Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Terror and the Left

Sasha Abramsky, writing in Open-democracy, has a good article on the radical left and the “war on terror”. The link is here – because it’s Open Democracy, you may have to register to read the article; it’s free to do so however.

To my mind, Abramsky is a little unfair in the way that he groups different commentators under the same heading (Klein, for example is quite different from Fisk and Pilger). And Abramsky also fails to examine closely enough some of the alternatives to the war on terror that the left have offered. Nevertheless, his central point is a good one. While the radical left is an excellent watchdog on the excesses of our own power, too often it argues as if we (the West) are the only source of evil in the world, and that if we just started behaving ourselves the world would be a much better place. Unfortunately, things – as Abramsky shows – are much more complicated than that. The real challenge for progressive politics is to find ways of defeating deeply regressive movements like Al Qaeda while at the same time preserving those aspects of our own societies that make them better places to live in than theocratic regimes. And, in addition to this, global progressive movements need to work on ways of expanding genuine freedoms (in the sense of Amartya Sen as opposed to neo-con freedoms) across the globe.

No one said it would be easy but, compared to the alternatives, it is crucial.


Chris said...

A vaguely relevant remark:
We understand, Terence, that you don't like the term 'War on Terror', asserting that perhaps war IS terror. Fine. But it's called shorthand. To begin with, let me clarify: this is (I hope) a war against a tangible enemy, not a 'War on Drugs' or 'War on Poverty' type of thing that never ends and justifies massive bureaucracy ad infinitum. What it is is actually a war against jihadist fundamentalist Muslims who have taken arms aganst the West and other civilised nations (like Indonesia, an Eastern nation where they struck just the other day). But 'War on Terror' is the snappiest name available, so it stuck, especially in an era focussed on slogans that are quick and to the point.

Now, for some historical examples of arguably misnamed wars (or at least whose names sacrifice some accuracy for brevity's sake):
the Hundred Years' War: actually lasted 116 years, though with breaks
World War I: more of a 'European plus' war rather than a world war, and even World War II left a handful of places unaffected
War of 1812: lasted 1812-1815
Vietnam War: also saw fighting in Cambodia and Laos
Spanish Civil War: technically, but also involved Germany, the USSR, and others in various capacities

Anonymous said...

I think the point is that 'war on terror' carries connotations that 'vietnam war' or '100 year war' do not. The latter are purely descriptive. But the former is essentially 'un-disagreeable' - who could disagree with declaring war on terror (or drugs or poverty). I've had plenty of conversations with dumb gun-luvvin nerds who say "wot? so you like terror then?".

Moreover we are currently in the war on terror - its not an event in the past that people are unable to change. So what you call it can influence perceptions of it and thus people's actions. This is potentially more damaging than renaming past wars.

Perhaps 'America's war' is the best title - they started it, no-one else was interested before that.

But you're right, we are lumped with it. Its a shame that people who want to deceive you always get a head start through choice of language. Like "tax relief", "welfare reform", etc etc

Chris said...

Anonymous: good points, generally, though I'd add a couple:
The bit about the past wars was meant to underscore that misnaming wars is nothing new. And 'War on Terror' I do believe is somewhat inaccurate, but it is shorthand and we're probably stuck with it. You're right, too, that the designation inherently frames the debate in one direction, opening those who express dissension from particular aspects of America's conduct of the war to charges of 'treason', 'disloyalty', or some such mummery.
More importantly, when you say about America that 'they started it, no-one else was interested before that'--I do have to take issue with that. True, America did 'create' bin Laden in a sense, and did ally with Saddam in the '80s, etc, etc, but Sept 11 came as a shock to most people that demanded some sort of response. Certainly, that response may have been lacking on many fronts, but to say that America 'started it' is a bit like saying that Britain 'started' WWII by declaring war on Germany after the invasion of Poland--true in a strict sense, but missing quite a bit of the picture.

Terence said...

Chris, are you feeling ok?

You are actually starting to post reasoned comments.

Frankly, I'm stunned, and I even agree with you that it would be unfair tto re-brand the War on Terror as "Americ's War" (I agree with everything else that anon wrote though).

In one of the threads below you made a point about government policies becomming increasingly the same in a globalised world: that's another sensible comment. Whether 'policy convergance' as it is termed is taking place is a matter for debate (likewise with economic and cultural convergance). The jury is still out as to whether policy convergence is occuring but it is certainly worth discussing.

Chris said...

Terence, I guess I need to start taking my mind-altering medications more regularly, because I did indeed slip into reasonableness for a bit. Don't worry--I'll be back in form soon enough.