Tuesday, July 24, 2007
As you can see, I come not to praise Johann Hari but to demonise him. A few people have drawn my attention to this weird segment in Hari's latest for Dissent:
One of the most popular left-wing blogs in Britain, Lenin's Tomb, goes further, viciously scorning Muslims who fight back against Islamic fundamentalism. Even though it is written by an atheist writer who enjoys alcohol, female company and free speech, it has ridiculed Muslim women who attend freedom of speech rallies as "Uncle Toms", and condemned Muslims who have "comfortable upper-middle class" lives because they aren't "interested in subjecting [themselves] to the ascetic demands of religion." Cohen's thesis applies with laser-accuracy to these parts of the left, and it is here that his critique is most powerful: they have indeed become reflexive defenders of the far right. Against this, Cohen quotes the Iranian author Azar Nafisi: "I very much resent it when people - maybe with good intentions or from a progressive point of view - keep telling me, 'It's their culture'... It's like saying the culture of Massachucets is burning witches." Again, he exaggerates the extent to which these thoughts are part of the mainstream left. But this error is as nothing to the pro-war left's final and most disastrous reading of all.
The last time I was referenced in a mainstream US magazine, it was obliquely in Ian Parker's exceptional eulogy to Christopher Hitchens for The New Yorker. And the last time I was so misconstrued was when the unhinged son of the Hoares decided to paint me as a supporter of Slobodan Milosevic. It isn't all that worrying that I didn't say the things that Johann Hari thinks I said. Who doesn't sometimes get that treatment? Practically everyone else who is referenced in the article is dealt with in a similarly unfair fashion (and more generally, I can count Negri, Derrida and Hobsbawm among my companions). And it isn't as if that is the part of his article that I disagree with most. However, bloggery is narcissism or it is nothing, so I will take the trouble to direct readers of that infidel magazine to the small matters of fact in this small case.
I don't viciously scorn Muslims who fight back against "Islamic fundamentalism", because that can be a very good thing to do. I do viciously scorn all those who misrepresent and vilify Islam in the service of imperialism, because that is a bad and wicked thing to do. I don't condemn Muslims who live comfortable upper middle class lives and aren't interested in the ascetic demands of religion. I mentioned in this post about the neocon American Islamic Congress that one member of it was probably of that ilk, but I did not and do not think that being in that position merits special criticism. What I did think at the time, and what I still think now, is that "being determines consciousness", and that one's class perspective is likely to regulate one's political purview. I don't describe women who attend freedom of speech rallies as "Uncle Toms". This was probably passed on to Hari by his friend, 'Dave', who sometimes comments here. In the comments to the post about that so-called 'March for Free Expression', I was asked to comment about a speaker named 'Ali', who is in fact a man (the gender fabrication is symptomatic). He was well received because the rally was designed to appease racism. I retorted: "it's always good to have an Uncle Tom present, so I don't doubt he got good cheers". The worst thing about that sentence was the offense against the English language. The BNP Nazis and right-wing libertarians in the crowd would certainly have appreciated 'One Of Them' coming out and abetting the charge that Muslims are the principal threat to liberty and free speech. Such was the theme of the march, and such were its politics. At any rate, 'Dave' took this to mean that I consider all Muslims who demand free speech "Uncle Toms" (hence the pluralisation). Hari is quoting 'Dave' and not me. On such insignificant fluff was a paragraph of piffle built: the inference that I think 'It's their culture' is clearly nonsense. That essentialising, culturalist gesture is more likely to be found among Hari's friends on the 'pro-war left' than it is on this blog. Hari could do himself a favour and read what one of his favourite authors, Sam Harris, has to say on the topic. Or indeed, he could inspect Hitchens' latest.
Anyway, to be sullied in a magazine that has migrated from Cold War liberalism to Hot War liberalism is no particular dishonour. But you might ask, and you would justified in asking, as the Black Eyed Peas once did so gracefully, where is the love?