Friday, April 14, 2006

Where Credit Is Due...

Norman Geras and some of his favorite books.

VIEW FROM THE LEFT. Fair is fair. Readers of InstaPunk know that we are harshly critical of leftist politics and politicians, particularly in the context of the War on Terror. But when leftists demonstrate in word or deed that they do understand some of the simpler verities that sustain western civilization, we feel obliged to acknowledge it. That's what we're doing today.

Back in November of 2005, we appealed to Democrats in the U.S. to look deeper into some of their rigidly contradictory positions and call their leadership to account. We said, in part:

The current lynch mob mentality in the Democrat Party does no honor to those of you who do really love our country. It's absurd to suppose that you really would prefer to put Saddam back in power with all the resources he once had at his disposal. It's impossible to believe that the outcome you would most prefer is for American troops to come crawling home in defeat from a war in which they lost no single battle, leaving Iraq to the certain horrors of religious civil war and inevitable tyranny by the most ruthless combatant. It's reasonable to believe that all things considered, you would prefer to live in a world where millions of moderate muslims had democratically elected governments guaranteeing the same kinds of individual freedoms we Americans take for granted. Yet defeat, humiliation, slaughter, and tyranny, with no real possibility of the advance of human freedom, is the precise outcome that is being sought by your leadership -- all for the narrow partisan purpose of destroying the Bush presidency and Republican power in the Congress.

It's either ironic or it isn't that the first thoughtful attempt at self-rehabilitation on the left should come from the far left and not from the United States, but from the U.K. Regardless, that's the truth of it. Professor Norman Geras and a few like-minded colleagues have drafted a document called the Euston Manifesto which is intended to realign the "progressive" movement with its humanitarian conscience. The Manifesto addresses numerous aspects of policy, and some of its declarations will be anathema to conservatives, but on the most urgent matters facing the world today, the language is refreshingly direct and sensible. Here's the most relevant excerpt:

We repudiate the way of thinking according to which the events of September 11 2001 were America's deserved comeuppance, or 'understandable' in the light of legitimate grievances resulting from US foreign policy. What was done on that day was an act of mass murder, motivated by odious fundamentalist beliefs and redeemed by nothing whatsoever. No evasive formula can hide that.

The founding supporters of this statement took different views on the military intervention in Iraq, both for and against. We recognize that it was possible reasonably to disagree about the justification for the intervention, the manner in which it was carried through, the planning (or lack of it) for the aftermath, and the prospects for the successful implementation of democratic change. We are, however, united in our view about the reactionary, semi-fascist and murderous character of the Baathist regime in Iraq, and we recognize its overthrow as a liberation of the Iraqi people. We are also united in the view that, since the day on which this occurred, the proper concern of genuine liberals and members of the Left should have been the battle to put in place in Iraq a democratic political order and to rebuild the country's infrastructure, to create after decades of the most brutal oppression a life for Iraqis which those living in democratic countries take for granted rather than picking through the rubble of the arguments over intervention.

This opposes us not only to those on the Left who have actively spoken in support of the gangs of jihadist and Baathist thugs of the Iraqi so-called resistance, but also to others who manage to find a way of situating themselves between such forces and those trying to bring a new democratic life to the country. We have no truck, either, with the tendency to pay lip service to these ends, while devoting most of one's energy to criticism of political opponents at home (supposedly responsible for every difficulty in Iraq), and observing a tactful silence or near silence about the ugly forces of the Iraqi 'insurgency'. The many left opponents of regime change in Iraq who have been unable to understand the considerations that led others on the Left to support it, dishing out anathema and excommunication, more lately demanding apology or repentance, betray the democratic values they profess.

Vandalism against synagogues and Jewish graveyards and attacks on Jews themselves are on the increase in Europe. 'Anti-Zionism' has now developed to a point where supposed organizations of the Left are willing to entertain openly anti-Semitic speakers and to form alliances with anti-Semitic groups. Amongst educated and affluent people are to be found individuals unembarrassed to claim that the Iraq war was fought on behalf of Jewish interests, or to make other 'polite' and subtle allusions to the harmful effect of Jewish influence in international or national politics - remarks of a kind that for more than fifty years after the Holocaust no one would have been able to make without publicly disgracing themselves. We stand against all variants of such bigotry.

The violation of basic human rights standards at Abu Ghraib, at Guantanamo, and by the practice of 'rendition', must be roundly condemned for what it is: a departure from universal principles, for the establishment of which the democratic countries themselves, and in particular the United States of America, bear the greater part of the historical credit. But we reject the double standards by which too many on the Left today treat as the worst violations of human rights those perpetrated by the democracies, while being either silent or more muted about infractions that outstrip these by far. This tendency has reached the point that officials speaking for Amnesty International, an organization which commands enormous, worldwide respect because of its invaluable work over several decades, can now make grotesque public comparison of Guantanamo with the Gulag, can assert that the legislative measures taken by the US and other liberal democracies in the War on Terror constitute a greater attack on human rights principles and values than anything we have seen in the last 50 years, and be defended for doing so by certain left and liberal voices.

If only we could hear such principled conviction from the left in our own country -- from Reid, Pelosi, Durbin, Murtha, Kerry, Gore, Dean, and McDermott; from the editorial boardrooms of the New York Times, CBS/NBC/ABC News, CNN, and NPR; from the professoriate of the Ivy League (and the Admissions Office at Yale); or even from so-called moderate Democrats who write and speak daily as if the American executive branch were responsible for every ill outcome in the world.

How interesting is it that Norman Geras is no moderate? He is an avowed Marxist, as his biography and this interview will attest. Is it that he possesses the rare academic credential of common sense? Or is it, as we're inclined to believe, that his origins in the old British Commonwealth have imbued him with a sense of fair play that requires him to see bitter, shallow polemics for what they are?

We were able to discover one clue. It's in a blog by the clever Aussie Tim Blair, who published the photo above. The books on display are Norman Geras's cricket library. At a guess, we'd say the professor knows enough about a game that embodies the essence of good sportsmanship to see that the left's reaction to Iraq and the War on Terror is "not cricket." We're convinced it would be possible to have a reasonable and educational conversation with such a man.

In his honor, we'll leave you with an opportunity to share, however slightly, his vast experience. (Click on the image.)


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