Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Neo-cons, the Left and Islamists

Last thoughts (almost) on the 'Nightmares'

The ideology of the neo-conservatives  is supposed to be one of defending 'moral values' and seeing religion as a 'useful myth'. The trouble is that the neo-cons don't talk like this. As Melanie Phillips says, 'I have never heard any neo-con say anything like this about expedient myths.' If the neo-cons, like the radical Islamists, are idealists, their ideals are those of Woodrow Wilson, F D Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and J F Kennedy.

We all know the neo-cons are right-wing loonies, but what of the left ? According to Curtis, politicians do not offer a vision of a better society, they merely promise to be 'better managers' (picture of Blair). The baffling reference in the Guardian article to 'the last gasp of a liberal political elite' begins to make more sense.   I think the subtext is that Blair and so on do not seek a revolutionary objective,  like replacing capitalism.  But the imperative for Labour was to convince that they could manage 'the economy' (i.e.  capitalism) at least as well as the Tories (That they managed it better is no more than a fortunate accident. In any case, the Major government was not as bad as it was made out to be : many of Gordon Brown's policies are a continuation of Kenneth Clarke's.) They could then implement small social democratic-like advances.

While Curtis puts words into the mouths of the neo-cons, he does something similar with the Islamists. It is true that the idea that the teachings of Islam contain all that is necessary to order society, making democracy superfluous, is found in Qutb's writing. When it comes to Algeria 1991-2, though, the 'one man, one vote, one time' claim is only substantiated by an interview with someone from the secular government of the time. (Always remember too that  Lakhdar Brahimi was part of that same government.)

Similarly, the quotation about 'opening the doors of hell  –  you stop the moderates and open the door for the violent groups' -  came from a Muslim Brothers spokesman in Egypt.

I read this after watching the first two parts. My analysis is similar in many ways to Melanie Phillips'. Where I disagree is when she all but calls for censorship of the BBC. Of course I would prefer them to show programmes  that were more informative. But there are many instances where they do, for example the one about Saudi Arabia, or the one about Chechnya, which might well have got a larger audience if it had been repeated again after the Beslan atrocity.  

One of the few interesting points Curtis makes is that the neo-cons adopted 'precautionary principle', first proposed  by the Greens in the 1980's. This posits the idea that you should take action to prevent something you think likely to happen, before there is overwhelming evidence that it will happen (because then it will be too late). Ironically, of course, the neo-cons tend to deny the probability of global warning. See for example Melanie Phillips. (She is one of a small band of British neo-cons. Who else is there? Michael Gove, perhaps.)

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