Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Unsettling viewing

Two good pieces of separate viewing yesterday which come together: first, how did I miss The Power of Nightmares the first time around? Second, some dubious points about George Galloway on last night’s Newsnight which raise questions.

The Power of Nightmares is a three-part series shown last year (transcript of first part is here). It looks at the way fear has been hyped up in America and in the Middle East and the need to exploit it to deliver the change demanded by both neo-conservatives and Islamic extremists. Fascinating stuff, with both sides drawing on the failure and consequences of liberal values and practices and the unquestioning belief that they are right.

Comparing them to each other recalls the comments often made of the Nazis and Stalinists: they might have hated each other, but they have more in common than they realise. So to with the neo-cons and Islamic extremists: both believe their values are right and any action is justified, whether it be killing non-Muslims or claiming that a lack of evidence means something far more nefarious is happening.

As a side observation, the only troubling aspect was the relative portrayal of Kissinger as a moderate. Being a pragmatist the narrator seemed to suggest that one of America’s most dubious foreign secretaries was seeking accommodation with the Soviets in the 1970s.

Right, that includes turning a blind eye to the Chilean coup, the illegal bombing of Cambodia, the ratcheting up of the Vietnam War as a prelude to disengagement.


Regarding the Newsnight piece, I don’t know who he was, but a disaffected Labour voter was searching for someone to vote. I’m afraid when he interviewed the Lib Dems they were portrayed as political opportunists: Lembit Opik playing it simply, seeking to entice him by spewing out Focus headlines and Mark Oaten revealing the inner thinking of the party over the public-private sector.

As for Galloway, he left the interviewer uneasy. He argued that the Iraqi resistance was justified because it was fighting an occupying power (the Americans), which he saw as morally equivalent to the Nazis. It’s a shame the logic of his argument wasn’t pursued further. When asked he said that all British people would have joined the resistance against Hitler had the country been invaded in 1940; he didn’t say whether that resistance would have been justified in attacking its own citizens who might have opted to work for the police, schools, hospitals, etc.

Even if it was hypothetical the interviewer failed to press him on whether it was acceptable for the French resistance to attack not only Vichy leaders but also those who worked for the Germans during the occupation. OK, it wasn’t entirely relevant to whether or not to vote for Galloway, but it would be interesting to have heard his argument.

Gorgeous George is supposed to be in my neck of the woods next week: as a Parliamentary candidate, he's going to be sppeaking about saving our fire engine (I think) in Bethnal Green - perhaps I might get a chance to say a few words?

Ultimately though, what I was left with by both programmes was why I’m always wary of people who claim they have the answer – whether they are religious or political (and that includes Galloway as well as Bush). All this certainty and lack of fuzziness probably shows why I’m a sceptic by nature.

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