to the euston station.... the left and universal human rights
The left has often found it difficult to resist the notion that our enemy’s enemies are our friends. From the defense in some parts of the left of every move the Soviet Union made, to the 60’s fetishization of the National Liberation Front in Vietnam, to the softer mistake of lifting Hugo Chavez to sainthood, we often seem to believe that any force which opposes the United States must be a good thing. Thankfully, most of us have not made this mistake in the current “war on terror”. This isn't true for everyone, of course. For example, the always overrated Naomi Klein let her enthousiasm for brown people with guns get the better of her when she wrote a much-attacked celebration of the Mahdi Army in Iraq. She found a way to triangulate around the simple fact that a victory for the Iraqi "resistance" would lead to the repeal of most of the Iraqi people's hard-won gains for women, workers and intellectual freedom.
Similarly, just as some Zionists employ a double standard about Israeli vs. Palestinian violence, there are those in the American left who simply reverse this double standard. Suicide bombings are regrettable, but the “real” problem is Israeli military action. Zionism is racism, but the rampant and disgusting anti-Semitism among Muslims and Arabs is understandable. In my view, they are both “the real problem”.
It is understandable that we would want to support resistance movements opposing occupations and atrocities committed with our tax dollars, but not all resistance movements are born equal. I am no pacifist, and believe that all people have the right to self-defense, even military. However, just as we would be critical of Israel’s choices in defense of its nationhood, so, too should we keep our wits about us when analyzing the motivations, behavior, ideology and strategies of movements opposing U.S. or Israeli policy in the Middle East.
That’s why I lost all respect for George Galloway after his recent speech at a march in London opposing Israeli terror-bombings of Gaza and Lebanon. You may remember Galloway, the articulate British MP who spoke to Congress last year, defending himself from allegations of aiding terrorism, and told them to stick it. He became a brief celebrity among liberals and progressives here, as we had not heard an elected Democrat speak forcefully about anything in so long. Galloway’s always been a bit nutty, but he jumped the goddamn shark when he exclaimed at the March that ''I am here to glorify the resistance, Hezbollah. I am here to glorify their leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah''. That was simply indefensible, especially given that the city of London is still recovering from a series of home-grown terror attacks which killed scores of working-class people.
As this sort of nonsense has gained ground in parts of the UK left, a group of intellectuals, activists and bloggers have issued a statement of principles known as the Euston Manifesto. Essentially an appeal for a renewed commitment to fundamental human rights, the document criticizes both anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism, as well as the strange sympathy some on the left have toward Islamist movements. The Manifesto has been criticized for being waffly on the Iraq war, (in truth it is mostly silent on the issue, as authors are split on the question), and has been characterized as a right-wing document. Read it, and decide for yourself. Personally, I see the statement, which has been signed by a number of prominent American social democratic thinkers, as an important corrective to some of the more dangerously simplistic and authoritarian tendencies on the left. It may sound strange, but we do need to lay out a clear statement of principles regarding universal human rights. The real world is complex, and, contrary to George Bush’s bedtime stories, it is not divided clearly into good guys and bad guys. People living under repressive regimes must make difficult choices: however, it is important not to degenerate into an absolute moral relativism of the left- supporting anything that is against U.S. power, for example, or which wraps itself in the rhetoric of socialism or anti-globalization, whatever those words actually mean.
We know that the right plays this game all the time. Any regime that is “anti-terrorist” or “anti-communist” can be apologized for: which is how both Pinochet and Saudi Arabia became our best friends. Let’s not make the same mistake.
See a clip of Galloway's speech here.
More of Naomi Klein's Judgements, "Bring Najaf to New York". I don't know about you, but I don't want to bring Najaf to New York.