Soon I had these two lives. I became very active in the anti-war movement, which was burgeoning in the United States. And I was very active in supporting the emerging Palestinian Resistance Movement. I passed through the Nationalist Palestinian groups and I ended up in the Marxist one. All of this happened very rapidly. Within a span of a year I became a Marxist and was attracted to Trotskyist politics. The great influence on me was Emmanuel Farjoun, a member of the Israeli Socialist Organisation, Matzpen. He was also a student at MIT, much older than I. He had enjoyed a socialist training from day dot having grown up in a left socialist kibbutz. It was a revelation for me to meet an Israeli who was critical of his own society. He explained a) basic socialist principles which, of course, were completely new to me, and b) the nature of Israeli society, which was also a revelation for me. We became very, very close friends, almost brothers, for the next twenty-five years. (We fell out over the Iraq war but that's another story. That's sad, very sad.)This part in particular I think interesting in terms of the sense of betrayal:
I started to soak up books and I became active in the Socialist Workers' Party, the American section of the (Trotskyist) 4th International. I moved to Britain in 1974 and I became active in the International Marxist Group (IMG). I recall there was a Lebanese Trotskyist organisation, remnants of an Iraqi Trotskyist organisation, and some Egyptian and Tunisian Trotskyists. I spent a lot of time in those countries meeting those people, going backwards and forwards to Lebanon. I was a full time political activist.
. . .
The Lebanese civil war broke out in 1975 between the so-called 'progressive' and 'reactionary' forces. That's how we tended to view it. There were those who were on the side of the class struggle and those who were against. But that form of classification was really at odds with the way the war was unfolding. Sectarian and communitarian tensions were at work in the so-called 'left' front of forces, which was really nationalist and radical-nationalist and sometimes capable of the same sorts of atrocities as the Christian forces, or 'reactionary' forces as we insisted on calling them.
The left insisted it was not a sectarian war. That was troubling to me but I had no other set of categories. In fact, the Palestinians were now behaving very badly, like little Mafia's inside Lebanon. I used to write in the journal called Khamsin, which was a journal of Middle Eastern socialist revolutionaries, edited by Moshe Machover in those days. And there were Arabs involved, like the Syrian philosopher Sadiq al-Azm, and others. I used to write articles critical of the Palestinians, even though I was basically working with them. I wrote under a pseudonym, Muhammad Ja'far, in those days. A tension was building up between the way the Middle Eastern world was, to my eyes, and the way our categories described it. The two didn't match.
. . .
I stayed in this contradictory position for three or four years, until the Iranian revolution. My wife was an Iranian and a student at Harvard. She had quit and joined revolutionary politics. The line of the 4th International was that the Iranian revolution was a progressive thing. We were all supposed to think that. Everyone was working against the Shah and his secret police. But, as the clerics became stronger and stronger, even before the revolution itself, I started to become deeply critical. My wife had returned to Iran and was fighting the good fight from inside Iran. So, was my criticism based on personal impulses? Maybe I thought I had lost this person that I loved. Maybe that was driving me. Or maybe it was just a political assessment of the situation. Probably the biggest lesson you can learn in politics is that you can never completely separate these two things. It's better to be frank and recognise this. Anyway, I launched a big criticism of the Iranian revolution at a time when the left was celebrating it as one in a long line of great historic revolutions.
My wife returned broken. The left had been smashed. The Iran-Iraq war broke out. Our former comrades were being imprisoned or killed in Iran. We both left organised Trotskyist politics around that time on the issue of the Iraq-Iran war. The left was saying it was a war with a good side and a bad side. We were saying a plague on both your houses because this is an ugly, nasty war that is not going to lead to progress for anyone, so victory for either side would be a step backward.
The European SilencePerhaps he did not leave his ideals and beliefs, but that those he thought share the same in actuallity did not. Who betrayed who?
Alan Johnson: The western left has responsibilities here. When the left shouts that 'Bush is engaged in a war on Muslims' it isn't just factually wrong. It's politically dangerous. It echoes the message of the Salafi or Jihadi groups, it boosts them, and it leaves the Muslim democrats and reformers isolated from a left that should be its natural ally.
Kanan Makiya: You're right. And Alan, I'd go even further. It's not just the left. People like myself, those of us who went into Iraq after April and March 2003 as part of the effort to transform this country, have felt betrayed by Europe as a whole. We were attacked by the media of all the surrounding countries, countries utterly hostile to the sort of values on which Europe rests. Satellite stations distorted what was going on. The silence in Europe at that moment gave enormous sustenance to all those forces struggling against the transformation of Iraq. It enabled the Jihadis, the Ba'athists, the extreme Arab nationalists, and the Arab regimes, to say 'Look at the hostility of Europe to what the United States has done!' Europe made it possible to isolate not just the United States but everything that is represented by the west. Europe gave strength to the argument that it was a traditional colonist land grab or oil grab, which was nonsense, of course.
I would say that much of the strength of the hostility of the Jihadi movement, and of the forces that have made life so horrible in Iraq, came from the silence of Europe. Europe has a lot to answer for. It's not even that it was half-hearted. They fell in completely with the language of the non-democratic Arab regimes. They bought their line and they seemed to stand for the same things. They undermined entirely the values of the operation. Europeans knew that the United States was not going to permanently occupy Iraq. Deep down the smarter Europeans must have known it wasn't just about oil. It was - rightly or wrongly - a way of changing the traditional western attitude towards the Arab Muslim world. It was an end to the support for autocratic and repressive governments. It was a new view that if we are going to succeed in this war against terror then we are going to have to be viewed by the populations of this part of the world in a totally different way. Now Europe might not have thought it was the right time. Europe might have thought it should be done differently. But Europe should never have been seen to be undermining the argument itself.
Europe was justifying and supporting the foundations on which these repressive regimes stood. It had acquiesced so fully in that relativist language it had no views of its own that it thought could be shared. More: it looked racist because it looked like the democratic values it enjoyed were not possible for Arabs and Muslims to enjoy. All of a sudden the shoe was on the other foot entirely. It was not the Americans who were the imperialists or racists. It was the Europeans who, by sitting back, were saying 'you Arabs and you Muslims really can't do any better than this, so why mess around with this thing in the first place?'
The Arab Silence
Alan Johnson: Alongside this European silence, you have written about an Arab silence. A gulf opened up between Iraq and the Arab world in 1991. What caused this gulf?
Kanan Makiya: In a nutshell it was a gulf between Iraqis, who began basing their politics on their own experience of tyranny, and the Arab world, which carried on thinking politics amounted to the Palestinian question, the national question as it was called. It was not that we Iraqis didn't think Palestinians needed rights, a state, and so on. We totally support that. But we had a huge problem of our own. Deep down, the debate between Edward Said and myself was about that tension inside Arab politics.
Iraqi people are angry that for the last three years the Arab world has not supported them. In fact the Arab world seems to support the terrorists, in the name of 'Arab solidarity' or 'Arab unity'. There is a real fury about this. Take the case of the Jordanian suicide bomber, Raed Mansour al-Banna , who killed 125 Iraqis in Hilla when he blew himself up on 28 February 2005. When his body was flown to Jordan instead of a funeral there was a party, a giant celebration of the hero's return! They said he had sacrificed himself for God and for the holy struggle against the Americans. This was not organised by the family itself. Often, as in the Palestinian case, families of suicide bombers are forced into these things. They want to mourn the young man who was their son. Instead they are forced by the organisation around them to treat it as a wonderful thing and a great sacrifice. They are kissed and told that they are so fortunate their son is now in Paradise. When Iraqis heard about this Jordanian celebration there was such a popular fury! The Jordanian government had to officially apologise. And, to show you the worlds of ignorance we live in here, the parents of the suicide bomber asked reporters, 'didn't he kill Americans?' The reporters informed the parents, 'No, actually it was 120 Iraqis who were killed'. Again we have the gulf between rhetoric and reality that was at the heart of Cruelty and Silence.
And in a related item from Corbusier:
For those of you who are interested in getting a better sense of how a describe myself, let's just say that I would definitely enjoy hanging out with Mark Gauvreau Judge. He explains in detail what defines a 'metrocon', a label he uses to describe his dedication to conservative philosophy and his rejection of rural 'redneck' culture commonly associated with such beliefs. Among most conservative voters, people like Judge, the staff at the National Review and I are but a tiny minority. In spite of all my courteous efforts in reaching out to the traditional people of small towns, whether farmers, ranchers, and even a majority of suburbanites, there somehow arises an impermeable barrier of real understanding.
On a cultural level, I identify far more with eclectic people who live in cities. It is much easier for me to get to know and understand deeply a person coming from countries thousands of miles away than my next door neighbor in semi-rural surburban Texas. I love getting to know immigrants, and I frequent their restaurants, observing their social mores more closely than many of my own relatives. I've never truly reveled in any kind of folk culture nor have I ever cared to idealize the virtues of the pastoral life. That does not mean I ignore these important aspects of life, but that I engage them from the point of view of an outside observer studying the phenomena of 'folk life'. It's similar to the way I watch television: I will view some sitcoms and reality shows not as entertainment for its own sake, but as a window into popular culture that somehow I stand slightly apart from.
Like all "movements" there are a variety of participants. Within the conservative movement there are those who were born and raised in it, never giving much thoughts to it otherwise. Others come to choose it through reason and deduction, some having to make a 180-degree change to do so; others progress in a more evolutionary pathway. I believe that those who choose it are more in keeping with the "metrocon" moniker he prescribed.