when the author of that insipid document was rewarded for her efforts with a peerage, it only exacerbated the divisions it was designed to heal.

It took almost a year of catastrophic headlines and tumbling poll numbers before the parliamentary Labour Party finally roused itself to opposition amid the rubble of Britain’s disastrous 2016 EU referendum. In the view of Labour MPs (and many other sensible observers besides), Corbyn’s sullen foot-dragging had undermined the Remain campaign, a cause for which he had only ever been able to muster tepid support. But in marshalling their subsequent leadership challenge, Labour rebels passed over Corbyn’s totalitarian apologetics with an embarrassed cough and focussed instead on his electability deficit.

This near-sighted strategy was an attempt to appeal to Labour members’ instinct for political self-preservation while flattering their policy preferences. It was entirely self-defeating. Owen Smith offered himself as a younger, more affable, and more electable version of Jeremy Corbyn, and unimpressed Labour members, already smarting from the attempt to overturn their previous vote, duly returned Corbyn with another thumping mandate. The rebels sank into despondency and grimly awaited electoral demolition, consoled only by the knowledge that this would at least allow for the rebuilding of a sane left-of-centre party.

Instead, the June election stripped Theresa May of her parliamentary majority and rebel Labour MPs of their only anti-Corbyn argument. With varying degrees of reluctance and enthusiasm, senior party figures appeared before news cameras like scraping subjects to declare themselves delighted by Corbyn’s electoral vindication and to offer stomach-churning apologies for ever having doubted him. If any of them were alarmed by the consolidation of the hard Left’s control of their party, they could hardly raise ethical objections at this late date now that they were within spitting distance of Downing Street.

However, a more dismaying shift had also occurred outside of the parliamentary party and it began almost as soon as the election date was announced. Progressive bloggers and commentators who had hitherto written passionate condemnations of left-wing anti-Semitism and of Corbyn’s fraternal links with terrorists suddenly discovered that such considerations were not disqualifying after all. In handwringing articles, such transgressions were now redescribed by these same writers as something more like undesirable flaws – regrettable of course, but not the kind of thing that should prevent them or anyone else from voting Labour when there was Conservative austerity to oppose. And once the votes were all counted, they too dutifully lined up with their parliamentary colleagues to recommend unity and a ‘reset’ of relations with the leadership, which they now decided ought to be ‘given a chance’.

But if opposition to the Tories’ political programme was the most pressing consideration of the day, then why all the sound and fury about anti-Semitism and so forth from these quarters in the first place? Raising those unseemly matters had only served to embarrass the Labour leadership and had risked inflicting further damage to the party’s electoral prospects. On the other hand, if these things really were disqualifying, then surely opposing Corbynism at the ballot box (where it really mattered) was no less urgent than it had been a few weeks previously.

It is hard to say with any certainty whether their conscientious objection would have made much difference to the end result. Nevertheless, their votes made them complicit in a hostile takeover of their party they had once vehemently opposed, and in cementing Corbyn’s grip on the leadership. I have since read hopeful musings that the election result was a fluke brought about by an uncommonly useless Conservative campaign and the aftershocks of the Brexit referendum. Corbynism has now peaked, these voices claim, not least because those who voted Labour secure in the knowledge Corbyn couldn’t win will not take that risk a second time.

This analysis may prove prescient but I’m sceptical. Perceptions matter in electoral politics, and the election replaced the aura of incompetence and doom surrounding Corbyn’s leadership with an aura of plausibility overnight. No longer is he simply a cranky footnote in Labour Party history, but a serious prime ministerial prospect. Now that moderates are queuing up to endorse him and carry his water, the stigma they had once striven to attach to the Corbyn brand is evaporating. Next time around, it is not control of the Labour Party that will be at issue, but control of the country and its government. This ought to be particularly alarming at a time when Europe is menaced by threats of Islamist violence, rising anti-Semitism, and Russian revanchism that Corbyn is ideologically unwilling and unable to oppose.

The choice faced by Labour moderates at the next election is not dissimilar to the dilemma faced by ‘Never Trumpers’ after the 2016 Republican convention. For those conservatives, a Trump presidency was a uniquely dangerous and repulsive prospect for reasons that went beyond questions of electability or reasonable differences over policy. Trump’s unstable temperament and gruesome admiration for autocratic rule were defects that superseded all considerations of party loyalty. Not only did these conservatives refuse to vote for Trump, but they used their positions as writers and commentators to do whatever they could to thwart his campaign. Trump’s widely unexpected election victory only increased their political isolation. Spurned by the incoming administration as treacherous and out-of-touch, and distrusted by Democrats, they found themselves stranded for the first time in their lives in political no man’s land.

Labour moderates can expect similar treatment. Even as the expectation of electoral defeat loomed before them, their protests about Corbyn’s manifest unfitness for office were swept aside with derision and contempt. Now that their leader’s position is secure, Corbynistas are in no mood to be magnanimous or conciliatory. Speaking at a Progress event on 24 June, the former broadcaster turned activist Paul Mason had a characteristically blunt message for Blairites:

If you want a centrist party this is not going to be it for the next ten years. If it’s really important to you to have a pro-Remain party that’s in favour of illegal war, in favour of privatisation, form your own party and get on with it!

Appearing on the BBC’s political discussion programme This Week a few days previously, Blairite MP Liz Kendall had done her best to put an optimistic gloss on things. Listening to her, the former Conservative MP turned commentator and broadcaster Michael Portillo could hardly contain his incredulity:

You make Mrs. May sound like a realist. What has happened to your party is it is now firmly in the grip of [hard Left campaigning organization] Momentum. And you know better than anybody that these are very nasty people. And these people are going to drive the likes of you out of the party, they’re going to have you deselected, they’re going to pursue you on social media . . . Suddenly you, and Chuka Umunna in particular, make it sound like the only disagreement you had with Jeremy Corbyn was that he might not win . . . Your party has been taken over by a very dangerous hard Left, people who have sympathized with terror over the years, and these people are now within a hair’s breadth of taking power in this country. And you should be more worried than I am about that.

The truth is we should all be worried. In both the US and the UK, the political parties in power during the Iraq War and the 2008 economic crash have both surrendered to powerful populist insurgencies. For all their differences, these insurgencies are united in their contempt for the post-WWII liberal international order and for their own party establishments. They are anti-NATO, scornful of the European Union, hostile to immigration, Putin-sympathetic, and led by agitators who thrive on the politics of mass rallies and online mobs, unconcerned by – and sometimes openly solicitous of – the bigotry and racism they trail in their wake.

Accusations of racism and questions of experience and basic competence didn’t stop Trump and they may not stop Corbyn either, despite copious evidence for both. Americans are now paying a steep price for ignoring these criteria and British voters can expect the same chaotic result should they decide to reward Corbyn’s vapid sloganeering with the task of actually governing the country. Amidst all the fawning tributes to Labour’s marvellous election campaign, the catastrophic policy interviews given by Corbyn and his shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, and the small matter of extravagant but uncosted manifesto promises, have been quietly forgotten. Meanwhile, shadow chancellor John McDonnell’s reckless description of the Grenfell Tower fire as “social murder” is a reminder of the breathtaking cynicism with which unscrupulous demagogues will inflame grief and rage in the pursuit of political expediency.

Having spent a political lifetime barking into loudhailers at protests and demos, Jeremy Corbyn is scarcely better prepared to shoulder the complex responsibilities of national governance than Donald Trump was. And should a Corbyn administration come to pass, progressives of integrity will be needed to pick up the pieces when it is all over, and to recover what remains of the moral health of left-wing politics. If the radicals who spent the ‘80s and ‘90s griping that they had been disenfranchised by the neoliberal consensus are now in control of the Labour and Republican Parties, it is because they understood something that moderates had better grasp: that luck is when patient preparation meets opportunity.

For now, the outlook for Labour moderates is bleak. Many of them have devoted a lifetime to Labour Party politics and must now contemplate the loneliness of political homelessness and exile. But, like the conservative anti-Trumpers, they should look beyond the horizon of their own tribal politics, fight their corner, and await their moment. Those who opt instead for capitulation before radical populism will not only forfeit their dignity; a movement that considers them worthy only of unqualified disdain will swallow them whole.

In 2002, the Left’s ambivalent response to the 9/11 attacks and the war in Afghanistan led American political theorist Michael Walzer to write an essay for Dissent asking, “Can there be a decent Left?” By this he meant an internationalist Left that does not strive to find equivalence between liberal democracies and the theocratic fascists who slaughter their citizens; a progressive Left that has not surrendered its liberal values to masochism and moral relativism; and a democratic Left that prefers political debate to the cult of personality that currently holds the Labour Party in its jaws. In Britain, that kind of Left is in greater peril than ever before. And now that Jeremy Corbyn stands on the threshold of power, the need to speak up in its defence has only become more urgent, not less.

Corbyn, Terrorism and Intervention

By Harris Coverley

Let me just make a few things clear: after all these years I am still a socialist. I voted Labour in 2015 (and would do so all over again), and find myself broadly agreeing with a lot of what the current Labour manifesto has to offer. I never supported the Iraq War, and I feel the War in Afghanistan was mismanaged, as was the intervention in Libya. However, I cannot bring myself to vote Labour due to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, one of the most pressing issues of contention being his relationship to, and opinions of, terrorism.

This piece was originally two separate posts that I have edited together to form one full whole for publication here. The original posts can be found here and here.

On Corbyn’s Terrorism Speech, Islamist Terrorism and the Left’s “Terrorism Problem”

Firstly there is the issue of Corbyn’s speech, a speech which in many ways reflects what he has believed and promoted for years, but has been translated through a more acceptable prism.

This is not to say I disagreed with all of it: he harangues the government for applying the logic of austerity to the security services (even though his current Shadow Home Secretary wanted to abolish Mi5…) and the emergency response services (even though his current Shadow Chancellor signed a manifesto pledging their disarmament), underlining that the traditional Tory doctrine of “law and order” is utterly hollow in the face of neoliberalism’s onslaught. The contribution of prison dysfunction to the problem is also a pressing concern (note that such an issue contributed to the catalyst that has allowed the recent cycle of terrorist attacks in Paris).

But his speech contains severe contradictions and unfounded assumptions common to the rhetoric of his ilk, and it is a good opportunity to rehash some criticisms of them.

Corbyn in many ways mimics what must be a millennia old rhetorical Sophistic form, but mastered and applied by Noam Chomsky in the late 20th century and adopted by many political pundits of all stripes thereafter, whereby if you want to say something highly controversial and disagreeable, you first say its exact opposite, and then state a bland and vague version of it (you can also do this the other way around with the same effect). You could even use the “dog whistle” method of using certain words and phrases to communicate semi-hidden meaning and instruction. This way, you can address your intended audience — the proverbial choir one preaches to — directly, confuse fence sitters and the casually interested into agreeing with you, and when your critics accuse of saying the thing in question, you can point to the opposite point you said and declare “In fact, I actually said the opposite…”, which while technically true, is intellectually dishonest.

This is the rhetorical form of Corbyn’s speech: the “blame” may be “with the terrorists”, but we must see to it that “our foreign policy reduces rather than increases the threat to this country” — a blatant declaration that it is doing the very opposite.

There are other contradictions as well: if these terrorist actors are such purveyors of “atrocious acts of cruelty and depravity”, and that such “vicious and contemptible acts…cause profound pain and suffering”, then why does he aim to make “conflict resolution” the heart of his foreign policy, wherein you “will almost always [be] talking to people you profoundly disagree with”? Usually people who are “depraved” are beyond dialogue, and require a more forceful response…

But really, most of Corbyn’s condemnation of the attacks is just platitude: it is what you are expected to say, especially when you are employing the aforementioned method.

(It is also embarrassing that Corbyn says that we “must support our Armed Services”, when he is on record — video exists — in 2010 saying that the only austerity cuts must be to them. He said it, you can’t just brush it away…)

The aforementioned ‘opposed point’ Corbyn makes is clear: “Those causes certainly cannot be reduced to foreign policy decisions alone. […] And no rationale based on the actions of any government can remotely excuse, or even adequately explain, outrages like this week’s massacre.” However, he doesn’t mention, other than prison dysfunction, what might also be leading to those causes. Again: the only real culprit on offer here is British foreign policy.

Corbyn seems to want to balance main causes of terrorism between the actions of the West and the agency of terrorists themselves, but really, without directly identifying the ideological-political drivers of the main international terrorist phenomenon — that is, what I like to call revolutionary Islamism, or is more generally known as Salafi jihadism —not even mentioning IS by name, then the rhetorical axis in practice in focuses on the West being guilty of their own woes due to “blowback” from their own policy.

But the idea of “blowback” is a questionable one. Some like Peter Bergen — whom I greatly respect as the first journalist to make Al-Qaeda his focus — sees it as a real driver of global terrorism in regards to the Iraq War. Other evidence from the Iraq War however suggests otherwise.

There also the old chestnut of confusing correlation with causation (C =/= C).

https://twitter.com/ronanburtenshaw/status/867857311615696896

This graph has been presented as “proof” the Iraq War caused a rise in deaths from terrorism — again, that C =/= C problem. But if we adopt its logic and look closely at the graph the opposite seems true: after the 2006 troop surge there was actually an overall long-term decline in terrorist deaths, and terrorism-related deaths only began to rise sharply again after the beginnings of the Syrian Civil War, a war from which Western intervention has been (until recently) almost entirely absent. You could draw that Western intervention applied consistently could in fact reduce terrorism-related deaths overall, but that would be falling back on the correlation fallacy…

Another graph shows that over the past twenty years, terrorism attacks in Britain have reduced to an historic low, not exactly indicating a country in the throes of “blowback”.

https://twitter.com/t_wainwright/status/867761850376695809

There are other problem: I don’t know how a 2003 war can cause 2001 attacks…you also have to ignore things like the 1993 WTC Bombing and the 1995 Bojinka Plot (the “original” 9/11 which would have killed far more people). I think much of the timespan of Islamist terrorism is omitted from these graphs, leading to a distorted picture. Islamist terrorism killed tens of thousands in the Middle East throughout the ’80s and ’90s; our response in the West was mostly “Oh Dearism”

“Blowback”, as opposed to a serious IR theory, is mostly used as a means to blame the West for its own foreign policy errors in the face of multiple terrorist attacks and hundreds of young men travelling to the Middle East to essentially kill themselves but not before killing as many innocents as they can (and desecrating a few priceless artefacts along the way). But in terms of real or self-alleged causation, the actual “inspiration” events vary, as Jonathan Freeland recently wrote: “I recall my own first encounter with [jihadism], back in the 1990s. I was speaking at a student meeting that was disrupted by loud activists from the extremist al-Muhajiroun group. What were they furious about? The west’s failure to take military action over Bosnia. These young men were livid that Britain and the US had not dropped bombs to prevent the massacre at Srebrenica. It proved, they said, that the west held Muslim lives to be cheap.” Maajid Nawaz, a former jihadi-turned-secularist activist, confirmed this for his own experience: “So Bosnia was the key recruitment drive. It was the key thing that allowed an entire generation of people that were my age, around 16 years old to be approached by Islamists who said — “do you want a solution to this problem?””.

“Blowback” is also a non-falsifiable theory: regardless of remote the act is, the War on Terror or Western foreign policy in general must somehow be responsible. For example: Joe Sacco somehow managed to blame the Charlie Hebdo shootings on the Abu Ghraib abuses, even though Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula said the killings had been ordered purely in the name of “vengeance for the prophet”.

In reality, there is nothing unusual about what happened in Manchester, if we take a global perspective. Every day Islamists kill Muslim civilians across the Islamic world, and do it in the name of defending their own principles against ‘kafir’. That this sometimes happens here is not indicative of a special event; rather, we are lucky that, unlike in say Iraq, this is not a weekly if not daily event. We are not the true focus of Islamist rage because we are, as IS puts it, the “grey zone”, a place where some Muslims live, who must be either reached (and “converted”) or killed with the rest of the “infidels”, but it is the Islamic world with its Muslim population where the pivotal battles must be fought. Muslims who agree with their aims are encouraged to stay and commit terrorism in the West, but this column of extremists is obviously a microscopic group.

Of course, ideologically speaking, Islamists despise the West: democracy is “polytheism” and incompatible with Islam; secular law conflicts with God’s law; feminine freedom is an affront to decency; and so on. Our military actions — for example, drone strikes — are nothing compared to what the West represents, to quote an IS fighter from the most recent Shiraz Maher interview: “We primarily fight wars due to [sic] ppl being disbelievers. Their drones against us are a secondary issue. […] Their kufr against Allah is sufficient of a reason for us to invade and kill them. Only if they stop their kufr will they no longer be a target.” We should take the words of mass murderers with pinches of salt, but then again, the regressive left (for want of a better phrase) latch onto to certain elements of Islamist discourse that parallel their own anti-interventionist/“anti-imperialist” stance while ignoring what lies at the heart of what truly drives Islamist terrorists as political actors, and what really drives all political actors: their ideology and their vision for the world. Every Islamist ideology broadly considered, whether Sunni or Shia, is dependent not on some defensive “anti-colonial” narrative lifted from Fanon — which only makes up part of their discourse — but on a desire to remake the entire world as they believe their respective interpretation of god wants to see it. For Hamas and Hezbollah (Corbyn knows them quite well I believe…), this entails the elimination of both Israel and Middle Eastern Jewry in its entirety, and the creation of a totalitarian Palestinian state in its place. For Iran’s Islamic Republic, this entails the destruction of Sunni powers such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and the establishment of a Shia hegemony over all of the Middle East — the Achaemenid Empire reborn. For Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, this entails the creation of a global Caliphate, a state that encompasses the entire world in a totalitarian system. There is no plurality in this one, no diversity — it is a total and complete domination.

The softly, softly “conflict resolution” approach Corbyn invokes will not work with this last group of Islamists. With the Palestinians and Islamic Republics, a solution is possible when cooler heads prevail (and I still hope one day to visit that Palestinian state), but the ‘Islamist internationals’ will never yield. They already think they are right and are willing to die for it. You talking to them just buys them time. You finding “compromise” with them just means their unwilling subjects will continue suffer. (And to think Corbyn criticised Smith for suggesting the exact same thing…)

None of this has somehow been birthed purely or even mostly from the so-called War on Terror; the 9/11 Attacks can be traced intellectually back through Osama Bin Laden, through to the chief theorist of the Muslim Brotherhood and founder of modern jihadism Sayyid Qutb, and even further back to the Islamic Revival of the late 19th century in the terminally declining Ottoman Empire (and the collapse of the sectarian millet system with it). The intellectual history of the Islamic world may at times be confusing and obscure, but (to ironically invoke Edward Saïd) to reduce a great, centuries-long political, cultural and religious struggle within a vast population spread across the Old World down to petty reaction is Euro-centric Orientalism.

At the end of the day, taking his entire career as given, Corbyn has what might best be termed an ideological terrorism fetish. The ideological ends of the terrorists themselves do not really matter, whether it be a United Ireland under a Gerry Adams dictatorship or an Islamic fascist Palestine with its Jewish population nicely expunged. It is an admiration for terrorists based in the understanding that terrorists are revolutionaries who oppose the currently existing order of things, and as revolutionaries they require unquestioning solidarity. Even when the struggle is over, every criticism of the terrorists’ violence — no matter how brutal — must be contextualised as a response to the violence of the state or of other actors, often through either minimisation or equivocation; this is why Corbyn still refuses to condemn the IRA without mentioning Loyalists. If he has to lie about it, he will lie about it.

Cobyn has systematically voted against almost every anti-terrorism law not because he believes they require judicial oversight (which begs the question: why did he never table any amendments?), but because he feels such legislation would interfere with the actions of righteous rebels.

The admiration for terrorists by political radicals (including pseudo-radical poseurs such as Corbyn) goes back a long way, and can be seen in an 1869 letter by Mikhail Bakunin, the prophet of modern anarchism, to Nikolai Ogarev, in which he praised brigandage (banditry in the Russian badlands) as a revolutionary ideal: “Banditry is one of the most honourable ways of life within the Russian state [representing] a desperate protest by the people against the infamous social order[.] The bandit is the people’s hero, defender and saviour.” For Bakunin, the bandit is currently in Russia “the only true revolutionary”, and as for moral responsibility, regardless of how many innocents are killed, it is purely the state’s fault: “Governmental cruelty has engendered the cruelty of the people and made it into something necessary and natural.”

Corbyn through a long line of apologists for mass criminality in the name of revolution carries on this tradition. His association with Irish irredentist terrorists (for how else can we describe the IRA really?) and every calibre of Islamist extremist is well documented.

For example: The Stop the War Coalition, of which Corbyn was an officer and later Chair from 2011 to 2015, in 2005 released this statement: “The StWC reaffirms its call for an end to the occupation, the return of all British troops in Iraq to this country and recognises once more the legitimacy of the struggle of Iraqis, by whatever means they find necessary, to secure such ends.” They had earlier affiliated during the initial anti-war protests with various Islamic extremist organisations.

Much later during the Paris Attacks, the StWC published an article titled “Paris reaps whirlwind of western support for extremist violence in Middle East”, which they later, under the pressure of multiple resignations, apologised for, but which in essence contained the same “blowback” argument that Corbyn makes. The article read: “Without decades of intervention by the US and its allies there would have been no ‘war on terror’ and no terrorist attacks in Paris. […] Without the American crime of aggressive war against Iraq — which, by the measurements used by Western governments themselves, left more than a million innocent people dead — there would be no ISIS, no “Al Qaeda in Iraq”.” Corbyn later that year attended their Christmas fundraiser as a “special guest”.

(There are many other occasions such as these, but The Times has helpfully compiled a list.)

It would be unfair to say Corbyn rejects military intervention outright, but it isn’t really a ‘Corbyn doctrine’: “I want to assure you that, under my leadership, you will only be deployed abroad when there is a clear need and only when there is a plan and you have the resources to do your job to secure an outcome that delivers lasting peace.”

There is an obvious problem with this: the bar is too vague to ever be properly set, or perhaps it is set so high the Hubble Telescope has yet to detect it. In his parliamentary career he has voted against every single military intervention against genocide, ethnic cleansing and mass murder, and defends this proud inaction to this very day (see his latest interview with Peston). If this means branching further into outright genocide denial, then why not?

He may point to Rwanda as a potential candidate for intervention, but there is no record in Hansard of him advocating anything like that at the time (for the whole of 1994, he apparently references Rwanda only once, in relation to humanitarian aid figures).

 

Corbyn and the IRA: A Closer Look

If Corbyn had just been straight up about his relationship to the IRA at the beginning, so much of this could have been avoided, but several spurious interviews later it cannot be ignored.

Just last Friday, Corbyn looked Andrew Neil dead in the eye and said: “I never met the IRA.” He also followed this up with: “I have never supported the IRA.”

This is quite a surprise, given that his supporters throughout his troubled leadership have systematically placed him at the heart of the peace process in Northern Ireland (and still are doing so), something he had not disavowed until just then.

Before we deal with this new claim, let us just analyse the original group of claims of Corbyn’s contribution to the ending the Troubles.

Of those major histories of the Troubles published in the past twenty or so years, almost none of them seem to mention Corbyn’s name. He is not mentioned in the ‘new standard’ history of the conflict by David McKittrick, Making Sense of the Troubles: A History of the Northern Ireland Conflict (Penguin, 2012) according to the index, nor is he mentioned in Tim Pat Coogan’s 1996 account The Troubles: Ireland’s Ordeal 1966–1995 and the Search for Peace (Arrow, 1996). (Go ahead, check, the indexes are available for preview.) How can someone supposedly so pivotal (or not) be completely ‘whitewashed’ out? Is it a vast Blairite conspiracy to re-write history?

I did however manage to find a single reference to Corbyn in the authoritative anthology The Northern Ireland Troubles in Britain: Impacts, Engagements, Legacies and Memories (MUP, 2016), but it was only in relation to the 2015 Labour leadership election, and it definitely did not paint the “Corbyn as peacemaker” dogma in the most flattering light. Here is the section in full (the ‘killer’ is the last sentence):

“The public voicing of Irish republican perspectives, or views in any way supportive of them, continues to be a risky business in England today. Di Parkin’s interviewees for her chapter 12, all Labour Party activists promoting dialogue with Sinn Féin in the 1980s, prefer to remain anonymous in order to conceal their political work in the past from their employers. Anecdotally, these concerns — and counter-measures for what Marie Breen Smyth has termed identity management are widespread, especially among those who have or seek public positions of responsibility and accountability. A vivid example of the way political sympathy for, or engagement with, Irish republicanism during the conflict continues to provide a basis for hostility and delegitimisation in British public culture can be seen in the attacks on Jeremy Corbyn during his successful campaign for the Labour Party leadership in 2015, and subsequently on Corbyn and his Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, for their ‘links with the IRA’ and refusal to single out republican violence for condemnation.
 More thoughtful critics of Corbyn and McDonnell might point out that ‘silencing’ could also work in a different way here: they presented their position in 2015 as if, in the 1980s, they had simply been encouraging dialogue and a ‘peace process’ with Irish republicanism avant la lettre. However, during the early and mid 1980s, Corbyn was unashamedly a supporter of Irish republicanism’s right to ‘resist’ British ‘oppression’.” [pp. 11–12]

(The full chapter is available online here.)

In the cited chapter, that certain participants chose to partake ‘anonymously’ could seem to be enough to explain Corbyn’s current denialism, but this makes no sense: he and his supporters have been open about it in the very recent past (and present), so why acclaim anonymity now? Even when it seems such a participation was stunningly minor?

(Does anybody else remember that episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm where Ted Danson donates a wing to a charity building project under the moniker “Anonymous”, only at the unveiling party to go around admitting that he was “Anonymous”, and for his supposed “humility” he got distantly more praise than Larry David who had also donated a wing but under his own name? Life imitates art…)

Every reference I can find of Corbyn during the Troubles references him not as a “peacemaker” but as an out-and-out supporter of the IRA and its campaign of violence. According to Rosa Prince’s biography of Corbyn, the Northern Irish historian and Professor of Politics at Queen’s Belfast (and former radical republican) said the following of Corbyn’s interest in the conflict: “The terms on which Corbyn was in dialogue with Adams was on the basis that Adams wins”. The same biography mentions the opinion of Northern Irish Catholic journalist Eilis O’Hanlon: “From Corbyn to McDonnell to Ken Livingstone, they all justify it these days by saying it was OK because it led eventually to the peace process. But that’s disingenuous in the extreme. When they were out defending the IRA, its fellow travellers also didn’t know when, or if, that campaign would end. They still happily supported, or had an ambivalent attitude towards, Republican violence. They knew exactly what they were doing, and how their solidarity was used by the Republican movement to paint its murder campaign as part of some wider struggle for social justice.”

All of this has a strong basis in fact: Corbyn has openly partaken in multiple link-ups with the IRA during and after the Troubles, starting at least in October 1984 when he played “host” to two convicted IRA killers. His claim to have “never met the IRA” does not only not stand up: it is demonstrably false through the words of the IRA and its closest associates themselves. Repeat photographic evidence belies this. (Even though he sometimes seems to struggle to know what exactly is going on…)

The only thing that suggests any condemnation of the IRA at any time before his leadership was an early day motion he signed in 1994 condemning the 1974 Birmingham bombing, but in fact, the motion does not actually mention the IRA by name, and demands the “cessation of violence by the paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland”; this is just yet another vague equivocation.

His own supporters claim he was fundamental to the peace process. One even places him at the crux of making the Good Friday Agreement work:

https://twitter.com/RedLeftAndy/status/867345006394257409

Let’s take that assertion as a given: why would someone who has “never met the IRA” be selected, out of all other MPs, to head this off? The answer is obvious: only if they had a pre-existing relationship of some kind.

Corbyn has since admitted meeting “convicted IRA terrorists” (Peston’s phrase not his) in the most stumbling, mumbling, “please-can-we-move-on” kind of way possible, but the original assertion is still making its rounds.

McDonnell and Abbott, his closest political associates, fare a lot more honestly in their declarations. McDonnell has a long history of praising the IRA, and as recently as 2003 said: “It’s about time we started honouring those people involved in the armed struggle. It was the bombs and bullets and sacrifice made by the likes of Bobby Sands that brought Britain to the negotiating table. The peace we have now is due to the action of the IRA. Because of the bravery of the IRA and people like Bobby Sands, we now have a peace process.” In 2015, he gave one of those non-apology apologies literally of the “If I gave offence” variety, but the aforementioned rhetoric stands for itself. Abbott made an even more unambiguous declaration back in 1984: “[Ireland] is our struggle — every defeat of the British state is a victory for all of us. A defeat in Northern Ireland would be a defeat indeed.” She may have had an “afro” back then (her bizarre self-defence), but her refusal to disavow her own words speaks for itself.

I don’t think Corbyn is completely stupid, nor are his supporters; they know the IRA has a toxic legacy that leaves even the most dye-the-wool Labour voter tasting bitterness. This explains both his recent denial and the Corbynite attempt to “ret-con” his IRA relationship (again, in spite of overwhelming evidence otherwise). Given everything, no amount of spin or retroactive (pseudo-)apologies will make this look any better. Trying to portray attending a commemoration for dead IRA operatives as some pathetic attempt to “call for a peace and dialogue” just will not cut it when it considered with everything else.

But in denying his links in the face of overwhelming evidence, he puts the final nail in the coffin for his supporters’ declarations of his limitless “honesty”, and a supposed progress through Corbynism towards a “kinder and gentler politics” that disavows the horrors of Blairite spin.

“…Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

 

Final Thoughts

There are people who will read this and argue that I have somehow taken quotes ‘out of context’; however, the more and more context you give quote by quote, the more these people tend to either stretch or narrow meanings, split hairs, equivocate (as though that absolves the original remark), or will demand so much additional context that the entire extant history of the known universe will have to be provided, by which time their defendant has managed to get away scot-free. I have tried to be as fair to Corbyn as possible, I’ve cited all the relevant links, and please be my guest and read Corbyn’s original speech linked at the top and all the sources on offer.

Just for a moment, forget his past general relationship with terrorism: such an egregious dishonesty can only raise the question of how open and transparent a Corbyn government would actually be, or indeed how disingenuous and censorship happy it could get.

And to return to question of his overarching relationship to terrorism and his views on intervention: When Corbyn stands up and parrots a revised version of the same line he’s been pushing for decades, while demanding that we “do not doubt [his]determination to take whatever action is necessary to keep our country safe and to protect our people on our streets, in our towns and cities, at our borders”, I respond to him (and his followers): given everything you have said, both right now and in the past stretching back thirty-five years, why the hell should I or anybody else not doubt your word?

Apologists among us

By Norman Geras

July 13, 2005

OK, it’s more than time to nail this. Within hours of the bombs going off last Thursday the voices one could have predicted began to make themselves heard with their putative explanations for the murder and maiming of a random group of tube and bus passengers in London. It was due to Blair, Iraq and Afghanistan, illegal war and all the rest of it. The first voices, so far as I know, were those of the SWP and George Galloway, but it wasn’t very long – indeed it was no time at all, taking into account production schedules – before this stuff was spreading like the infestation it is across the pages of Britain’s oldest liberal newspaper, where it has remained for going on a week (and today as appallingly as ever).

Let’s just get by the matter of timing – of timeliness – with the brief expression of repugnance which it deserves. No words of dismay or regret, let alone sorrow, mourning, could be allowed to pass these people’s lips without the accompaniment of a ‘We told you so’ and an exercise in blaming someone else than the perpetrators. No sense of what an awful tragedy like this might call for or rule out. Just as if you were to hear from a distraught friend that her husband (or lover, mother, son) had just been murdered while walking in a ‘bad’ neighbourhood, and were to respond by saying how upset you were to hear it (or maybe even to give that part a miss) but that it was extremely foolish of the deceased to have been walking there on his or her own. We had all this in the early aftermath of September 11 2001, so in a way it was to be expected. But one constantly nurtures the illusion that people learn. The fact is that some of them don’t and, from where they think, can’t. It is a matter of interest to me now that there was even (some time during the last year, though I don’t recall where and so can’t link to it) a comments thread on which one or two of the participants questioned whether there had really been left and liberal voices after 9/11 making excuses for the crime of that day and proffering little essays in ‘understanding’. Yes, there really were then, and there have been again now.

It needs to be seen and said clear: there are, amongst us, apologists for what the killers do, and they make more difficult the long fight that is needed to defeat them. (To forestall any possible misunderstanding on this point: I do not say these people are not entitled to the views they express or to their expression of them. They are. Just as I am entitled to criticize their views for the wretched apologia they amount to.) The plea will be made, though – it always is – that these are not apologists, they are merely honest Joes and Joanies endeavouring to understand the world in which we all live. What could be wrong with that? What indeed? Nothing is wrong with genuine efforts at understanding; on these we all depend. But the genuine article is one thing, and root-causes advocacy that seeks to dissipate responsibility for atrocity, mass murder, crime against humanity, especially in the immediate aftermath of their occurrence, is something else.

Note, first, the selectivity in the general way root-causes arguments function. Purporting to be about causal explanation rather than excuse-making, they are invariably deployed on behalf of movements, actions, etc., for which the proponent wants to engage our sympathy or indulgence, and in order to direct blame towards some party for whom he or she has no sympathy. Try the following, by way of a hypothetical example, to see how the exercise works and doesn’t work.

On account of the present situation in Zimbabwe, the government decides to halt all scheduled deportations of Zimbabweans who have been denied the right to remain in the UK. Some BNP thugs are made angry by this decision and they take out their anger by beating up a passer-by who happens to be an African immigrant. Can you imagine a single person of left or liberal outlook who would blame, or even partially blame, this act of violence on the government’s decision to halt the deportations, or who would urge us to consider sympathetically the root causes of the act? It wouldn’t happen, even though (ex hypothesi) the government decision is part of the causal chain leading to the violence in question. It wouldn’t happen because the anger of the thugs doesn’t begin to justify what they have done.

The root-causers always plead a desire merely to expand our understanding, but they’re very selective in what they want us to ‘understand’. Did you ever hear a Jenny Tonge who empathizes with the Palestinian suicide bomber also understanding the worries of Israeli and other Jews – after the Holocaust, after the decades-long hostility of the Arab world to the State of Israel and the teaching of hatred there against Jews, after the acts of war against that state and the acts of terrorism against its citizens? This would seem to constitute a potentially rich soil of roots and causes, but it goes unexplored by the supposedly non-excuse-making purveyors of a root-causism seeking to ‘understand’.

The fact is that if causes and explanation are indeed a serious enterprise and not just a convenient partisan game, then it needs to be recognized that causality is one thing and moral responsibility another, although the two are related. Observe…

Me, David and Sam are chatting. I make a remark to David, David gets cross because of the remark and he punches me in the mouth. Sam says ‘You had it coming’. In this story it is uncontroversially true – I can tell you this, being the story’s one and only author – that my remark to David and Sam is the cause of David’s anger. Is Sam, then, right to tell me in effect that I either share the blame for David’s punching me in the mouth or am entirely to blame for it myself? Well, the content of my remark was ‘I love the music of Bob Dylan’. David for his part doesn’t like the music of Bob Dylan. I think most people will recognize without the need of further urging on my part that, contrary to what Sam says, I didn’t have it coming, David is entirely to blame for punching me in the mouth and I, accordingly, am not to blame in any way at all. If, on the other hand, my remark was not about Bob Dylan’s music, but was a deeply offensive comment about David’s mother, then without troubling to weight the respective shares of blame here, I’d say it would have been reasonable for Sam to tell me that I must bear some of it.

In circumstances he judges not too risky, Bob, an occasional but serial rapist, is drawn to women dressed in some particular way. One morning Elaine dresses in that particular way and she crosses Bob’s path in circumstances he judges not too risky. He rapes her. Elaine’s mode of dress is part of the causal chain which leads to her rape. But she is not at all to blame for being raped.

The fact that something someone else does contributes causally to a crime or atrocity, doesn’t show that they, as well as the direct agent(s), are morally responsible for that crime or atrocity, if what they have contributed causally is not itself wrong and doesn’t serve to justify it. Furthemore, even when what someone else has contributed causally to the occurrence of the criminal or atrocious act is wrong, this won’t necessarily show they bear any of the blame for it. If Mabel borrows Zack’s bicycle without permission and Zack, being embittered about this, burns down Mabel’s house, Mabel doesn’t share the blame for her house being burned down. Though she may have behaved wrongly and her doing so is part of the causal chain leading to the conflagration, neither her act nor the wrongness of it justifies Zack in burning down her house. So simply by invoking prior causes, or putative prior causes, you do not make the case go through – the case, I mean, that someone else than the actual perpetrator of the wrongdoing is to blame.

The ‘We told you so’ crowd all just somehow know that the Iraq war was an effective cause of the deaths in London last week. How do they know this, these clever people? Leave aside for the moment the question of rightness and wrongness – for, of course, there were many people (in London, in the rest of the UK) for whom the Iraq war was not wrong but right, and if they are right that it was right, then no blame attaches to those who led, prosecuted and supported that war, even if it has entered the causal chain leading to the bombings, by way of the motivating grievances of the ‘militants’ and ‘activists’. But, as I say, leave this aside. How do they know?

What they need to know is not just that Iraq was one of a number of influencing causes, but that it was the specific, and a necessary, motivating cause for the London bombings. Because if it was only an influencing motivational cause amongst others, and if, more particularly, another such motivational cause was supplied by the military intervention in Afghanistan, then we don’t have that the London bombings wouldn’t have happened but for the Iraq war. Now, I’m aware that some of the ‘We told you so’ people are of the view that the intervention in Afghanistan was wrong too. But others of the ‘We told you so’ people aren’t of this view; and that segment of root-cause opinion, at least, will have a hard time of it establishing that just the Iraq war, and not Afghanistan – or anything else, for that matter (Palestine, the status of women, modernity, sexual freedom, pluralism, religious tolerance) – is what has provoked the murderers to their murders.

As for those (the SWPers, Galloways, etc.) for whom the intervention in Afghanistan should also not have happened, I’m happy to leave them where they are on this. These are people for whom the crime of 9/11 did not constitute an act of war meriting a military response, people whose preferred course of action was to leave the Taliban in situ ruling that country and al-Qaida with the freedom to continue organizing there. This rather does help to establish what is one of the main objects of the present post, namely that the root-causers are very selective about the root causes they’re willing to recognize as relevant; and, attached as they are to an ethico-political outlook that has lately been (let us just say) indulgent towards anti-democratic forces, they particularly favour root causes originating in the vicinity of Washington DC.

To shift part of the blame for the London killings and maimings on to Blair and Bush – and also Parliament and Congress, and everyone who supported the war in all the coalition-of-the-willing countries – you not only have to guess at the Iraq war having been operative and decisive in the motivations of the actual bombers, you not only have to overlook anything that might have been right about that war, like seeing off one of the most brutal and murderous dictators of the last few decades, you further have to reckon that what was wrong about the war not merely caused the anger of those bombers but made their response, in some sort, morally appropriate rather than (what it in fact was) criminally excessive. Just think about the implications of this position. If on account of the Iraq war Tony Blair is to blame for four young British Muslims (as it now seems) murdering and injuring some large number of travellers in London, will he also be to blame if one or two members of the Stop the War Coalition for the same reason should decide to bump off a few people in, say, Dundee? Ever on the lookout for damning causes, the root-causers never seem to go for the most obvious of them, so visibly obvious a one that it isn’t even beneath the surface of things the way roots often are, it’s right out in the open. This is the cause, indeed, which shows – negatively – why most critics of the Iraq war and of other events, institutions, movements, do not go around murdering people they are upset or angry with; I mean the fanatical, fundamentalist belief system which teaches hatred and justifies these acts of murder, justifies them to those who are swayed by it but not to anyone else. It somehow gets a free pass from the hunters-out of causes.

So, there are apologists among us. They have to be fought – fought intellectually and politically and without let-up. What is it that moves them to their disgraceful litany of excuses? This is doubtless a complex matter, but here are a few suggestions. One thing seems to be the treatment of those who practise terror as though they were part of some natural environment we have to take as given – not themselves free and responsible agents, but like a vicious dog or a hive of bees. If we do anything that provokes them, that must make us morally responsible, for they can be expected to react as they do. If this isn’t a form of covert racism, then it’s a kind of diminishing culturalism and is equally insulting to the people transformed by it into amoral beings incapable of choice or judgement.

Then, with at least some of the root-causers, their political sympathies and antipathies naturally incline them towards apologia. Here are people for whom the discomfiture of the US is number one priority, who would therefore have been happy to see the Americans bogged down without reaching Baghdad and toppling Saddam Hussein, who have openly spoken their support for an Iraqi ‘resistance’ committing daily crimes against the people of Iraq.

However, there are others not of this ilk and who would be horrified and outraged – and rightly – to see themselves described as indulgent towards such ugly and murderous forces, but who employ the tropes of blame-shifting and excuse-making nonetheless. These people, one may speculate more charitably, are merely confused; and amongst the things they are confused by are more local political divisions and animosities, which can seem to loom larger before them than the battle for and against democratic societies, for and against pluralist, enlightenment cultures, being fought across the world today.

Whatever the combination of impulses behind the pleas of the root-causes apologists, they do not help to strengthen the democratic culture and institutions whose benefits we and they share. Because we believe in and value these we have to contend with what such people say. But contend with is precisely it. We have to contest what they say of this kind, challenge it all along the line. We are not obliged to respect their repeated exercises in apologia for the inexcusable.

(My thanks to Eve Garrard for discussion and advice in the preparation of this post.)

Ed.: The original post is here

Hangover cure

By Jake Wilde

Professional commentators and columnists are obliged to take a broad, holistic view of the political landscape, to consider their audience and to write in such a way that connects with the thousands, maybe millions, who read their views. They can’t afford to be too narrow in their focus because there’s only so many politics trainspotters like me (and, if you’re reading this, you) out there.

I, by contrast, can be as niche as I please. I’ve​ written about subjects other than the Labour Party, but I don’t write about the Tories, the Liberals or the nationalists because I am not particularly interested in them and I wouldn’t consider voting for them. On the one hand that frees me to focus on the space usually and generally occupied by the broad church Labour Party. On the other there’s the risk that I view everything through this prism and I’m conscious of this flaw.

So when I look at this snap election I see it as only being about one thing – the state of the Labour Party. I know that it’s billed as being about strengthening May’s hand in Brexit negotiations, and about giving her, and her government, a mandate they arguably don’t possess, but I simply don’t think that’s true. However, and hence my preamble, I am aware that I might just be blinded by my perspective. That my focus on my niche has made me think that the only reason we’re having this election now is that 21 point lead in the polls. That May looks at those polls and thinks, “this is when politicians call elections and I have these plausible (Brexit & mandate) ‘reasons’ for doing so.” As John Rentoul wrote today “everyone knows that the purpose of this election is not to decide who will win, but how much she [May] will win by”.

I’ll explain why I think I’m right, and you can decide if I’m just confirming my own bias. For this election to be predominantly about Brexit two things would need to be true. Firstly there would have to be two different options on offer from the two potential governments. Are there? At this stage I’m not even sure there’s one option on offer. If the argument is about strengthening the PM’s hand, and not about collectively agreeing our aims and objectives, then we are being asked to sign a blank cheque. The only reason for such a request is the absence of any coherent alternative being offered by an alternative government. Thus the election is actually about the competency of the Labour Party and not about Brexit.

Secondly it would need to be the case that Parliament is the best place to articulate opposition to ‘bad Brexit’. Oliver Kamm wrote that it is acceptable to vote for individual Labour candidates who oppose Brexit (or possibly Brexit at any cost). This is based upon the theory that we need, after the election, the House of Commons to contain enough MPs prepared to challenge May’s desired hegemony. (And to break party discipline if necessary.) However it’s surely not sufficient just to challenge, that challenge also has to be effective. Yet only 114 of the current crop of parliamentarians voted against triggering Article 50, to precisely zero effect. I would suggest that greater challenge, to greater effect, has come from outside Parliament and this will become more, not less, important after a general election purporting to give an individual a mandate to pursue as yet unspecified outcomes. The battle against a bad Brexit won’t be won in Parliament – Corbyn has seen to that already.

Alternatively, if I’m right and this election is a referendum on the Labour Party above all else, it’s the chance for the moderates to call in the cavalry. The contention from the moderates has always been that the selectorate (those voting in the Labour leadership election) is different from the electorate. That people who normally vote Labour will simply not vote for this incarnation of the party. That nobody in the middle, those crucial swing voters, will swing as far left as Corbyn wants or needs them to. That Britons will burst the Corbynista bubble, decisively and clearly.

So this is why I argue that the scale of the defeat is the most important thing. It needs to be so overwhelming that the Corbynistas can rescue nothing from the ashes.

John Rentoul’s article today was about the next Labour leadership election, who might be candidates from the Corbynista faction and the numbers they’d need to stand. If the rejection of Corbynism is sufficiently​ great then that whole debate will return to being the sideshow is used to be, when it really didn’t matter who the far left chose. And frankly if the hopes of the moderates are based on preventing the far left from taking part in the competition then we ought to be planning for a split instead.

You know when you get so drunk that you have a hangover so bad that it makes you cry with pain, and you swear that you’ll never get that drunk again? But then, as time goes by, you forget the pain until one day there you are again, drinking like there’s no tomorrow, having forgotten the agony of the inevitable outcome. Labour have forgotten 1983 and are drinking hard right now. The electorate are guaranteed to give them a hangover but it needs to be one that the party never forgets.

Theresa May is only interested in capitalising on Labour’s drunkenness for her, and her party’s, benefit. And in the short term she’s right and she will indeed benefit. But there’s a way, an opportunity, to find some measure of victory for the opposition to May as well, beyond the Kammite rescue of individuals. As surely as Foot led to Blair, without that defeat in 1983 there wouldn’t have been 13 years of a Labour government. This election is about a Labour defeat in 2017, but it can also be the first step to a Labour victory.

Are some votes for Labour OK, but others not?

By Jake Wilde

I normally agree with Oliver Kamm’s views on pretty much everything and I have every sympathy with the argument he outlines in his article for CapX: “Corbyn leaves Labour voters with no good options”. It goes something like this – Corbyn is doing, and will continue to do, a terrible job of holding the Conservatives to account over Brexit; It’s important that the House of Commons contains some MPs capable of doing this and we should support these individuals; It’s a shame that some of them are Labour MPs but Brexit is more important than anything else. This is, as Oliver points out, the argument put forward by Tony Blair, “that voters should pick candidates from whichever party is prepared to hold the government to account over Brexit.”

The problem I have with this approach insofar as it relates to the Labour Party of 2017 is the same problem that I have with selective industrial action in the trade union movement. Selective action is the theory that bringing certain key sectors of workers out on strike will have a sufficient impact upon the dispute to render unnecessary the need for all workers to take strike action. So instead of everyone losing pay only those taking selective action do, possibly supported by contributions from those not taking strike action. The thinking is that those who wouldn’t otherwise vote for strike action would support this, as they are not the ones going on strike.

This theory is a crock.

For one the entire purpose of being in a union is to demonstrate that you are resolved to act as one. As soon as you start to give individuals an opt-out then it’s over. Once you have one group of workers doing everyone else’s dirty work for them you’re no longer presenting a united front. You’ve also handily identified to the employer which group of workers to either victimise or buy off, depending on their whim.

I contend that the same is true for the relationship between those of us on the centre left and the Labour Party. However much we may wish it there are not two Labour Parties. There is one, and it is led and controlled by the Corbynista faction. A vote for any Labour Party candidate on June 8 is a vote for that particular and peculiar incarnation of the Labour Party.

If you try to argue that a vote for individuals such as Oliver Kamm’s MP Meg Hillier, or other equally worthy people, should not count in the same way as a vote for Corbyn himself then you are deluding yourself. Indeed, as Oliver himself concedes, it’s only acceptable to vote for Labour under these circumstances if you are certain that Corbyn will “suffer crushing humiliation”. Yet of course every vote for Labour, whatever the circumstances behind its casting, is one vote further away from that crushing humiliation.

There is no opt-out in a party system. If you do not support the party for which a candidate is standing – and Oliver outlines eloquently as always why Labour should not be supported at this election – then you should not vote for them. For all the admirable personal qualities of individual candidates the vote you cast will be counted as a vote in favour of Corbyn’s Labour Party.

Oliver Kamm’s article was an attempt to give advice to people on the “moderate Left”, regular Labour voters who find themselves in a dilemma, and he acknowledges that none of the options are good ones. But by endorsing the principle of the opt-out it will leave an unclear but certainly overstated picture of the true level of support for Corbyn. How will we know how big the “moderate Left”, and thus the opposition to Corbyn, is if some vote Labour, some vote for other parties and some don’t vote at all?

This election is an opportunity to seize back control of the momentum on the left. It is an unexpectedly early chance to demonstrate to the far left the paucity of their popular support. That people do not “like Jeremy Corbyn but…”. That people will not vote for TUSC just because it has changed its name to something more familiar. That support for terrorism, despotism and illiberalism cannot just be shouted down with a megaphone. That nobody else beyond their end of the horseshoe wants what they offer, this blend of hate, envy and empty rhetoric. That we can see they have more in common with the far right than with the vast majority of those of us committed to liberal democracy, free speech and regulated markets.

This is the time to push back, united. To bring to an end the last two years where the voice of the centre left has been drowned out by the banshee screams of the far left. This can’t be achieved by taking selective action. It can only be achieved by being united in defeating Corbyn’s Labour Party at the ballot box and then, on 9 June, to rebuild from the ground up.

It is difficult. I know that. There are a considerable number of Labour MPs who deserve support. But my argument is that the time when they need that support is not now, but when they, as leaders of the centre left, start the rebuilding process. They do not need to be MPs to do that. We are already in the post-Corbyn era. This election, just as 2020 would have been, is lost to the Conservatives. But there can be a victory from it, and it can now come sooner than we originally thought. The people we admire, those currently in Parliament and those not, they can help to create the genuine opposition, grounded in the true principles of the Labour movement that Oliver Kamm rightly identifies that this country needs.

 

The Narcissistas

By Jake Wilde

You will certainly have an opinion about Donald Trump, perhaps the world’s most famous alleged narcissist, and most of us will have indulged in a bit of cod psychology to try and understand the extraordinary things he says and does.  I ask you to bear him in mind while I try and draw a comparison.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, individuals with narcissistic personality disorder present most or all of the following symptoms:

  1. Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment from others
  2. Fixated on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc.
  3. Self-perception of being unique, superior and associated with high-status people and institutions
  4. Needing constant admiration from others
  5. Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others
  6. Exploitative of others to achieve personal gain
  7. Unwilling to empathize with others’ feelings, wishes, or needs
  8. Intensely envious of others and the belief that others are equally envious of them
  9. Pompous and arrogant demeanour

But what if these symptoms were the reflective of the character a whole political movement? A movement that seems simultaneously immune to and extraordinarily hurt by any form of criticism. A movement defined more by its own existence rather than any coherent set of beliefs. A movement where obvious homilies are passed off as fully formed policies. A movement that prides itself on being rebellious and anti-establishment but that demands unquestioning support and loyalty from all those associated with it.

Those of you familiar with the far left have long known that they hold their views as superior, both intellectually and morally. While it’s rare, even in these forgetful times, to hear somebody come out and openly propose Marxism as a way of running an economy, everyone on the left is supposed to be anti-capitalist, and if you’re not then best start running, dog. Capitalism is not merely a different method of economic organisation, it is evil, and any proponents of it, however reformist, are similarly satanic. I’m always dismayed when I see this kind of language taken up by otherwise sensible politicians; the resort to biblical notions of good and evil rather than engagement with alternative political ideas is the refuge of the dimwit. Even the most extreme ideas of left and right, ones that propose that it is acceptable to kill human beings, can be condemned without the need to imagine their proponents guided by hoof and horn.

One of the barriers to the grand dream of a broad, united left has always been the impossibility of agreeing on ideological questions. The far left enjoy nothing more than finding the point of difference between themselves, cracking it wide open and then having a good purge. What strikes me as different about Corbynism is the utter absence of ideology. The only common word in use is “socialism”, a catch-all that enables people from fundamentally opposed belief structures to share that same label.

The Corbynistas have thus far prevented splitting and purging and managed to cope with a slow dwindling as otherwise significant individuals, from commentators to economists, have begun to cash in their chips. They’ve done this by avoiding anything any more detailed than ten pledges that would achieve consensus on any parish council. But if they’re not bound by ideology then by what? Can it really be Jeremy Corbyn’s electric personality, his oratory skills, and his clear and inspiring leadership? Er, no.

I think the answer lies elsewhere, primarily in their attitude to others. From the very beginning the Corbynista movement has defined itself by contrast. That may be as a consequence of originating in an internal party leadership contest, where narrow differences between candidates are amplified (most people mistakenly thought the denunciations would stop after the election). Occasionally it has been mistaken for a pure personality cult – that Corbynism was all about Corbyn – and thus some thought that the removal of Corbyn would see it come to an end. But if you observe what Corbynistas, from Jeremy himself down to the lowliest troll, say then it is about the sheer belief that they are right and everyone else is wrong. In fact, in the view of the Corbynistas, some of their opponents are more than just wrong, they are malevolently so, and their intentions are accordingly wicked.

The Labour Party’s broad church principle meant that in the past the party leadership always made the effort to make the tent as wide as possible. By contrast Corbynistas have defined the boundary of the tent in a very limited way and you either join (in whole, not in part) or you are outside. There are no lessons to be learnt from anyone outside the tent, and any opposition to them is either malice or conspiracy. It can never be genuine as to admit that would be to admit that there might be more than one version of the truth. Here the Labour Party has been complicit, by allowing the myth to develop that the far left are the conscience of the party, the keepers of the flame of what Labour should be. The Corbynistas took that foolishness and exploited it.

And so, just like Donald Trump, the response is devastating hostility if you cross or criticise, if you ask awkward questions, if you challenge the racism or the sexism, or if you cast doubt on their true levels of support. Jeremy is “best leader Labour has ever had”, McDonnell is somehow “the People’s Chancellor” and the likes of Long-Bailey, Burgon and Rayner are inexplicably “rising stars”. And when a Corbynista is exposed to the disinfectant of sunlight the collective behave in exactly the same way as the individual narcissist – deflection, denial and whataboutery. This is narcissism – practiced by the collective in exactly the same way as by the individual.

Narcissus’ demise came, essentially by his own hand. Drawn to his reflection in a pool of water he gazed upon himself until he died, ignoring the real world around him, entranced and enchanted by his own reflection. He will have decayed before his own eyes, yet unable to see his decline. And so the same fate will befall the Narcissistas, as they become increasingly focussed upon their own reflection. It’s not too late to break free of them.