Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Vote Conservative or Labour

Let’s face it, whatever the results of tomorrow’s British general election, the world isn’t going to end. Not since the 1970s has so little divided the principal British political parties. Watching the three televised debates between Labour’s Gordon Brown, the Conservatives’ David Cameron and the Liberal Democrats’ Nick Clegg, the striking thing was how similar were their political visions. Where one of the party leaders stood out from the consensus – as Cameron did over Europe, or Clegg over Trident – he was attacked by his opponents in moderate, civilised terms. This is as it should be: the great ideological conflicts of our age have been resolved in the domestic sphere, and the choice is principally over who will best manage the existing order. In this sense, we are a step ahead of the US, where such battles are still being fought out.

Cameron and Clegg have placed a lot of emphasis on the appeal for ‘change’. This is highly ironic, given that the British people do not want real ‘change’. If they did, there would be real electoral benefit to be had for politicians in adopting radical policies. The fact that all three principal British parties adopt such moderate policies shows their awareness of the fundamentally conservative (with a small ‘c’) inclinations of the British electorate; to threaten real ‘change’ would be electoral suicide. Cameron’s and Clegg’s talk of ‘change’ is simply an attempt to play up to our spoilt, cry-baby, navel-gazing culture of political commentary. Some countries face real problems; here we have the MPs’ expenses scandal – for all the whining that it provoked, you’d think we were the victims of a veritable genocide. A year ago, on the way to the airport, I met a young man who had served as a soldier in Afghanistan; after spending time there, he told me, he found it ridiculous how much we Britons like to complain about so little. This explains the relentless media hounding of our current prime minister; unexciting and undistinguished as he is, Brown has been reasonably competent at his job; he certainly does not deserve such vicious treatment.

Of course, there are things wrong with our country; top of the list, I would put the atrocious quality of our schools, and the consequent deleterious effect that poor education has on the morals of our youth. But distressingly, education barely featured in the three leadership debates. It was sad to hear all three party leaders pander to the moronic anti-immigration consensus; Clegg at least had the courage to advocate an amnesty for long-term illegal residents of the UK. Mass immigration is economically necessary and culturally beneficial for any thriving, dynamic modern society; the only way drastically to curb immigration would be to have an economy so poor that nobody much wanted to come and work here.

Instead of educating our population about immigration’s benefits, our politicians find it easier to pander to tabloid-driven popular xenophobia. I am, however, reassured that their talk of curbing immigration is just in order to placate the masses; as Clegg pointed out in the third leadership debate, the Conservatives’ talk of an annual ‘cap’ on immigration makes no sense if most immigrants come from the EU and can’t be prevented from coming. Yes, Mr Cameron/Brown, of course you’ll curb immigration if you win the election, nudge nudge, wink wink. If it keeps the less sophisticated part of our electorate from voting for the fascist parties, I’m happy for you to pretend. But really, it would be better if you challenged popular prejudice instead of playing up to it.

This does not mean the election is irrelevant. The first big question is, if Cameron wins, whether he will prove to be a Conservative Tony Blair, and firmly cement his party in government, as in opposition, as a forward-looking party of the centre. Or whether he will prove a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and the Conservatives will ape their divisive predecessors of the 1930s and 80s. I am cautiously optimistic that the first scenario is more likely.

The second big question is, of course, whether we will get a hung parliament and, consequently, electoral reform. The existing electoral system cannot really be justified on democratic ground, but I cannot honestly pretend to be heartbroken that the little parties – the BNP, UKIP, Greens, Respect, etc. – are effectively excluded from parliament – God forbid that any of them should exercise influence over our foreign policy, or that any of them except the Greens should exercise influence over our domestic policy.

A system of proportional representation that resulted in a three-party system might be more democratic than the current two-party system, but it would also be more rigid; at present, elections offer the chance of real change of government in response to public dissatisfaction; a three-party system could condemn us to a succession of similar coalitions. A case could be made that this is the price we must pay for something less arbitrary and unfair than the present first-past-the-post system, with so many votes wasted and so many voters denied a real choice. But it is not a simple question.

The main parties’ differences over foreign policy are greater than their differences over domestic policy, and it is here that the Liberal Democrats’ talk of change is ominous. A party whose leader puts the word ‘illegal’ in front of ‘war in Iraq’ should not be in government: it is one thing to oppose the war in Iraq for honourable reasons; quite another to adopt the ideological jargon of the deeply reactionary ‘anti-war’ movement. Being opposed to ‘illegal’ wars translates as only favouring military intervention abroad when it is authorised by the UN Security Council; in other words, when it is supported by Russia and China. Clegg complains that the Conservative Party is allied with homophobes and climate-change deniers in the European Parliament, yet he seems to feel that our military intervention abroad should be contingent on the approval of two of the world’s most brutal and dangerous regimes.

What is more objectionable: the Conservatives forming a new European Parliamentary grouping with a Latvian party, some of whose elderly members commemorate the SS, and with a Polish party hostile to homosexuality ? Or the Liberal Democrats upholding the sanctity of a UN Security Council whose Russian member uses weapons of mass destruction against its own Chechen citizens, ethnically cleanses Georgians from South Ossetia, racially persecutes Caucasians, murders human rights activists and carries out terrorist bombings against its own population ? To say nothing of its Chinese member… Let us not forget: the reason that there are any ethnic Albanians left in Kosovo today is because NATO waged an ‘illegal’ war in 1999 to halt Slobodan Milosevic’s genocidal campaign against them. 

When David Cameron courageously spoke out in defence of Georgia from Russian aggression in 2008, Liberal Democrat shadow foreign-secretary Ed Davey shamefully condemned him for ‘macho talk’. Davey believes in the need to ‘talk to Tehran’, to avoid ‘antagonising the Russians’, to ‘engage Russia and China’, to ‘fully back the UN’. A foreign policy decided by the Liberal Democrats would ensure that, were another Bosnia- or Darfur-style genocide to occur, Britain would avoid doing anything ‘macho’ that might actually stop it, but would work through the UN, in partnership with Russia and China, to ensure that absolutely nothing meaningful would be done. Davey is my local MP here in Kingston and Surbiton, and as the electoral race here is a two-horse one between the Liberals and Conservatives, with Labour running a distant third, I am going to vote Conservative.

For Labour and the Conservatives are the only two credible parties of government. Labour has pursued a reasonably sound foreign policy, correctly both pro-European and pro-American, though since the uninspired Brown replaced the brilliant Tony Blair, Britain has been punching beneath its weight in world affairs.

The Conservatives, on the other hand, have taken a courageous stand to break with the federalist-conservative Sarkozy-Merkel bloc in the European Parliament; to strike a blow against an inward-looking fortress Europe. As I have written elsewhere, the accusation that the Conservatives in the European Parliament are allied to extreme reactionaries is a red herring, given that both the Sarkozy-Merkel federalist bloc in the European Parliament and the Labour Party’s allies in the Council of Europe include some equally reactionary elements – Russian anti-Semites, Turkish genocide-deniers and Italian ‘post-fascists’. The question is whether the Conservatives in office will build an alliance for a broader, non-federalist model of Europe – as I hope they will – or retreat into the narrow-minded national realism that characterised John Major’s government.

I greatly admire the record of the Labour government since 1997, and am glad I voted Labour in the last election. I am hopeful, if not quite confident, that a Cameron government would be a worthy successor. If you feel optimistic, give the Conservatives a chance. If you want to play it safe, vote Labour.

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Wednesday, 5 May 2010 Posted by | Britain, Marko Attila Hoare | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Anti-Balkan racism in academia and on the Left

Image: Serbo-Croat-speaking Podlings in the 1982 film Dark Crystal.

Credit goes to Srebrenica Genocide Blog, Oliver Kamm, Balkan Witness and other websites and individuals that have been leading the fight against those who continue to deny or apologise for the Srebrenica massacre and other atrocities of the Wars of Yugoslav Succession, from dabblers like Noam Chomsky to dyed-in-the-wool propagandists like Diana Johnstone, Ed Herman and David Peterson.

I have come to feel that, poisonous though they are, the deniers are ultimately less guilty than members of the political and intellectual mainstream who may disagree with their extreme views, but nevertheless not only tolerate them, but defend them as individuals entitled to respect.

In my last post, I criticised those blogs, such as Harry’s Place, which tolerate vicious personal abuse on the part of those posting comments. I believe that nobody – not even Nazis, racists or war-criminals – should be subject to such abuse, or attacked on the basis of their ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class background, physical appearance or similar. All human beings – even the most evil or obnoxious – are entitled to a degree of respect by virtue of the fact of being human. Vicious personal abuse of a vulgar or bigoted nature demeans the abuser as much as the abused. It falls into the same category as torture; as something that civilised society simply should not tolerate.

However, there is an opposite extreme: the readiness of supposedly respectable individuals to shield from harsh but legitimate criticism those who hold racist, misogynist, genocide-denialist or other views that ought to disqualify them from such solidarity. I shall not hurl vicious personal abuse at a genocide-denier, but I do feel it is my right and duty to call them a genocide-denier in no uncertain terms.

Unfortunately, there are those who are far less offended by genocide denial than they are by those of us who take the genocide deniers to task. I have come across such people both in my experience with left-wing politics and in my work as an academic. They may disagree with the genocide-deniers, but they feel that the genocide-deniers’ status as left-wingers or as members of the academic community should somehow disqualify them from being the objects of attack for their genocide-denial.

My own alienation from traditional left-wing politics was not simply due to the very large number of prominent and less prominent left-wingers who supported or apologised for the Milosevic regime’s genocidal policies in the 1990s. It was, if anything, more due to the fact that other left-wingers who were not themselves deniers or apologists continued to treat the latter as fellow members of a common ‘Left’. Leftists of this kind tend to be much less outraged by left-wingers who deny genocide or support fascism, than they are by those of us who denounce such ‘comrades’.

Leftists of this kind are not bothered by the enormous hurt and offence among the survivors of genocide in the Balkans and their friends, caused by the anti-Balkan racism of a Michael Moore, the genocide-denial of a Noam Chomsky or the support for Milosevic of a Harold Pinter. They are, however, upset when the former respond to anti-Balkan racism, genocide-denial or support for Milosevic by attacking the left-wing celebrities in question. For such leftists, Western left-wing celebrities are real people in a way that the nameless, faceless untermenschen persecuted by Milosevic’s forces in the Balkans are not.

I have encountered a similar attitude on the part of some of my fellow members of the academic community. There are those academics who respond to a genocide in their area of specialisation by speaking out and agitating against it, and there are those who do not. Quite simply, those who do not have less to feel proud about than those who do. In order to succeed, genocide requires bystanders as well as perpetrators. The genocide in Bosnia was largely successful; had fewer informed international bystanders remained passive, it might not have been.

I do not condemn scholars of the Balkans who failed to speak out against the atrocities in the Balkans in the 1990s. But I thoroughly despise those who try to present their inactivity as making them somehow better or more objective scholars than the rest of us. Instead of boycotting the work of their genocide-denying colleagues, scholars of this kind tend to collaborate with them, bestowing undue respectability on their work. They are thoroughly embarrassed and upset when scholars like myself expose their collaborators for what they are.*

This attitude is itself a form of racism. It is the racism of those who view their own Western society, and in particular their own political or intellectual circle, as being composed of real people; of being the real world. Whereas they view war-torn Bosnia (or Darfur or Iraq) as not being the real world; of not being inhabited by real people with real lives and feelings.

For the authors of Living Marxism, the magazine that pioneered Bosnia genocide-denial, the Bosnian war was an issue only in the UK and other Western societies; an issue, as they saw it, over which the ‘consensus’ had to be challenged and ‘freedom of speech’ upheld for the sake of their own, British concerns. What was or was not happening in Bosnia was, in and of itself, of no importance to them, since to them Bosnia was not a real place and the people who lived there were not real people. They were quite ready to parrot Serb hate-speech against Croats and Bosniaks, since they did not care about what happened to the latter. They viewed the case that ITN brought against them for libel as a greater crime than the murder of tens of thousands of Bosnians.

Left-wingers and academics who defend their genocide-denying or fascist-supporting comrades or colleagues from thoroughly justified criticism are not, essentially, any different from the supporters of Living Marxism. Or from the UN bureaucrats who were repeatedly ready to sacrifice the lives of thousands of Bosnian civilians rather than even slightly risk harm befalling their overpaid ‘peacekeepers’.

There is something genuinely disgusting and offensive about people who can watch a genocide or other tragedy unfolding on their television screens, and not only remain unmoved, but actually feel proud of being unmoved; who believe that cold-bloodedness is the correct response to such a tragedy. As the tragedy unfolds; as the corpses pile up; they indulge in their own comfortable little left-wing or academic parlour games; their little conferences, discussions, meetings and debating societies; with their genocide-denying, fascist-supporting comrades or colleagues. They do not appreciate having these games disrupted by those of us who find the spectacle grotesque.

In a democracy, people must enjoy freedom of speech. People are free to deny that the Srebrenica massacre happened; or to claim that it was simply a ‘response’ to Bosniak ‘provocation’; or that Serb ethnic-cleansing was fabricated by the Western media; or that the Bosnian army shelled its own people in order to blame it on the Serbs; or that Yugoslavia was destroyed by a Western imperialist conspiracy. But equally, the rest of us are free – indeed, we are obliged – to call such people by their true names: genocide-deniers; disseminators of anti-Bosniak hate-speech. To stifle such naming and shaming – on the grounds that left-wingers,  or academics, or others should be above being criticised in this way by virtue of being left-wingers or academics or whatever – is to strike a blow against frank public discourse in favour of Orwellian doublespeak; to legitimise genocide denial while de-legitimising its critics.

By choosing to deny genocide and promote hatred against its victims, genocide-deniers have forfeited the right to be treated with intellectual or political respect. It is with the feelings of the victims and the enormous hurt and offence caused them by the genocide deniers, that we should be concerned. A spade should be called a spade.

 

*Such scholars forget that any historian, sociologist, political scientist or the like who claims that his or her work is ‘politically neutral’ is, quite frankly, a liar. There are academics who are honest and open about their political beliefs, and academics who are not, but who claim to be ‘above politics’; the latter have less integrity than the former – it’s as simple as that. Great historians tend to be open about their political orientation, whether ‘Whig’, conservative, Marxist or other – one need only think of Leopold von Ranke, Thomas Babington Macaulay, G.M. Trevelyan, Lewis Namier, Isaac Deutscher, E.P. Thompson, Christopher Hill, etc. Mediocre historians, by contrast, often dress their boring, cowardly writing up as ‘non-political’ .

I apologise for the dearth of posts here recently. Readers of this blog may or may not be pleased to learn that I was recently promoted to Reader at Kingston University; this has, however, meant a substantially increased teaching load, and this autumn I have been teaching for 14-15 hours per week, leaving little time and even less energy for blogging.

Sunday, 13 December 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Political correctness, Racism, Red-Brown Alliance, The Left | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment