The Daily Mail’s leaking of Mehdi Hasan’s letter to Paul Dacre did not reveal Mehdi’s hypocrisy, merely an uncomfortable truth: these days, if you want to write for any outlet, you will probably have to disregard profound political differences with it while capitalising on the ground you share. That a left-wing journalist like Mehdi should admire some of the Mail’s values while loathing others is almost inevitable. For though the model of a simple binary political division between the Left and the Right may have appeared plausible during the 1980s, today it no longer does, and boundaries are increasingly blurred.
We live in small-minded, mean-spirited times. More than two years into the Syrian civil war, with 100,000 dead and Iran, Russia and Hezbollah openly supporting Assad’s murderous campaign, Britain’s parliament has narrowly voted to reject Cameron’s watered-down parliamentary motion for intervention. This motion would not have authorized military action; merely noted that a ‘strong humanitarian response is required from the international community and that this may, if necessary, require military action that is legal, proportionate and focused on saving lives by preventing and deterring further use of Syria’s chemical weapons.’ Cameron would still have needed a second parliamentary vote before he could have authorised the use of force. Parliament’s rejection of even this feeble step sends a clear message to Assad that he can go on killing without fear of British reaction.
The strength of isolationist, Little Englander feeling in Britain has been demonstrated. Cameron was defeated by the same uncontrollable ‘swivel-eyed loons’ of the Tory backbenches and grassroots who tried to sabotage gay marriage and want to drag Britain out the EU. It was perhaps too much to expect a parliament that is so savagely assaulting the livelihoods of poorer and more vulnerable Britons to care much about foreigners, particularly Muslim foreigners.
According to the dictum attributed to Edmund Burke, all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. Yet evil will triumph even more easily if good men help the evil-doers. In the Syrian civil war, with more than 80,000 dead and no end in sight, that is what the European Union has been doing, by upholding an arms embargo on the supply of weapons to all sides.
This in practice assists Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship; freezing in place its military superiority over the poorly armed Free Syrian Army, and enabling the dictatorship better to massacre its own citizens. FSA soldiers, demoralized by their shortage of arms, have been responding by defecting to the relatively well-equipped Islamist militia Jabhat al-Nusra, whose leader Abu Mohammed al-Jolani had pledged loyalty to al-Qaeda.
Meanwhile, Iran systematically violates the arms embargo by sending arms to its Syrian ally.
Continue reading at Left Foot Forward
The sequel to this article is: Alan Mendoza’s Henry Jackson Society and William Shawcross’s Charity Commission
Earlier this year, I resigned from the Henry Jackson Society (HJS) and requested that my name be removed from its website. The HJS is a UK think-tank frequently described as ‘neoconservative’. It includes among its Trustees Michael Gove, the current Secretary of State for Education, and it is alleged to have influenced the foreign policy of David Cameron and William Hague. It currently serves as a secretariat, at the House of Commons, to the All-Party Parliamentary Groups for Transatlantic and International Security and for Homeland Security. I had held a senior post within this organisation for seven years, first as Greater Europe Co-Director, then as European Neighbourhood Section Director. However, I reluctantly had to face the fact that the HJS has degenerated to the point where it is a mere caricature of its former self. No longer is it a centrist, bipartisan think-tank seeking to promote democratic geopolitics through providing sober, objective and informed analysis to policy-makers. Instead, it has become an abrasively right-wing forum with an anti-Muslim tinge, churning out polemical and superficial pieces by aspiring journalists and pundits that pander to a narrow readership of extreme Europhobic British Tories, hardline US Republicans and Israeli Likudniks. The story of the HJS’s degeneration provides an insight into the obscure backstage world of Conservative politics.
There are three factors that define this degeneration. The first is that almost all the people who founded and established the HJS have either left or been edged out of the organisation. According to its Wikipedia entry as it currently stands, ‘The society was founded in March 2005 by academics and students at Cambridge (mostly affiliated with the Centre for International Studies), including Brendan Simms, Dr. Alan Mendoza, Marko Attila Hoare (who has since severed his links with the society), Gideon Mailer, James Rogers and Matthew Jamison.’ The list should include also John Bew, Martyn Frampton and Gabriel Glickman. None of these people are now left, except Mendoza as Executive Director, and Simms as nominal president (or possibly president of the Cambridge branch; the website is ambiguous on this point, probably deliberately). Simms is the only intellectually serious figure still attached to the organisation, but no longer has much – if any – influence over it.
The second factor is that there is absolutely no internal democracy in the HJS, nor any transparency or rules of procedure. Absolutely none whatsoever. Less than in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Probably less than in the Syrian Arab Republic. As someone with an early background in far-left politics, I grew up with groups like the Socialist Workers Party, in which total power is held by one or two leaders, but the totalitarianism is disguised by window-dressing consisting of branch meetings, annual conferences, meetings of the Politburo and the like. Well, the HJS is like that, but without the window-dressing: there isn’t even the pretence of democracy or consultation. Instead, the organisation operates on the basis of cronyism and intrigue. Sole power is held by one individual – Executive Director Alan Mendoza. He was not elected to the post and is not subject even to formal or technical restraints, nor to performance review and renewal of contract.
The third factor is that, although the HJS was intended to be a centrist, bi-partisan organisation, its leadership has now moved far to the right, and abandoned any pretence of being bi-partisan or pro-European (its Associate Director, Douglas Murray, is on record as having stated that ‘the EU is a monstrosity – no good can come of it… The best thing could just simply be for it to be razed to the ground and don’t start again [sic]‘). Most of the people who left or have been purged are of a broadly centre-left outlook and background: Rogers and Jamison are Labour Party supporters; I came from an early background in Trotskyist politics; Mailer and Bew also came from left-wing backgrounds.
Things were not always this way. When the HJS was founded on the initiative of Brendan Simms back in 2005, it was an organisation intended to transcend the left-right divide, uniting Labour and Conservative supporters on a platform of supporting a progressive, forward foreign policy, involving the promotion of democracy and human rights globally. It was set up as a reaction against the conservative-realist right and the anti-imperialist left, whose hostility to the idea of progressive intervention abroad led them to line up behind dictators such as Slobodan Milosevic and Robert Mugabe. The HJS was supposed to be both pro-American and pro-European. It was Simms’s insight that, in order to be an important player on the world stage, Britain had to be centrally involved in European affairs. As he explained in his book Three Victories and a Defeat: The Rise and Fall of the First British Empire, 1714-1783 (Penguin, 2008), Britain’s defeat in the American War of Independence and loss of its American colonies was the direct result of its withdrawal from European affairs.
The HJS’s members were young academics, most of them graduate students of Simms’s, and it was run in a collegiate and democratic manner. There were regular meetings at which policy and organisational activities were discussed. Simms was the de facto leader, by virtue of being the founder and the oldest and most senior individual, but everyone was free to participate and express themselves, it being recognised that there were significant political differences amongst us, and that this was a good thing, since the HJS was supposed to be a broad church.
In those comradely early days of the HJS, it was difficult to appreciate just how important it should have been to establish clear rules of procedure, rights of membership and good governance. Unfortunately, this was not done, and the organisation grew exponentially while remaining dangerously informal and opaque in its internal organisation. When, after all the hard work and efforts of the founding members, the HJS was able to acquire a London office, it was at once the mark of its success and the start of its internal degeneration. It was now no longer so easy to assemble the still mostly Cambridge-based team for regular meetings. The move to London occurred shortly after Brendan Simms, the HJS’s President and founder, opted to retreat from day-t0-day management of the organisation, while James Rogers, the Director of Operations, scaled back his activities. Mendoza, the Executive Director, took over the central role in managing the organisation. By default, power fell into his lap.
Alan Mendoza is an ambitious young professional politician of the Conservative Party and a former Tory local councillor in the London Borough of Brent. According to his HJS page, he is ‘Founder and President of the Disraelian Union, a London-based progressive Conservative think-tank and discussion forum, and has worked to develop relationships and ideas between political networks in the United Kingdom, United States and Europe. He is also Chief Advisor to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Transatlantic & International Security and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Homeland Security’. However, unlike Rogers and Simms, Mendoza is not someone with a grand vision or a developed geopolitical philosophy to put forward. He has not produced much in the way of analysis, and did not contribute to The British Moment; the HJS’s manifesto, published in 2006 and still one of the very few genuine publications that this think-tank has produced. The HJS website, at the time of writing, contains only two articles by Mendoza – one from March 2011 and one from May 2012. Instead, Mendoza’s field was administration: he had helped run such bodies as the Disraelian Dining Society and the Cambridge University Conservative Association. Once he took over the running of the HJS from Rogers and Simms, Mendoza had his hands on all the levers of power within the organisation, of which the most important was control of the website. Mendoza set about converting the HJS into his personal fiefdom, packing its staff with his own apparatchiks recruited via his personal network.
The practice of regular staff meetings was now ended, and staff members were no longer consulted or even informed about major policy or organisational decisions. In practice, Mendoza just did whatever he wanted to, adding or removing staff to and from the website and inventing or erasing their virtual job-titles as and when he felt like it. For example, a certain Duncan Crossey was one of two founders and co-presidents of a Conservative organisation called the Disraelian Union. The other founder and co-president was Mendoza. It was thus perhaps not entirely for meritocratic reasons that Crossey was appointed for a while to the grandiose but meaningless title of ‘Political Director of the Henry Jackson Society’. I’m not aware of him having done much political directing while he held this virtual title, but it’s something he can put on his CV.
The other Old Bolsheviks lasted only until they had outlived their usefulness, and until Mendoza was in a position to get rid of them. In my own case, Mendoza once informed me that having established experts such as myself in the HJS allowed it to ‘punch above its weight’ as a think-tank. He needed my name and reputation as a Balkan expert to lend credibility to the HJS, while it was still in the process of establishing itself.
On 31 July 2007, James Rogers had a letter published in The Times, arguing in favour of Britain’s signature of the EU constitution treaty. He signed the letter ‘Director of Operations of the Henry Jackson Society’. This letter provoked the ire of one the HJS’s right-wing Eurosceptic supporters, who sent a complaint to the Society about the pro-European line it was endorsing, along with an ultimatum that Rogers’s letter be repudiated. The gentleman in question was oblivious to the fact that the HJS’s statement of principles explicitly supported European defence integration. Nevertheless, Mendoza published a ‘correction’ prominently on the HJS website, stating that Rogers had incorrectly and wrongly attributed his personal views to the HJS as a whole. Mendoza did this entirely on his own initiative, without consulting Simms (who was out of the country at the time) or Rogers himself. It was a very public repudiation by the HJS of Rogers – the man whose hard work over a long period had done more than anyone’s to launch the Society – and prompted his resignation as Director of Operations and withdrawal from virtually all HJS activity.
In reality, Rogers had not violated the HJS’s rules and procedures, which did not exist in any written or codified form. He had, in fact, previously published several letters in British newspapers on his own initiative, signed with his HJS affiliation, without being so much as criticised privately by his HJS colleagues, let alone publicly repudiated. The ‘correction’ was simply an expression of Mendoza’s personal policy and control of the website, and his desire to appease a relatively minor Conservative Party figure. In the years to come, Mendoza would do much more on his own personal initiative than simply publish a letter in a newspaper, but would issue policy statements, merge the organisation with other organisations, and change senior staff members’ job titles or purge them altogether – all without consulting his colleagues.
The HJS was organised on the basis of ‘Sections’ for different parts of the world, with ‘Section Directors’ responsible for analysis in their own area. Soon after the HJS’s creation, Simms and Rogers devised a scheme, whereby Section Directors would, every month, write one report in their field and republish one other article from an external website or author. Eventually, we would receive in return a nominal payment of £50 per month. Section Directors could post their articles directly onto the website. While it lasted, this system ensured that the HJS’s analysis did not represent the views of just one or two leaders at the top, but rather those of a range of regional experts. It guaranteed the organisation’s pluralism, but only until the Section Directors had served their purpose, Mendoza’s personal fiefdom had been established and he could jettison them.
One example of how this jettisoning was done was the case of Matthew Jamison, Section Director for Britain. Jamison had been centrally involved with the HJS from its foundation, and organised the very first meeting of the embryonic society at Peterhouse, Cambridge in autumn 2004. He was a principal organiser of many events and roundtable discussions and seminars, including the HJS’s Westminster launch in November 2005 and the book launch of The British Moment in July 2006. However, he was never paid for any of the work he did, nor did he receive expenses for the times he hosted guests of the Society for PR purposes (though the guests’ meals were paid for). He did not receive payment for the analytical pieces he wrote for the HJS either. In effect, he subsidised the HJS over a period of years. But this effort was not rewarded or appreciated – on the contrary. One day, Jamison woke up to find that on the HJS website, he was no longer listed as ‘Section Director for Britain’, and that someone else’s name appeared in his place. This occurred without any prior warning or consultation; it was simply the personal decision of the Executive Director. Eventually, Jamison’s name would be removed from the website altogether – again without any prior warning or consultation. This sort of treatment has been the norm.
The people who replaced the HJS founders at the head of the organisation were staff members of another think-tank: the Israel-advocacy organisation ‘Just Journalism’, of which Mendoza was a member of the Advisory Board and which shared the HJS’s London office. At the time of Just Journalism’s launch in March 2008, the Spectator columnist Melanie Phillips wrote of it that ‘A very welcome and desperately-needed initiative has just been launched to monitor distortions, bias and prejudice in British media coverage of the Middle East.’
(Following the international recognition of Kosovo’s independence in February 2008, Phillips wrote in the Spectator: ‘It was at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 that some 70,000 died to keep the Islamic Ottoman Empire from advancing further into Europe. What is the point of fighting the jihad in Iraq when we are cheerfully opening the door to it in that very same place?’ Despite, or perhaps because of such a worldview, Phillips’s books were until recently advertised on the HJS website).
Just Journalism was forced to close in September 2011, only three and a half years after its launch, due to lack of funds, but not before this financially destitute outfit had taken over its financially thriving room-mate. Just Journalism’s Executive Director, Michael Weiss, joined the HJS staff in March 2010. His title has been redefined at least a couple of times and at one point he was ‘Acting Director of Research’, then as ‘Director of Communications and Public Relations’.
Image: Michael Weiss
Some months before Just Journalism closed, Weiss had ceased to be its Executive Director, serving for a while as its spokesman. He says he was taken by surprise by the news that the organisation was to be closed. However, by that time he was safely ensconced in the HJS. I was aware that he had joined the team but otherwise knew nothing about him, though I had accepted his ‘friend’ request on Facebook (temporarily, as it turned out). I became rather more aware of him last autumn, when he tried unsuccessfully to prevent me publishing my regular monthly report on the HJS website, on the grounds that, as ‘Acting Director of Research’, it was up to him to decide what was published there. I had by then been contributing articles to the HJS website for six years, and that was the first time I had ever heard of that rule, or of that title. (‘Acting’ was the operative word, for Weiss didn’t appear to direct much in the way of research while he held that virtual title. This virtual title was short-lived, and Weiss was then listed for a while as ‘Director of Communications and Public Relations’, while the HJS apparently managed to function without any ‘Director of Research’, ‘acting’ or otherwise. Now Weiss is again listed as ‘Director of Research’, though it is possible that his title will change again in a couple of months).
Since the report that I had written and that Weiss tried to veto was scarcely out of keeping with the HJS ‘line’, and since I had never had any previous dealings with Weiss, I do not attribute his behaviour to political or personal differences with me. Indeed, the report was subsequently republished by The Commentator, the website of senior HJS staff-member Robin Shepherd. Weiss was either attempting to throw his weight around in the section of Mendoza’s fiefdom assigned to him, or was enacting Mendoza’s policy of squeezing out what remained of the other HJS founding members.
On the occasion in question, Mendoza overruled Weiss, and agreed to publish my report on the HJS blog. Given that the HJS had contracted me to write a monthly report, he may have been legally obliged to do this. But at our last meeting, Mendoza did confirm to me that it would henceforth be up to ‘them’ to approve who published what on the website. Under Weiss’s direction, the website has been not entirely ungenerous in providing space for the promotion of his own work: at the time this article was first drafted, no fewer than five of the ten ‘commentary’ articles and three of the ten ‘blog’ articles on the HJS website were by Weiss. And Weiss is not, be it remembered, an academic expert on Syria and the Middle East in the manner of someone like Daniel Pipes, but merely an activist with strong views who follows events there closely.
Recently, Weiss has reinvented himself also as an expert on Russia – about which he has no more academic expertise than he does about the Middle East – using as his launch-pad the HJS website. The latter now hosts a Potemkin-village ‘Russia Studies Centre’, which describes itself grandiloquently as a ‘research and advocacy centre’, but is really just a website where Weiss blogs about Russia. Such amateurism is now the norm: of the staff members listed for the London office, Mendoza alone appears to be educated to PhD level, while the average age for those working there is below 30. The website has even started to include anonymous blogger types among its authors, at one point including a certain ‘Brett’, whose surname wasn’t listed.
In addition to Weiss, two other members of Just Journalism’s Advisory Board joined the HJS’s senior staff: Robin Shepherd as ‘Director of International Affairs’ and Douglas Murray as ‘Associate Director’. Thus, four of the six top posts in the HJS are now held by former managers of Just Journalism. They have ensured that the HJS’s political goals have departed radically to those with which it was founded.
Murray was and is also the director of another outfit, the ‘Centre for Social Cohesion’. Or rather, he is the Centre for Social Cohesion: the ‘About Us‘ section of its website says only that ‘Douglas Murray is the Director of the Centre for Social Cohesion. Murray is a bestselling author and political commentator who regularly appears in the British and foreign press and media. A columnist for Standpoint magazine, he writes for a variety of other publications, including the Sunday Times, Spectator and Wall Street Journal. He is an Associate Director at the Henry Jackson Society. As of the 1 April 2011 CSC personnel has joined the Henry Jackson Society. CSC will continue to operate as a non-partisan independent organisation specialising in studying radicalisation and extremism within Britain.’ That is how the organisation defines itself.
In April 2011, the Centre for Social Cohesion merged with the HJS. This merger was engineered by Mendoza without consulting or even informing in advance other HJS staff members; I and others learned about it only from the announcement on the public mailing list. The merger was incongruous, since whereas the HJS was intended to be a bi-partisan organisation promoting democratic geopolitics, Murray’s interest lay in opposing Islam and immigration (thus, a few days after the announcement of the merger, Murray published an article in The Express entitled ‘Britain has let in far too many foreigners’).
‘Conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board: Europe must look like a less attractive proposition. We in Europe owe – after all – no special dues to Islam. We owe them no religious holidays, special rights or privileges. From long before we were first attacked it should have been made plain that people who come into Europe are here under our rules and not theirs. There is not an inch of ground to give on this one. Where a mosque has become a centre of hate it should be closed and pulled down. If that means that some Muslims don’t have a mosque to go to, then they’ll just have to realise that they aren’t owed one. Grievances become ever-more pronounced the more they are flattered and the more they are paid attention to. So don’t flatter them.’
‘It is late in the day, but Europe still has time to turn around the demographic time-bomb which will soon see a number of our largest cities fall to Muslim majorities. It has to. All immigration into Europe from Muslim countries must stop. In the case of a further genocide such as that in the Balkans, sanctuary would be given on a strictly temporary basis. This should also be enacted retrospectively. Those who are currently in Europe having fled tyrannies should be persuaded back to the countries which they fled from once the tyrannies that were the cause of their flight have been removed.’
‘We do have a problem; we have a problem when the failures of Islam throughout the world; the failures of all Islamic societies come here into Britain. Their intolerance of freedom of conscience; their intolerance of apostates; their intolerance of freedom of expression and freedom of speech; their intolerance of minorities, other religious minorities, sexual minorities; their intolerance of gays; their dislike and distrust of half of the population – women; and many, many other things. And they call, what is more, for a parallel legal system within Britain and European societies. This is monstrous; no other group behaves like this – asks for parallel laws. This is a fundamental problem, and it’s one we’re going to have to deal with. It’s a problem between a society – Western Europe – that believes that laws are based on reason, and Islam that believes that they are based on revelation. Between these two ideas, I’m not sure there is very much compromise for Europe. It is not Europe that has let down its Muslims, but the Muslims of Europe that have let down Europe. … It is not Europe that has failed its Muslims; it is Islam that has failed Europe.’
Murray is also on record as saying of Robert Spencer (the director of Stop the Islamization of America, proprietor of the viciously anti-Muslim website Jihad Watch and a loud denier of the Srebrenica genocide): ‘I happen to know Robert Spencer; I respect him; he’s a very brilliant scholar and writer’.
Image: Douglas Murray with Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch
I was shocked that someone with such extreme views about Muslims and Islam should be appointed Associate Director of the HJS. I published an article on my blog explaining how it had been foisted on the HJS without consultation with senior staff members, and condemning his views on Muslims and Islam (after informing Mendoza and Simms well in advance that I would do so). After this article was published, Mendoza phoned me to try to pressurise me to remove it, claiming that Murray would otherwise sue me for libel. By way of warning, he pointed out that Murray had previously threatened legal action against Sunny Hundal, editor of Liberal Conspiracy, forcing him to remove a reference to him on Hundal’s website. On another occasion, he had apparently pressurised the Huffington Post into removing references to him as well. In the words of The Commentator, the website of senior HJS staff-member Robin Shepherd: ‘Murray warned the Huffpo that its time in Britain would be short if it persisted in libeling people in this manner. At which point, the Huffington Post agreed to remove references to Murray from the story.’
I refused to delete or substantially alter the content of my article, but I agreed to make some minor changes. I had quoted some not entirely unambiguously negative comments that Murray had made about the English Defence League (EDL), and at Mendoza’s express request, I agreed to insert into the text a somewhat more negative statement that Murray had previously made about the EDL. The modified article therefore balanced the less-than-negative statements that Murray had made about the EDL with a more negative one, so did greater justice to his vacillating opinion on this organisation. Mendoza also asked me to delete my description of Murray’s views on Islam as ‘bigoted and intolerant’; I agreed to delete ‘bigoted’ but refused to delete ‘intolerant’. Thus, my article about him concluded with ‘I consider his views on Islam and Muslims to be intolerant, ignorant, two-dimensional and, frankly, horrifying.’
Video: Douglas Murray, Associate Director of the HJS, comments on the EDL in November 2011
Murray’s behaviour, in this instance and in the others mentioned above, was somewhat hypocritical, given that he has appeared as a speaker at entire conferences dedicated to attacking Muslims for employing libel ‘lawfare’ to silence criticism of Islam. On at least one such occasion, he did so alongside Mendoza. Or as he put it: ‘If there were one thing I would wish Muslims in Europe could learn today, as fast as possible, it would be this: you have no right, in this society, not to be offended. You have no right to say that because you don’t like something, you would use violence or you would like something to be stopped or censored…’.
In retrospect, I should have resigned from the HJS at this point, but I was encouraged to stay by the fact that all three of the founding members with whom I discussed my article (apart from Mendoza) sympathised or agreed with it. I wrongly believed that this constituted some guarantee that the HJS would remain true to its founding principles and retain a pluralistic character. I didn’t realise the extent to which the Just Journalism clique had expropriated all power within the organisation, and that the other founding members were all now wholly irrelevant within it.
By appointing as his ‘Associate Director’ a pundit known primarily for his polemics against Muslims and Islam, Mendoza signalled a change, not only in the HJS’s political orientation, but also in its tone. Since then, instead of sober analytical pieces providing analysis and suggesting strategy, the HJS website has been filled with republished op-eds of a more polemical nature, seemingly calculated not so much to influence policy-makers as to pander to the HJS’s increasingly right-wing readership. Thus, the HJS has published or republished several articles attacking the marginal, maverick far-left UK politician George Galloway (Douglas Murray, ‘Behind Galloway’s Grin’; George Grant, ‘Galloway back in parliament: Not free from imperialist yoke yet’ and ‘George Galloway is no friend of the Arab world’; as well as a video of ‘Houriya Ahmed on George Galloway’s election’).
Conversely, the HJS’s coverage of more serious international political issues has been less copious. For example, it has made virtually no attempt to provide any strategic analysis, or suggest policy, regarding the Eurozone crisis (James Rogers would have been ideally qualified to do this, had he remained in the organisation). The HJS has effectively given up on analysis of most parts of the world. Its founding member Gideon Mailer was an Africa expert and had written the chapter on Africa in The British Moment, but he too has long ceased to have any voice in the organisation, so the HJS has given up on covering sub-Saharan Africa, except in relation to the Islamist threat. Its geographical focus is now mostly limited to the Middle East and Russia, with some coverage of British and US domestic affairs. The ‘France’ category of the HJS contains, at the time of writing, seven articles: four on the Islamist perpetrator of the Toulouse killings; one in support of the jailing of a French Muslim woman for violating the burkha ban; and one attacking President Sarkozy for his hostility to Binyamin Netanyahu. And the seventh doesn’t say much about France either.
Coverage of the Middle East has, indeed, largely squeezed out the rest of the world, and has become less about policy and more about commentary. But even here, the increasingly blog-like character of the website has taken its toll so far as quality and consistency are concerned. As recently as August, Weiss rejected the possibility of Western military intervention in Syria on the grounds that ‘in contrast to Libya’s expansive geography, Syria is a densely-packed country where the proximity of military installations to civilian population centers is too close to allow for an aerial bombardment campaign without incurring heavy civilian casualties.’ This article has been removed from the HJS website, but is available elsewhere. Four months later, he argued the opposite: that civilian losses could be ‘minimized given the technological and strategic superiority of Western powers.’ Either the second conclusion is questionable or the first was made too hastily.
In exchange for abandoning its geopolitical, policy-making focus and its coverage of most global regions, the HJS has inherited Murray’s obsession with British Islamism and Islam generally. But it has shown no equivalent concern with white or Christian extremism; there are no articles on its website concerning groups like the British National Party or EDL. It has published at least four articles on the Toulouse killings by a lone Islamist, but none on the massacres carried out by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway in July. Actually, as European Neighbourhood Section Director, I did publish an article on Breivik and the European anti-Islamic far-right, in which I concluded that ‘The Islamophobic, anti-immigration far-right is the no. 1 internal threat in Western Europe to European society and Western values today.’ This article was immediately removed from the website and resulted in me having my right to post articles directly to the HJS website revoked.
Mendoza’s last reorganisation of the website, earlier this year, resulted in all the remaining founding members of the HJS being removed from the online staff-list, including myself, Mailer, Bew and Jamison – all without prior consultation or notification. When one of my colleagues, so purged, contacted Mendoza to ask about this, he was told that the HJS was ‘reducing its online presence’, and that he (Mendoza) had written to inform staff members of this, but had forgotten to include the colleague in question’s name on the mailing list. This was false, as none of us had been informed.
My own name nevertheless remained on the HJS’s list of authors, along with my biography and photo; when I wrote to ask about this, I was told I had been assigned a ‘new position’. If this was true, I have absolutely no idea what that ‘new position’ was, and whatever it was, it was certainly not one I had been invited to take up, let alone agreed to do so.
The leadership of the reconstructed HJS does not appear actually to believe in the liberal or democratic transformation of the Middle East – at least if Murray’s views on the subject are anything to go by. Yet its support for war against Middle Eastern regimes, in particular Iran, is very vocal. The HJS has thrown out the progressive and democratic baby but kept the pro-war bathwater.
Update: The right-wing anti-Muslim and anti-immigration views espoused by Murray have not become more moderate since he joined the HJS, and far from being tamed by his membership of this think-tank, it appears that the latter’s staff, above all Mendoza himself, are now espousing similar views.
In March 2013, Murray wrote: ‘To study the results of the latest census is to stare at one unalterable conclusion: mass immigration has altered our country completely. It has become a radically different place, and London has become a foreign country. In 23 of London’s 33 boroughs “white Britons” are now in a minority…
We long ago reached the point where the only thing white Britons can do is to remain silent about the change in their country. Ignored for a generation, they are expected to get on, silently but happily, with abolishing themselves, accepting the knocks and respecting the loss of their country. “Get over it. It’s nothing new. You’re terrible. You’re nothing.”
For what it is worth, it seems to me that the vindictiveness with which the concerns of white British people, and the white working and middle class in particular, have been met by politicians and pundits alike is a phenomenon in need of serious and swift attention.’
At the conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in March, Mendoza gave the following explanation for what he claimed was the EU’s hostility to Israel (as reported by the Washington Jewish Week‘s Suzanne Pollak):
‘Immigration is also a reason for rising anti-Israel feelings [in Europe]. In 1998, 3.2 percent of Spain was foreign-born. In 2007, that percent had jumped to 13.4 percent, Mendoza said. In cities such as London, Paris and Copenhagen, 10 percent of residents are Muslim. “The European Muslim population has doubled in the past 30 years and is predicted to double again by 2040,” he said.
For all the benefits that immigration has brought, it has been difficult for European countries to absorb immigrants into their society given their failure to integrate newcomers. Regardless of their political views, Muslims in Europe will likely speak out against Israel whenever any Middle Eastern news breaks, just as they will against India in the Kashmir dispute. Their voices are heard well above the average Europeans, who tend not to speak out Mendoza said, adding that the Muslim immigrants do this with full knowledge that they would not be allowed to speak out like that in many Middle Eastern countries.
Yet another reason Israel is demonized is that it is a nationalist state, but Europe turned against that concept following World War II. “They are supernational, and Israel is just national,” he said.’
(Thanks to JC)
As Vladimir Ilyich Lenin said, ‘The more closely the democratic system of state approximates to complete freedom of secession, the rarer and weaker will the striving for secession be in practice’. If you want to keep a multinational union together, the best way to do it is to grant maximum freedom to its constituent nations, which will then have no reason to secede. The benefits of full sovereignty for individual nations can be enjoyed alongside the benefits of a larger union; we can have our cake and eat it too. The Yugoslav union could have been saved if only Serbia’s political classes had been ready to accept its evolution into an eight-member confederation, with its constituent republics and autonomous provinces enjoying complete self-rule. Unfortunately, Serbia’s politicians and intellectuals preferred no union at all to a confederal union. The European Union, for its part, though still a confederation, has already integrated too far, to the point where the sovereignty and democratic rights of its constituent nations are being violated; the British government is rightly resisting further unwanted integration. For multinational unions, less is usually more:
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.
These are factors worth pondering as we witness the British coalition government’s clumsy attempt to dictate to the Scottish people how their referendum on independence should be framed and organised. The government has rejected the idea of a three-question referendum, as favoured by Alex Salmond (Scottish National Party leader and First Minister of Scotland), in which the Scots would be permitted to vote not only in favour of independence or of the status quo, but also of a third option – ‘devolution-max’, or full sovereignty over domestic affairs but with continued membership of the United Kingdom, and a continued common foreign policy and defence. The government is instead insisting on an ‘all or nothing’ referendum, in which Scots would be forced to choose between full independence or the status quo, and on a deadline by which the referendum would be held.
At this rate, the British government might as well simply declare the United Kingdom dissolved. There is no surer way of persuading a constituent nation to secede from a union than by trying to bully its elected representatives in this manner, and restrict its citizens’ right to vote as freely as possible. David Cameron and his ministers will have only themselves to blame if Scotland’s voters, angry at being denied the right to vote freely without interference from London, react by turning in favour of independence. If they want to save the union, Westminster’s politicians should recognise the right of Scotland’s elected representatives to choose when to hold their referendum and on what basis it should be held. With the majority of Scots opposed to independence, there is every reason to believe that granting them the right to devo-max would be the best way to save the union.
I support devo-max for Scotland. I support the right of the Scottish people to have all the sovereign rights that other nations in Europe enjoy. If they want to be fully independent, I respect their right to be. However, I hope they will opt instead for having their cake and eating it. There is no reason why left-wing Scotland should be forced to endure government by right-wing Westminster; a sovereign Scotland will in all likelihood have more enlightened domestic government than the one the UK has at present.
On the other hand, the UK has, since 1997, been a major positive force in world affairs; first under Tony Blair, then under Gordon Brown and now under David Cameron. However regrettable his domestic policies, Cameron’s foreign policy has been almost impeccable; where Blair was a pioneer of progressive foreign policy, Cameron adopted his model and, if anything, improved upon it. It would be a loss for the world if the UK were to be diminished by Scotland’s secession. By contrast, Salmond’s peacenik, anti-nuclear record suggests that an independent Scotland led by him would be likely to obstruct rather than support progressive moves on the global stage by Britain and the West.
Over and above such cold calculations remains the fact that the majority of Scots, like the majority of English and Welsh, continue to identify, at least at some level, with Britain as a whole. Devo-max would best reconcile the self-identification of Scots as Scots with their self-identification - and the self-identification of the English and Welsh – as Brits.
Some fear that Scottish sovereignty would leave the Conservatives too overwhelmingly dominant in the rump UK. This might not be so straightforward. Comfortable dominance over Labour in a rump UK, and in an English parliament, might lead the English Conservatives to splinter, and see the re-emergence of a gentler, one-nation current of Conservatism in opposition to the currently dominant Thatcherites. At the very least, the establishment of an English parliament would help the English to understand and articulate their own national identity better, as the Scots already do. The Welsh may opt to retain a closer union with England than the other parts of the UK will, but that again is up to them.
PS I have purposely omitted discussing Northern Ireland in this article, as that is a whole different kettle of fish…
Contre nous de la tyrannie, L’étendard sanglant est levé
- La Marseillaise
The sight of the democratic world standing back and watching while a particularly murderous but not especially militarily formidable dictator drowned a popular uprising in blood, after its representatives begged for our help, while his own neighbours demanded military action against him, on the doorstep of Europe, was too heartbreaking to bear. However little it would have taken to stop him, the West appeared to have insufficent will. The whining of the Cassandras was incessant – from ‘Arabs are not fit for democracy’ t0 ‘we’ll be sucked into the quagmire’ to ‘we don’t have the money for another war’. Yet in the end, it proved too much for Western leaders as well.
The credit goes above all to David Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy, Alain Juppe, Susan Rice, the wonderful Samantha Power and, perhaps, Hillary Clinton. Barack Obama has proven himself a vacillator in the mould of Bill Clinton, but this time the US president’s European allies pushed him forward instead of holding him back. Clinton came to office at the start of 1993 correctly inclined to intervene to stop the slaughter in Bosnia, but was rapidly deflected by the British and French and sent down the dishonourable path of appeasement; conversely, Obama was initially opposed to intervention in Libya, but was led down the right path by the current leaders of the very same nations. Britain is not an irrelevant poodle of the Americans; its voice does count. Though I disagree with almost all Cameron’s domestic policies, he has already made a tremendous positive difference on the world stage . And though I have been repeatedly horrified by Sarkozy’s policies in the past - toward Turkey, Macedonia, Georgia, gypsies – he has redeemed himself on this occasion. Some have suggested that he has been motivated by the desire to boost his flagging ratings before forthcoming elections, but it is actions, not purity of motives, that matter.
It is twenty years since Western and Arab states came together with UN backing to resist Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. That was a legitimate and justified intervention to defend a small nation from aggression, but it was waged in the most reactionary manner possible. The Emir of Kuwait’s undemocratic regime was restored to power without any requirement to democratise, and the Iraqi people, whom President Bush had called upon to rise up against Saddam, were betrayed when they followed his advice. Bush actually preferred the survival of Saddam’s dictatorship to his overthrow by Kurds, Shias and other Iraqis. But the West has come along way since then. Even today, plenty of voices have been heard of people who apparently dislike Arabs and Muslims so much that they would prefer even a murderous, racist, genocide-promoting and terrorism-sponsoring tyrant like Gaddafi to stay in power to keep them down. Yet unlike in the days of Bush Sr, it is no longer possible for the West openly to side with a Gaddafi or a Saddam against a popular uprising.
The success of the international intervention against Gaddafi is crucial to encourage the pro-democracy movements in the Arab world, to reassure their followers that the West is with them, and to strengthen those Western currents that are on their side, against those who prefer the dictators. But inevitably, there has been plenty of whataboutery from the usual suspects. Cameron effectively dealt with one such in the House of Commons on Friday:
Jeremy Corbyn: ‘Is the Prime Minister now suggesting we should develop a foreign policy that would be prepared to countenance intervention elsewhere where there are attacks on civilians, such as Saudi Arabia, Oman or Bahrain ? I hope he has thought this whole thing through.’
David Cameron: ‘Just because you can’t do the right thing everywhere doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do the right thing somewhere.’
Corbyn’s argument was disingenuous; if Cameron had simultaneously argued for intervening in all those places and Libya at once, he would have been accused by various Corbyns of being a crazy warmonger who wanted to fight the whole world, but if he concentrates on Libya he’s accused of being inconsistent. That is the way these people operate; they banged on about how the Iraq war was ‘illegal’ because it wasn’t supported by a UN Security Council resolution, but now that this intervention is supported by such a resolution, they’re still opposed. There is a certain type of leftist whose sole raison d’etre is to rubbish and sabotage every positive initiative that Western leaders try to take on the world stage, purely as an end in itself. Leftists of this kind are, quite simply, a scourge.
In fact, the West’s intervention in defence of the Libyan rebels will put us in a much stronger position to exercise leverage over the despots of the Gulf, and prod them away from repression. The repression in Bahrain and the Saudi intervention should be seen as a direct consequence of the Obama Administration’s prior demonstrable lack of enthusiasm for the pro-democracy agitation in the Arab world; Obama dithered over Libya, and the Gulf despots took the hint. But credit where it’s due; Obama came down on the right side in the end (though the thought that the West would have left the Libyan rebels to their fate if Russia or China had vetoed the UN Security Council resolution is a worrying one). Our next step should be to follow through with the Libyan intervention by applying heavy pressure on Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to lift their repression, and vocally to support the pro-democracy movement in Bahrain. Libya is just a stage in a long struggle for freedom in the Arab world that isn’t going to be concluded tomorrow.
The biggest danger is that Libya will remain messy. Western leaders have correctly rejected the possibility of deploying ground troops, so this is not a danger of an Afghanistan-style military quagmire. Rather, the danger is that a combination of resiliance among the Gaddafi camp and fragmentation, division and Islamist currents among the rebels will combine to render Libya a failed state suffering perpetual instability – in that respect, like Afghanistan, Somalia or the Democratic Republic of Congo. The longer the civil war in Libya goes on, the more difficult it will be for the country to recover - something that will demoralise both the region and the West.
Western leaders cannot engage in statebuilding in Libya, but they can engage in a concerted diplomatic effort aimed at resolving the Libyan civil war. The emphasis should be on pressurising Gaddafi and his family to leave Libya, while arming and supplying the Benghazi-based rebels. But the aim should be simultaneously to prepare the ground for a negotiated end to the conflict between Gaddafi’s former supporters and the rebels, which could take effect once the tyrant has gone. Such a strategy would, hopefully, encourage further defections from the Gaddafi camp, possibly even a palace coup against him.
The immediate aim of the intervention was to save Benghazi, Misurata and other rebel-held towns. But now that the basic military task appears to have been achieved, there will be a lot of hard work ahead.
Libya was, in a sense, the place where the disasters that befell Europe in the twentieth century began. In 1911, Italy invaded what is today Libya, which was then part of the crumbling Ottoman Empire. The heavy blow this dealt to the latter encouraged the Balkan states of Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and Montenegro themselves to fall upon its remaining possessions in Europe. Their victory in turn weakened the position of Germany and Austria-Hungary in the Balkans, prompting these powers to assert themselves aggressively in the next Balkan crisis, occasioned by the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914. The outcome is known to all. The Libyan road to World War I highlights the fact that Libya is part of the European hinterland, and Europe cannot insulate itself from events taking place there.
The allied invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 was, of course, prompted by our desire to strike against al-Qaeda’s terrorist training-camps. That such camps were present in Afghanistan was the product of conditions arising from the state’s collapse and unresolved civil war. We should be very concerned at what the consequences for Europe would be if a similar state collapse and civil war were to be perpetuated indefinitely in Libya – it would be an Afghanistan on our doorstep. An imploded Libya could be a source of terrorism and piracy, as well as of mass immigration into Europe of the kind that sends right-wing politicians apoplectic.
Still more dangerous than a military stalemate between Gaddafi and the rebels would be a victory for the dictator. Such a victory could not be permanent or stable. The regime would reimpose its rule bloodily, prompting elements of the crushed opposition to veer off desperately along radical paths. The civil war would continue to simmer. But most dangerous for us would be what an unstably victorious Gaddafi might be capable of. Already now rejected and osracised by the West and the Arab world, he would be another post-Kuwait Saddam Hussein, permanently in a state of hostility with his neighbours and the wider world. And Gaddafi, be it remembered, was never simply a pedestrian dictator of the Mubarak sort, but the ‘Mad Dog of the Middle East’, in Ronald Reagan’s memorable phrase. Most of us remember his support for the IRA and extremist Palestinian factions, and the Lockerbie bombing. Some may also remember his promotion of war and genocide in Africa, as he pursued his megalomaniacal schemes of expansion; his attempt to annex neighbouring Chad; his promotion of Arab supremacist, anti-black racism and training of Arab militias to murder black Africans. Gaddafi was one of the architects of the janjaweed and the Darfur genocide. We can only guess at what he might attempt if he emerges triumphant from the current Libyan conflict.
Alone among the leaders of the major Western powers, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy have shown some moral backbone in this crisis, and an awareness of what is at stake strategically. As John McCain has said, ‘I appreciate the leadership that Prime Minister Cameron has shown and also President Sarkozy, but unfortunately here in the United States, it seems we are sounding an uncertain trumpet.’ Obama has not proven himself a resolute leader in the Libyan crisis so far, and appears to be replicating all the small-mindedness and vacillation of his Democratic predecessor Bill Clinton over Bosnia in the 1990s. Unbelievably, Obama Administration officials are already arguing that the UN arms embargo on Libya applies not only to the Gaddafi regime, but also to the rebels. In which case, as in Bosnia, the arms embargo is helping the butchers. US Defence Secretary Robert Gates’s claim, that imposition of a no-fly zone would require prior air-strikes against Gaddafi’s air-defence system, likewise smacks of an insincere technical excuse for inaction. A no-fly zone was relatively successfully enforced in Bosnia without any such air-strikes.
Over Bosnia, Clinton’s unwillingness to defeat Milosevic led directly to the war with him over Kosovo in 1999. Obama’s hands-off approach to Libya will merely postpone our inevitable showdown with Gaddafi. In Kosovo, it was Tony Blair who provided the essential backbone to the still-wobbly Clinton and clumsy NATO, and more than anyone else ensured that the war would be fought to a successful conclusion. Cameron has already shown himself a leader with vision, and must not allow himself to be deflected by US and EU irresolution from the path that he has correctly laid out. This trial will prove the efficacy or otherwise of his military entente with France, so there is a lot riding on this crisis for the prime minister’s vision of British strategy.
Britain and France should be prepared to act alone to support the Libyan freedom-fighters, if our allies lack the resolve to act with us. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s stated belief that only the UN should be able to authorise a no-fly zone is tantamount to a green light to Gaddafi to crush the rebellion. It is clearly nonsensical to make any military action in support of our vital interests contingent upon permission from Russia and China. Had we waited for UN Security Council authorisation in 1999, Milosevic would have won in Kosovo, over one and a half million ethnic Albanians would have been driven from their homes, and we should have had a Palestinian problem in the heart of Europe alongside a triumphant genocidal dictatorship.
The imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya could scarcely be portrayed as Bush-style unilateralism or old-style imperialism, given that the Arab League itself has endorsed the idea. Britain and France should join the Arab League in continuing to push hard for this, while taking what immediate steps we can to assist the rebels. This should include providing them with arms – again, since the rebels themselves have called for arms, this cannot credibly be portrayed as unilateralism or imperialism. Britain should also follow France’s lead and recognise the National Council in Benghazi as the legitimate government of Libya, while withdrawing recognition from Gaddafi’s regime. We should prepare to employ air-strikes to defeat further advances by Gaddafi’s forces toward Benghazi. And we should attempt to involve Egypt in our military actions – a country that has both a vital interest in seeing Gaddafi defeated, and a powerful military capable of contributing to this goal. Egypt, be it remembered, made a significant contribution to the defeat of Saddam Hussein in Kuwait in 1991.
The urgency of the situation in Libya is one that calls for immediate, decisive leadership. David Cameron must rise to the challenge.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
Western policy during the break-up of Yugoslavia and the wars in Croatia and Bosnia of the 1990s was contemptible not merely for its moral bankrupcty - for its collusion with the dictator Slobodan Milosevic’s genocide and aggression - but also for its sheer blindness to the way that history was going. It should have been obvious when the war broke out in Croatia in the summer of 1991, both that Yugoslavia was finished as a state and that Milosevic’s attempt to replace it with a Great Serbia was a deeply regressive and destructive project that could only end in disaster. Western interests would have been best served by looking to the future and defending the Yugoslav successor-states of Croatia and Bosnia. Instead, the Western powers continued to support a united Yugoslavia that was already dead. This rapidly mutated into a policy of appeasing the Serbian strongman, which continued for four sorry years. Western diplomacy twice rescued the collapsing Serbian forces from defeat – in Croatia in late 1991 and in Bosnia in the autumn of 1995 – while calls for military action to halt Serbian aggression were fended off. In the end, the policy of appeasement was abandoned and Milosevic was militarily confronted and eventually put on trial for war-crimes. But only after the Western alliance had been seriously jeopardised and discredited, Milosevic had embarked on yet another round of ethnic cleansing in Kosova, and irreparable damage had been done to the Western Balkans.
In the Egyptian crisis today, Western leaders face another Bosnia moment. Mubarak having launched his violent assault on the Egyptian revolution, they can now take decisive action to halt him – through demanding that he step down immediately in favour of a broadly based caretaker administration and permit free and fair elections, and by making clear that all US and European economic assistance will be withdrawn from Egypt unless he does. It makes no sense to say that the West should keep out of Egypt and mind its own business; the huge economic assistance and political support Mubarak has received from us up till now mean that we are already deeply and inextricably involved and responsible.
Or Western leaders can wring their hands and continue to vacillate, thereby effectively giving Mubarak the same green light they once gave Milosevic. In which case, they will be responsible for the bloodshed and repression that will follow, but they will not achieve the much vaunted ‘stability’. Mubarak’s violence and repression may start a civil war, or may simply warp and poison Egyptian and Middle Eastern politics for years to come, as domestic opposition to his regime, denied the chance to express itself through a normal democratic process and justifiably angry at Western betrayal, is channelled toward extremism and violence – think Algeria or Chechnya. Instead of an Egyptian democratic revolution starting to lift the Middle East out of its cesspool of dictatorship and religious extremism, a more repressive, violent and unstable Egypt under a crumbling, desperate regime will drag the region further down into the depths.
The most murderous acts of state violence are often the work of remnants of decaying regimes that had previously, in their prime, appeared relatively moderate and benign. So it was in Bosnia, where the genocide was spearheaded by the Yugoslav People’s Army that had once served Tito’s enlightened despotism and, before that, had been born from a liberation struggle against the Nazis. So it was in Rwanda, where Juvenal Habyarimana’s dictatorship, previously stable and relatively benevolent in its treatment of the Tutsi, collapsed in a genocidal orgy that (almost certainly) first claimed the life of Habyarimana himself.
The Egyptian crisis has already forced us to confront some painful truths. I have long greatly admired Tony Blair, but his praise for Mubarak as ‘immensely courageous and a force for good’ – even if it was in relation to Mubarak’s input into the Israeli-Palestinian peace-process rather than a general description – was simply disgraceful. Reminiscent, in fact, of Blair’s unfinest hour back in 1999, when he endorsed Vladimir Putin’s fledgling tyranny while its murderous assault on Chechnya was at its height. And look what that got us – a vicious autocracy more hostile to the West than any regime in Moscow since the Cold War.
Unlike with regard to Blair, one expects very little from a hardline-nationalist brute like Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu, who has not only aligned himself with, but actually outdone, the monstrous Saudi regime in his support for the Egyptian dictator and his opposition to Egyptian democracy. The idea of Israel as a ‘beacon of democracy’ in the Middle East has always been wishful thinking on the part of its admirers – essentially the mirror-image of the myth, put about by the other side, of Israel as the root of all evil in the region. Israel is neither an angel nor a devil; it is a flawed democracy whose political classes are in the grip of an obnoxious nationalist mind-set, putting it roughly on a par with contemporary Turkey, Greece or Serbia. Of couse, the Israeli government has legitimate security concerns regarding how a post-Mubarak Egypt will behave, but there is also the rather less legitimate concern as to how its ongoing criminal policy of colonising the West Bank will fare without Mubarak to guard its rear. Hence, not so much a ‘beacon of democracy’ as a beacon for beleaguered tyrants. Arab oppression and Israeli oppression are two sides of the same coin and will fall together; both Israeli security and Palestinian independence will best be achieved by the democratisation of the Arab world.
The Middle East is at a historic crossroads, and Western policy toward the Middle East is at a historic crossroads. Barack Obama and David Cameron have been less than glorious in their reaction to the crisis so far, but nor have they discredited themselves totally, as Bill Clinton and John Major did over Bosnia. There is still time for them to choose the right path. History will judge them.
President Barack Obama, Prime Minister David Cameron, Vice-President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have revealed the true face of so-called ‘Western imperialism’ over the past couple of days – not so much diabolical or machiavellian, but small minded and wishy-washy. It should be obvious to all that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is finished, and that even if he succeeds somehow in retaining power, he is too discredited and too clearly rejected and despised by his own people to serve any further purpose as a supposed ‘ally’ of the West. Why, then, the unwillingness to solidarise with the Egyptian people who have taken to the streets to overthrow him; why the reluctance to ask him to step down ? They may be afraid of what will come after; they should rather be afraid of how a democratic Egypt, if it emerges, will remember the West’s failure to support its establishment. To talk of ‘reform’ in Egypt today is a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. It’s a bit late for that now; Western leaders would do better to show that they are on the side of the Egyptian people in their struggle against tyranny.
The Arab world and the Middle East have long presented a sorry story of dictatorship, political backwardness and religious extremism. Now, finally, something is occurring in the political sphere about which Arabs, Muslims and others in the region can justly feel proud. In the Egyptian popular revolt to overthrow the Mubarak dictatorship, a kind of politics is being born that can inspire those in the region who have so long been lacking in positive sources of inspiration. The idea that we should withhold our full solidarity with the Egyptian protesters because we can’t imagine anything better than a corrupt and discredited despot is, quite frankly, disgraceful and embarrassing. Mubarak and his fellow pro-Western dictators are not the alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists; rather, the dictators and the Islamists are two sides of the same coin, feeding off and rejuvenating one another. The status quo is not the safe option; it is the source of the Islamist menace that has produced al-Qaeda and 9/11. Undemocratic Egypt has been a particular incubator of Islamic extremism; the system produced Osama bin Laden’s deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri. We shouldn’t be afraid of what may come after Mubarak; we should be afraid of the status quo continuing.
Of course, it is not exactly unknown for revolutions to go very badly wrong, and the example of the Iranian Revolution is understandably in the minds of many. The overthrow of the Shah might not have resulted in quite such a disaster if the US had not backed his tyranny to the last and trampled all over Iran like a colonial master. Even an Iranian Baha’i professor I once studied under, who hated the Ayatollah Khomenei’s regime as much as anyone, told our class how he agreed with Khomenei’s famous pre-revolutionary complaint: ‘If someone runs over a dog belonging to an American, he will be prosecuted. Even if the Shah himself were to run over a dog belonging to an American, he would be prosecuted. But if an American cook runs over the Shah, or the marja’ of Iran, or the highest official, no one will have the right to object.’ If we now alienate the Egyptian people, we will have only ourselves to blame if a post-Mubarak government is less than well-disposed toward us.
Rather than being paralysed by fear, we should anticipate what the democratic transformation in Egypt could mean. It could mean that a regime that has been generating Islamist terrorism will be replaced by one that will act as a catalyst for democratic transformation throughout the Arab world and the Middle East. It could mean a decisive shift in the balance between democracy and dictatorship within the Muslim world globally. Of course, this is not pre-ordained, and things could go very badly wrong in Egypt. But let us in the West keep our eyes on the prize, and do everything we can to assist our Egyptian sisters and brothers in their struggle against tyranny. Obama and Cameron should begin by telling Mubarak that it’s time to go.
Let the tyrants tremble – victory to the Egyptian revolution !
Following last week’s violent suppression of the Kronstadt Uprising, Leon Trotsky, Commissar for War in the government of Soviet Russia, has come under fire for abandoning his pre-revolution pledge that he would preside over the transfer of power to the proletariat. Opinion polls suggest that public approval in him and other former Mensheviks who joined the Bolsheviks in 1917 has fallen from 25% at the time of the October Revolution to just 9% today, and that Trotsky himself is the most loathed and distrusted Russian politician since Ivan the Terrible, possibly since the Mongol overlords of the Middle Ages. Half their former voters now say they will vote for the left Socialist Revolutionaries at elections for the next All-Russian Congress of Soviets.
‘I’ve been very clear that of course I regret – I massively regret – in politics, as in life, saying that you’re going to do something and then finding that you can’t, and I’ve sought to explain how that came about’, Mr Trotsky said in an interview with the Soviet Broadcasting Corporation today.
‘But Comrade Trotsky’, said the interviewer, ‘in 1917 you toured the factories and garrisons of Red Petrograd, and had yourself photographed carrying a placard saying “All power to the Soviets !” Yet since the revolution you have presided over the transformation of the soviets into passive and bureaucratised instruments of rule by the commissars, suppressed the factory committees in favour of one-man-management, concentrated all power in the hands of the Bolshevik party politburo and ordered the Red Army to slaughter the Kronstadt sailors – the vanguard of the proletariat – the most loyal sons of the revolution ! How can you square this with your pre-revolution claim that you would break with the practices of the old order and restore people’s faith in Russian politics ?’
Mr Trotsky tried to assure his audience that ‘the reason of course is very, very simple: we were really relying on the revolution spreading to the advanced capitalist West, and we didn’t appreciate the scale of the social and economic problems and the sheer extent of Russian backwardness left behind by the Provisional Government.’ Yet critics are suggesting that Mr Trotsky’s U-turn will further damage popular confidence in Russian politicians. They point out that he came to power promising ‘Peace, Bread, Land’, yet presided over the establishment of a dictatorship that sparked a civil war that killed millions, forcibly confiscated grain from starving peasants, reduced the Russian population to such levels of hunger that cannibalism became widespread, and persecuted and silenced the Bolsheviks’ political opponents through the use of the secret police.
Members of the Menshevik opposition argue that back in 1904, Mr Trotsky had made a trenchant critique of the authoritarian implications of the politics of Bolshevik leader Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, but since entering into coalition with Mr Lenin, he had become pretty much indistinguishable from him politically. Yet Mr Trotsky has been at pains to stress what he calls the ‘progressive’ character of his plan for the militarisation of labour, claiming that ‘the poorest 25% of workers will actually be better off than under the previous system.’ In an effort to quell disillusionment among his supporters, Mr Trotsky has apparently obtained from his government partners a promise that the poorest 25% of workers would receive an extra bag of grain per week.
Greater Surbiton News Service
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