Monday, January 22, 2007

Nick Cohen on the Anti War Left

Nick Cohen, raised a principled liberal, where even the decision of what fruits and vegetables to buy was a moral decision, from his own account, did not knowingly come into contact with a Conservative until he was 13.
I still remember the sense of dislocation I felt at 13 when my English teacher told me he voted Conservative. As his announcement coincided with the shock of puberty, I was unlikely to forget it. I must have understood at some level that real Conservatives lived in Britain - there was a Conservative government at the time, so logic dictated that there had to be Conservative voters. But it was incredible to learn that my teacher was one of them, when he gave every appearance of being a thoughtful and kind man. To be good you had to be on the left.
And of course a lot of liberals are to this day raised with these kinds of assumptions - assumptions that act as blinders. How do you reconcile the dogma with which you are raised and that colors your worldview - that all good people are, by definition, liberals - with facts on the ground that challenge that assumption.

He tells us this for a few reasons. On the simple level, in the narrative of his changing political stance, this was his innocent starting place. It also gives him "liberal creds." Without them, he would be all too easy to swipe away. He'll still be easy to discount from the conversation, as an apostate who lost his faith, but recounting his narrative might lead to some dislocation among other individuals and strengthen them in their sense of jarring disjunction, as reality and political orthodoxy diverge from each other.

Moreover, Cohen's adolescent sense of dislocation appears to mirror, indeed even foreshadow, the much greater sense of dislocation from the left that he experienced since 9/11 and, particularly, since the discourse about the Iraq War began to burgeon in 2002-2003 and on. So that, they found themselves even unable to oppose Abu Musab Al Zarqawi:
Journalists wondered whether the Americans were puffi ng up Zarqawi's role in the violence - as a foreigner he was a convenient enemy - but they couldn't deny the ferocity of the terror. Like Stalin, Pol Pot and Slobodan Milosevic, they went for the professors and technicians who could make a democratic Iraq work. They murdered Sergio Vieira de Mello, one of the United Nations's bravest officials, and his colleagues; Red Cross workers, politicians, journalists and thousands upon thousands of Iraqis who happened to be in the wrong church or Shia mosque.

How hard was it for opponents of the war to be against that? Unbelievably hard, it turned out. The anti-war movement disgraced itself not because it was against the war in Iraq, but because it could not oppose the counter-revolution once the war was over. A principled left that still had life in it and a liberalism that meant what it said might have remained ferociously critical of the American and British governments while offering support to Iraqis who wanted the freedoms they enjoyed.

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