Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Salman Rushdie represents the best the Left has to offer: talented, erudite, calm, utterly principled. And wrong.

In today's Herald, Rushdie conjures a scenario of rising Arab hatred if the US pounds Iraq. The starting point is the usual charge of unilateralism:
However, during the past year, the Bush Administration has made a string of foreign policy miscalculations and the State Department conference must acknowledge this. After the brief flirtation with consensus-building during the Afghan operation, the brazen return to unilateralism has angered even its natural allies.

Note the use of "brazen", as if the US is somehow the only country not allowed to pursue their own interests. It's not clear who Rushdie want the US to team up with. The Germans have demanded to be consulted, while in the same breath saying they will never ever agree to an attack. Consulted about what precisely? And who are the US's "natural allies". The starting point would be the Anglosphere, which seems to be pretty much behind Bush.

Rushdie is a little confused in his own article at times. Contrast this swipe at the Guardian:
Anti-Americanism can be mere shallow name-calling.

with his own shorthand:
In the year's major crisis zones, the Bushies have been getting things badly wrong.

"Bushies", Salman?

There's some interesting takes on recent history:
A Security Council source says the reason for the lamentable inaction of the UN during the recent Kashmir crisis was that the US (with Russian backing) blocked all attempts by member states to mandate the UN to act.

Nothing to back it up, and bugger-all in the news about it. If there's anything I missed, email away. But the main point is this: …. nothing happened in Kashmir. India and Pakistan went to the wall, armed to their nuclear back teeth and with command-and-control systems that work like a Marx Brothers flick ….. and nothing happened. It was the classic doomsday scenario, and they backed off. There is no evidence whatsoever to suspect the UN would have improved the situation, if it could be improved further than … nothing happening. A successful outcome in Kashmir is denounced as insufficient for no other reason than a lack of UN involvement. Rushdie must have been heartbroken by Kosovo, especially when compared to UN success stories like, say, Lebanon.

Rushdie rightly condemns the disgraceful record of US citizens in supporting the IRA, and the failure (until this Administration) to halt the money flow. He is worried about Hindu extremist violence in India, but seems to be confused about who is responsible:
shadowy bodies across the US are helping to pay for mass murder in India while the US Government turns a blind eye. Again, the supposedly high-principled rhetoric of the "war against terrorism" is being made to look like a smokescreen for a highly selective pursuit of US vendettas. Apparently Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein are terrorists who matter; Hindu fanatics and Kashmiri killers aren't. This double standard makes enemies.

This is a well-worn rhetorical trick: A is bad, B is worse, but you can only deal with both, not one at a time. There is a distinction between the two groups. Osama Bin Laden has exported his mass murder to the US homeland, and any state is entitled to defend itself. Saddam Hussein is a murderous thug who has repeatedly exported his imperial ambition onto his neighbours yard, and is known to be building weapons that can only be used to threaten mass civilian populations. Hindu fanatics and Kashmiri killers, to put it bluntly, stay home. They are not the immediate, or even long range concern, of the US. There is no double standard, unless this is a call to see the US cease any and all aid or support to any and all countries that have home-grown terrorists.

Next is the requisite suicide bombing condemnation:
Of course the suicide bombings are vile

you can hear it coming, can't you?
but, until the US persuades Israel to make a lasting settlement with the Palestinians, anti-US feeling will continue to rise

Here he is assuming there is a solution that will satisfy every Palestinian zealot with a grudge, that does not include the effective annihilation of Israel. Would he support tying a Kashmir solution to the Middle East?

What does Rushdie fear from an attack on Iraq?
the result may well be the creation of that united Islamic force which was bin Laden's dream.
Saudi Arabia would almost certainly feel obliged to expel US forces from its soil (thus capitulating to one of bin Laden's main demands). Iran - which recently fought a long, brutal war against Iraq - would surely support its erstwhile enemy and may even come into the conflict on the Iraqi side.

Saudi supports terrorism, so Rushdie should be pleased the US will stop guaranteeing their survival. Incidentally, US troops are there to protect them against Iraq; eliminate the threat, and the US will leave by itself. My bet is that without the Iraqi external threat, the Saudis will shit themselves when they realise they cannot control their own population. Iran is not going to take sides against the US, who can squash them, to support a Sunni regime that killed a million of their citizens. The increasingly informed Iranian population will not stand for it.

Here's the really interesting quote:
The entire Arab world would be radicalised and destabilised. What a disastrous twist of fate it would be if the feared Islamic jihad were brought into being not by the al-Qaeda gang but by the President of the US and his close advisers.

This points out the yawning gap in Rushdie's arguments: Afghanistan. For reasons known only to himself, Rushdie does not think an article about "the year's major crisis zones" needs to mention Afghanistan.

This most Islamic of Islamic countries was conquered swiftly, at a civilian cost less than half of what the Taliban were executing every month. Is the entire Arab world radicalised? Destabilised? Was the UN behind the regime change?

For a writer who owes his very life to continuing protection by Western liberal states, Rushdie is remarkably silent on the need to rid the world of fanatical theocracies and dictatorships. His own experiences at the hand of right-wing religious assassins does not seem to have left him much sympathy for victims unable to command his level of public protection.

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