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The Left is onside with hate

WHY is it, asks British journalist Nick Cohen, that apologies for a militant Islam, which stands for everything the liberal Left is against, come from the liberal Left? Why are you as likely to read about the alleged conspiracy of Jews controlling American foreign policy in a literary journal as in a neo-Nazi hate sheet? Why, after the bomb attacks in the London underground, did left-leaning British newspapers run pieces excusing the suicide bombers, these same young men who were motivated by "a psychopathic theology from the ultra-Right"?

Why, in short, have Left and Right changed places? Nick Cohen is not the first to write about the unholy alliance between Western liberals and extreme right Islamic fundamentalists, but he does it in a particular and powerful way in his new book What's Left? How Liberals Lost Their Way.

The book is not available yet in Australia (there are extracts of it on The Observer's website), but in Britain it is already one of the most discussed books of the new year. "At the very least it forces, or ought to force, anyone on the Left to think carefully about where their movement has ended up in the modern world," wrote Martin Kettle in The Guardian.

Cohen is firmly of the Left. When he was 13, he was shocked to find out that his English teacher, who "gave every appearance of being a kind and thoughtful man", voted Conservative. "I must have understood at some level that real Conservatives lived in Britain - there was a Conservative government at the time, so logic dictated that there had to be Conservative voters. But it was incredible to learn that my teacher was one of them," he wrote. "To be good you had to be on the Left."

The Left still claims the moral high ground, but it is rather harder these days to see that it still holds it. Yes, those who opposed the Iraq war are entitled to feel vindicated. But wouldn't you think leftist commentators could put aside their self-righteousness long enough to support the Iraqis who are trying to build a free and democratic society? The anti-war movement disgraced itself not because it was against the war in Iraq, but because it could not oppose the counter-revolution once the war was over, wrote Cohen. "A principled Left that still had life in it and a liberalism that meant what it said might have remained ferociously critical of the American and British (and I could add, Australian) governments while offering support to Iraqis who wanted the freedoms they enjoyed," he said.

When there is - rightly - condemnation of America's many mistakes in Iraq but no condemnation of the terrorist outrages carried out by Islamic extremists; when there is - justified - criticism of Israel but no equal criticism of those whose stated aim is to wipe Israel off the face of the earth; when letters to the editor pour out compassion for one Australian held too long in custody, but there is nary a mention of the victims of a genocide that is going on right now in the Darfur region of Sudan, one suspects at best selective compassion, at worst, bad faith. One suspects that indignation over human rights abuses depends less on the extent of the abuse and more on who is doing the abusing.

I too pity David Hicks. I wish the US would either properly charge and try him or release him. If he is being chained to the floor, as his lawyer says (a US military lawyer says he is not), this is disgraceful. But to compare an American prison - in which there is reportedly a problem with prisoners becoming overweight - to a "Nazi death camp"?

There is something strange going on in the attempts to diminish the unique horror of the Holocaust.

There is something strange in attempts to establish a sinister connection between Jews and American power. There is something very murky going on when in certain left-wing circles it is quite safe to compare Jews to Nazis.

Why is scarcely a word spoken by liberal commentators about the treatment of women under the Taliban rule - child marriages, stonings, absolute exclusion from public life - that Hicks wanted to fight to uphold?

Why are Muslim feminists derided as apologists for imperialism, or "neocons"? How in the world did the Left allow feminism to be hijacked by the Right, when it was always the Left that fought for women's liberation and the Right that resisted it?

Of course what it means to be part of the Left is much less clear these days. Most people are left on some issues and right on others. But it is not valid either to say these attitudes belong to only an extreme fringe. To greater or lesser degrees they are prevalent in mainstream liberal thinking.

The Left used to be about the future and improving the lot of mankind. The problem for it today, as Cohen points out, is that it has got most of what it wanted. Although there is still a way to go, the Left of a century ago would see the prosperity of today's workers, the equal opportunity laws, the intellectual freedoms, as a paradise. It is harder today to see yourself as a victim of a pernicious system.

So the Left now is about resistance to material progress, to globalisation, and most of all to American power. There is plenty to criticise about Western lifestyles. Still, it should be obvious to all but the most blinkered that the system the US wants to impose on the Middle East is far better than the system the Islamists want to impose on us. Democracy is at least self-correcting. I hope the wearers of the "George Bush, World's No.1 terrorist" T-shirts, never have to find that out.

Pamela Bone is a Melbourne writer. Her book about cancer and war, Bad Hair Days, will be published this year by Melbourne University Press.

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While the Far-Left "super-sophisticates" deplore and deride the basic principles that generations believed in, they have exchanged their brains and lost their common sense. They are out of touch as evidenced by the general population that votes with their feet and moves to free countries. The Left is now in bed with the Left-Out...they've been left out of commonsense, morality, decency, and intelligence. Unfortunately, they are dangerous , regardless of their stupidity.

Posted on 2007-02-01 02:22:57 GMT