An article by Glenn Greenwald in the Guardian a couple of days ago has got me considering the eternally topical question of whether ‘the main enemy is at home.’
The piece has been described in some quarters as ‘a must-read’. Whilst I wouldn’t go quite that far it is certainly extremely thought-provoking. The case he makes is an extremely strong one.
Greenwald is right to point out the hypocrisy of ‘the West’s’ reaction to the Pussy Riot trial in particular. It’s hard to imagine that the Russian militantly feminist punk collective would have got the number of celebrity and mainstream political endorsements that they have managed if they had been organising impromptu punk gigs in churches in America or setting fire to police cars in London. The women of Pussy Riot are extremely serious leftists and feminists, and while we at the Mambo celebrate such provocative behaviour I’m pretty sure the prudes and reactionaries at the Telegraph and the Times wouldn’t. The UK might be more ‘free’ than Putin’s Russia but things are far from perfect, and we shouldn’t be afraid to point that out. Pussy Riot would be in trouble if they had done that anywhere in the world. Admittedly the degree of trouble might vary, but trouble it would still be.
Greenwald favourably quotes Noam Chomsky:
“My own concern is primarily the terror and violence carried out by my own state, for two reasons. For one thing, because it happens to be the larger component of international violence. But also for a much more important reason than that: namely, I can do something about it. So even if the US was responsible for 2% of the violence in the world instead of the majority of it, it would be that 2% I would be primarily responsible for. And that is a simple ethical judgment. That is, the ethical value of one’s actions depends on their anticipated and predictable consequences. It is very easy to denounce the atrocities of someone else. That has about as much ethical value as denouncing atrocities that took place in the 18th century.”
Chomsky has a lot of useful and extremely important things to say about the actions and policies of leaders and governments of the US and the West, actions and policies whose effects need to be exposed. Ditto John Pilger with his articles about American, British and Australian politics.
The problem I have with them though is that they seem to think that the corollary of that is to gloss over or be wilfully blind to the crimes committed by other regimes around the world, and in particular countries that come into active conflict with the US. George Galloway provides a particularly egregious example of this kind of thinking. As someone pointed out in the comments below the Greenwald piece:
“I’ve no problem with Chomsky highlighting the shortcomings of the West, and specifically the US. Both should aspire to the highest standards.
The problem arises when Chomsky – and acolytes like Greenwald – use these shortcomings to condone, and sometimes justify, the ferocious tyranny of rogue states and terrorist organisations.”
This (kind of) sums up my position I think. Atrocities are atrocities, whoever commits them and wherever they are committed, and a light always needs to be shone on them. Of course our primary responsibility is to address the politics of the world immediately around us, but that shouldn’t blind us to what is going on elsewhere.
To take one example, I found the left’s soft-pedalling on the record of Saddam Hussein in the run-up to the Iraq war very disturbing, especially when one considers that during his blood-soaked reign of terror he had murdered the Iraqi left by the thousand. That didn’t mean that I thought that the war to topple him was a good idea. It obviously wasn’t and the hypocrisy of the likes of Donald Rumsfeld, who a generation previously had been a keen ally of Saddam, was nauseating.
But it did mean that pretending that Hussein and his family weren’t murdering bastards wasn’t particularly on my agenda.
The Iraqi left’s position at the time was pretty clear. Moderate and radical alike acknowledged that the idea of an alliance with Saddam against ‘imperialism’, as suggested by some of the more unrealistic elements of the anti-war movement, was patently absurd. To the Iraqi left, their main enemy was at home too. And that meant Saddam and the Ba’athists.
Something similar is happening in Syria right now too. For lefties and progressives there, the main enemy is their regime, not the mooted, and probably unlikely, eventuality of American intervention. Are they wrong to focus on the immediate threat to their lives and fellow Syrians? Of course not.
What underpins the selective view of the world that some people on the left take? I would tentatively submit that it is the consequence of successive defeats. Whilst the ideology of the right is self-evident humbug the left is not winning the argument. In that intellectual vacuum lazy, half-formed and pessimistic ideas develop. On the left people this means people easily forgetting the democratic element of democratic socialism and thinking that anyone who comes into conflict with the West is a potential ally.
To me the issue is one of consistency. Tyranny and oppression has to be exposed and opposed wherever it is, whether that’s the Americans’ in Iraq or at Guantanamo Bay or the insane North Korean dictatorship exercising 1984-style control on their people and starving millions of their own people to death whilst retaining one of the world’s largest standing armies.
‘The main enemy is at home’ is a good starting point, but we have to accept that different homes may mean very different main enemies.