Friday, November 29, 2002

Harmless fuck-puppet of the blogosphere Robert Fisk has a new one in the Indy. Is it slowly dawning on the guileless wee soul that achieving peace in the Middle East might not be the Holy Grail for radical Islamists after all? We'll see.

Thursday, November 28, 2002

Is this an eejit I see before me?

I was going to lay into Gorgeous George yesterday but I thought I should wait until the red haze in front of my eyes dies down. Normally I'm as mild as anything but there's just something about George Galloway that raises my blood pressure. The very thought of his grizzled visage coming into view again is enough to get me riled. And it's not just me.

The unconvincing gist of the article is that by going to war with Iraq America and Britain will be playing into Osama Bin Laden's hands - it's unconvincing because he doesn't explain how this astonishing assertion would play out in the real world outside his head. He enjoys alluding to Macbeth, comparing Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleeza Rice as the "three witches" boiling after toil and trouble. He disparages the UN, weapons inspectors, Tony Blair and just about everyone else. George thinks it's all a big cynical mess:

Many have praised Tony Blair for nudging Bush into the thicket of the UN. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating. If the pathway leads to peace, as was no doubt his good intention, he will be a hero. If it turns out that he has merely paved the way to hell, Burnham Wood will have come to Dunsinane - and the Blair project will be at an end.

But if you hack your way through this dense jungle of cliches you won't find a single alternative propostition. That's because Galloway, like many others on the modern left, is a seasoned oppositionist. His efforts are geared towards disparaging US foreign policy and that's all. He doesn't outline a viable strategy to replace what he opposes because he doesn't need to. His priority is opposing Western action at all costs - and he is willing to cuddle up to a brutal dictator if it serves this end. He can make out that he's occupying the moral high ground as long as he's opposing, opposing, opposing.

The next time you see Galloway decrying the unfairness of sanctions and feel tempted to think of him as an awkward but lovable rogue, just remember: This is a man who shook Saddam Hussein's hand in 1994 and declared: "Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability and I want you to know we are with you". This is a man who took the time to travel to Baghdad and fawn over a mass murderer and avowed enemy of his country, cheered on by crowds whipped up by the Iraqi security police.

This is a man who spoke on Al Jezeera television imploring Arab states to deny American and British forces the use of their land and airspace in the event of a war. This is a man who applauded the Stalinist cult of personality surrounding Saddam and presented it as evidence of his popularity - with a straight face.

Do you see where my red haze might be coming from? This guy is a Glasgow MP.

George Galloway isn't some peacenik with rose-tinted spectacles, unwilling to believe that Saddam is as bad as everyone makes out. He knows fine well. His behaviour revolts me precisely because he comprehends the depravity of his hosts. He knows how brutal the Ba'ath regime is yet he is content to accept its hospitality and let himself be exploited for propaganda purposes. This point is not lost on some on the Left either:

When and where, and for how long, did he give support or encouragement to Iraqi working class or bourgeois democratic opponents of Saddam Hussein? Has he ever supported the Kurdish victims of Saddam Hussein? When? Where? How? Has he ever put his standing as an unflinching and invariable friend of Iraq unequivocally at the disposal of the working class and other democratic opponents of the Iraqi dictator - he whose "apologist and mouthpiece" George Galloway is not, because that would be "dishonourable"?

Here's the rub. I may be at the opposite end of the political spectrum to the Alliance of Workers' Liberty, but I recognise that their argument is at least underpinned by basic decency. I don't share their vision for the world, but I think we have the same disdain for sacrificing moral principles to political expediency. This isn't some ideological scuffle between Right and Left: this is a conflict between those who see morality as having to be applied consistently and those who see it as a political tool to be invoked when convenient. It's a more important conflict than the war against terrorists or Saddam's regime. This is a war against craven, duplicitous stupidity exemplified by George Galloway, and we can't afford to lose it.

I know this - if there is a war against Iraq we'll be sure of at least one man's allegiance.

I Don't Belieeeeeeeeeeeve It!!!

John Pilger is in denial according to Tim Blair. This amazing interview on ABC's Lateline shows just how determined he is to stick his fingers in his ears, squeeze his eyes shut and hum real loud whenever an idea comes along that doesn't fit his big picture.

As soon as it is suggested that Osama bin Laden had a beef with Australia because it helped free East Timor, Pilger can't handle it:

We can't believe that. We can't believe all these things we're being told.

Didn't Luke Skywalker sound a bit like this when Darth Vader told him he was his daddy?

Search your feelings, John. You know it to be true...

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Sins Of Omission

Salman Rushdie finds the silence of his fellow muslims deafening in the New York Times (registration required). He's prepared to be a lone voice of protest if that's what it takes, but his message is one of optimism. The tolerant Muslims of the word will, he says, find their voice sooner or later. Here's hoping.

Aztec Camerawork

Samizdata has posted some photos from the Aztecs Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. The pieces on display appear remarkable to my inexpert eye: their vitality leaps out at me and their imagery is ghoulish but fascinating. The discussion raises a number of good points, but to me the most interesting is the contradiction between our rational judgement of the bloodthirsty Aztecs and our attraction to their chilling artifacts.

Aztec civilisation was a basket-case of strict authoritarianism, obsessive religiosity and a peculiar infatuation with violent death. They were particularly hung up on human sacrifice, requiring thousands of bloody forfeits to various gods every year. There's a strong argument that when the Spanish Conquistadors annihilated their culture in the 16th century they probably did the world a favour: Cortes and his compadres were no humanitarians but their exertions were benign compared to those of their foes. There's no sense that they were snuffing out the Mesoamerican Renaissance or anything.

Why do Aztec relics exert such a fascination? The official guide to the exhibition talks about "experiencing the grandeur and sophistication of this once great civilisation". This puff is framed in non-Eurocentric terms so as to avoid condemning a foreign culture (one of our own heresies, but not one that carries a penalty of having your heart ripped out in front of you). It implies that neither the Aztecs nor their artifacts can be judged; they are both cultural curiosities that must be viewed positively in the context of diversity. This doesn't cut any slack with me: they were sadists and that's that.

Another perspective is that even if we condemn the Aztecs morally we can still appreciate their art. Their skill and creativity can be viewed separately from their cultural excesses. Well, that's alright to a degree. We can approach Western artists and composers this way. But if we are interested and not genuinely repulsed it's maybe worth thinking about what interests us - is it the texture or the craftsmanship or is it the overall effect of the items? Can technique be fenced off from the subject? From what I've seen the pieces in the exhibition do not communicate the Aztecs' love of pastoral beauty or their romanticism. They express their fiendish energy and seriousness about their way of life - and death. Is it possible that we might be drawn to the macabre nature of these displays just a tiny little bit?

I wonder if our decendants will put on a display of Nazi memorabilia some day and discuss these same issues. It's quite conceivable that history will render even the freshest horrors of our age quaint.

Monday, November 25, 2002

Shine On You Crazy Guardianistas

Are these guys trying to wind me up on purpose?

Continuing to mine a rich vein of foolishness, the Guardian drags up raw pieces of unprocessed daftness from the depths every weekday and proceeds to hone and polish them into perfectly crystallized specimens of idiocy. Like this.

Tell Lara I Love Her

I was intrigued enough by the prospect of a new version of Doctor Zhivago to give it a shot last night. British television's resident literary adaptor, Andrew Davies, attempted to put a "new spin" (a phrase I dread) on the novel.

The new version certainly wasn't having anything to do with David Lean's epic sweep or passion - that was a no-no. The only word I could think of to describe it was "needless". The film will be the point of reference for anyone who's seen it, and the pseudo-movie production values offered by television simply don't provide the original's amazing vistas.

That would be okay if the new adaptation had something new to offer, but I'm not sensing it yet. It's early days, so I'll give it a second chance. However, any piece set in revolutionary Russia that has a protester imploring approaching soldiers: "don't be like that!" has a long way to go before getting into my good books. That howler gave me fits of the giggles for the rest of the evening. I was half expecting Lara to start spouting some of Davies's Bridget Jones-isms. Or dismiss Yuri with a quick: "talk to the hand...!"

Sam Neill is excellent, though, putting on a wonderfully hammy performance as Komarovsky. The ever-present twinkle in his eye is an amusing reminder of how pleased Komarovsky is to be boffing the teenage Lara. I was going to say all he needs is a thin moustache to twirl, but I think he's got one already.

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