I like the pledge of allegiance idea. I know it’s a bit uncool and as a ‘liberal’ I should reject the idea as jingoistic or backward but I think Helena Kennedy and the rest of the snooty elite have got their response to this one wrong.
Kennedy on Today was shocking: it was as if the last seven or eight years hadn’t happened. The whole post-war social settlement in Britain was thrown in the air when those British kids blew up dozens of their fellow-citizens on 7/7 and the idea that we can carry on roughly as before is jaded and defeatist – Kennedy’s singing loudly with her fingers in her ears. We should really be ready to try almost anything to strengthen bonds within and between the people and institutions of this country.
The reason I like the pledge of allegiance is probably for the same reason it makes other liberals cringe. It’s an artificial event, an invented marker for accession to citizenship. That’s just what we need: something simple and deliberate that says ‘welcome to your nation’! A moment in time. An unembarrassed celebration with some real emotional content —and maybe a speech you have to learn—that kids can laugh and joke about afterwards but always remember as ‘the day they grew up’ or ‘joined the club’ or whatever.
There’s obviously a risk that such an event could become a laughing stock if it’s inauthentic or too cheesy but I think that’s probably a risk worth taking. I’d like to see a debate about this—and maybe some interesting contributions to the shape and content of the event too.
We, by which I suppose I really mean ‘the media’ are famously bad at assessing risk. Case study: is it just me or is there something scarily dim-witted about the apparently widespread idea that all of London’s emergency services ought to be issued with radios that work in narrow tunnels in the clay hundreds of feet beneath the streets of the city?
I know that London Underground’s staff have radios that work down there but I’m assuming they achieved this by lining the network’s tunnels with transceivers at vast expense and over many years. I suppose that it might be reasonable for the Underground to permit others access to this network but is it also reasonable to require the police, the firefighters and the ambulance crews to re-equip with radios that combine old-fashioned, routine, above-the-ground use with exotic below-the-ground access?
How will it all work? Will above-the-ground radios hand over smoothly to underground networks or will there be a big knob on the handset? Will the underground network just retransmit the overground stuff? Does anyone know? More important: since absolutely no one (not even the critical GLA committee reporting yesterday) thinks that a single life would have been saved by such an exotic system, why are we wasting our time worrying about it?
If you’ve been glued to your PC lately, you’ve probably been watching the thrilling and moving live coverage of Discovery’s return to flight or you might have been watching miserable old git Ayman al-Zawahri justifying the unjustifiable in one of those horrible backroom video nasties that the jihadists specialise in. So that’s hope and curiosity and ambition vs despair and ignorance and indifference: I find myself wondering how things are going with the jihadist space programme (oh. Hold on. They haven’t got one)…
So it’s depressing that George Bush, leader of the nation whose extravagant optimism and breathtaking resourcefulness got those people into space in the first place, seems intent on closing the intellectual gap between America and the jihadists. He wants American schools to teach ‘intelligent design’, a kind of intellectual jihadism – a primitive effort to burn down modern thought and replace it with a simpler, more righteous picture of the world.
This, by the way, is why I don’t buy the clash of civilisations argument: atavistic suspicion of the modern is present (and powerful) even in the world’s most advanced economy. Bush and his pious friends may not be burning libraries just yet but the generation of zealots coming out of the various fundamentalist Christian ‘madrasas’ all over the Southern States just might.
I won’t be the first person to link to this terrifying interview with a British jihadist. I promise, this interview will leave you open-mouthed with dread and amazement. This young man, from his comfortable home in Manchester, summarily revokes the right (or the expectation) of a British citizen to walk the streets (ride the trains and buses) without being randomly selected for death or mutilation by another British citizen.
I must be getting old. Don’t try telling me the London bombings were ’caused’ by the Iraq war or Blair’s entrainment with the neo-cons or the lies about WMD or whatever. Those arguments – nicely wrapped in condemnation for the bombings themselves, of course – leave me cold. They’re morally void. And an abuse of causality.
In fact, causality seems to be the problem here. The apologists (what else can I call them?) have an etiolated, mechanical concept of causality. A produces B (produces C). Blair’s support for Bush produces disaffection in young Muslims (produces suicide bombings in London). As I said: morally void – and often accompanied by a sort of shrug: ‘what did you expect? Of course they bombed London. Blair invaded Iraq’. In this way, the apologists deny the entire Islamic world moral agency, robbing Muslims of their human obligation to act well: ‘how can you expect Muslims to behave morally? Blair invaded Iraq.’
The other side – the Government Ministers and their fellow travellers on the opposition benches – has an equally shaky idea of causality. Politics obliges them to cancel it all together in fact: ‘I see no connection between the London bombs and British conduct in Iraq. 9/11 happened before the Iraq war. So did The USS Cole and the first WTC bombing. Those young men would have bombed London anyway.’ The absurdity of this position is breathtaking.
Blair’s wisdom here, though, is that he has no choice. The tiniest acknowledgement that he and his allies may have contributed to the change of climate that produced the bombings would be politically fatal. So, fact is denied. Reality distorted. Logic inverted.
The truth, as usual, lies elsewhere.
You’ll be wanting to read Ziauddin Sardar’s excellent, really thought-provoking The struggle for Islam’s soul about Islam’s obligations after the London bombs and the religion’s historic predisposition to violence from the New Statesman. You might need to pay for a 24 hours subscription to do so but I’d say it’s worth it (and you can do it using your mobile phone).
The young men who attacked London last week are pitiable – profoundly lost to humanity. Theirs isn’t a religion, nor a cause. It’s a sacrifice cult, a bloody creed designed to glorify not God but a millionaire demagogue called Osama Bin Laden and a bankrupt, history-less ideology from the fringes of world culture. Five hundred years ago, the sophisticated and decadent Aztecs killed children to appease Gods they feared. The sad gang that killed 55 people in London nine days ago has as much in common with the complicated, enlightened tradition that produces big, resilient cities like London as those Aztec priests.
It’s a vicious ideology and it’s sustained by violence and by the pitiless conversion of its own adherents into dumb weapons. The logic of a fighting force dependent on the deliberate death of its soldiers for its success is so perfectly inverted as to defy rational thought. Suicidal Terror’s only possible victory lies in the pointless self-murder of its last happy martyr. Only then will it be possible for those who lead these young men and women to their deaths – convince them of their destiny – to calculate the magnitude of their victory. The question is: what will they do if they conclude that they didn’t win yet? That they need more martyrs?
Since Thursday’s bombings, Ken Livingstone’s been telling a story about London as open, tolerant and free – the opposite of the miserable theocratic monocultures advanced by the miserable bombers and their miserable egomaniac bosses. Of course, I like this story. It’s what I (and millions of incomers before me) love about London. It’s resilient, accepting, adaptable. A contemporary city rooted in a couple of millennia of immigration and assimilation.
Of course I couldn’t help being a bit suspicious of Ken’s motives – he’s a politician to the bone and his story sounded, well, a bit too political for a moment like this. But then Juliet read me the names of the twelve people still missing – Laura Webb, Monika Suchocka, Shahera Akther Islam, Michelle Outto, Jamie Gordon, Neetu Jain, Rachelle Yuen, Philip Russell, Anthony Fataji Williams, Slimane Ihab, Philip Beer, Richard Ellery – and I suppose that was enough. The Mayor’s right. Those names say it all. London is a city defined by its readiness to accommodate newcomers and its principal weapon against the nihilists is its openness.
Incidentally, Frank Gardner, the BBC’s Security Correspondent, was on Start The Week this morning. He’s an Arabic-speaker and an all-round Middle East expert (and he was paralysed by an Al-Qaeda gunman a year ago). He reckons the Arab press is full of rather surprised editorial about just how heterogeneous the population of London is.