Tuesday, July 19, 2005

In Which I Shirk My Responsibilities And Shamelessly Court Traffic, All At The Same Time

Friends: today I'm pleased to beguile your jaded appetites with something titillatingly new and different (to this venue, anyway): a special guest appearance by author China Miéville, whom you may know from such venues as Lenin Never Shutting Up About Him, as well as interviews like this. The following piece was originally solicited for publication immediately after the London bombings, by a mainstream magazine which Shall Remain Nameless and which for various reasons wasn't able to run the thing after all.

Hence I picked it up for a song, only slightly shopworn, and am able to bring it to you, my beloved regulars, for the low, low price of, well, of your just showing up, really.

Without further ado, then, please give a warm Bionic welcome to Special Guest Star China Miéville! Now go easy on him, friends, he's not used to playing to such a rough crowd.
London is in the grip of an epidemic of idiot non-anecdotes. ‘If I’d got the bus only 20 minutes later,’ you hear. ‘If I’d got off the tube one stop before…’ ‘If I’d got out of bed…’ If you weren’t there, you don’t have a story to tell, and shut the fuck up.

At the soi-disant higher end of culture, journalists and novelists have unleashed their own slightly more sophisticated versions, rapid-response mawkishness designed to prove that they, too, own this atrocity. In the Guardian the day after (‘Hi, Ian? It’s Alan. I know, horrendous tragedy. Can you do us 850 words by 6?’), a Booker-prize winner explained to us that ‘we have been savagely woken from a pleasant dream’. He inserted a point or two of classics-quoting handwringing (‘how much power must we grant Leviathan…?’), but his basic purpose was to tell us that bombs killing civilians in our city were awful. Really. Bad.

And they are. Scores of people have died, and none of them deserved it, and that they were killed is monstrous. I’d like to think that my record of vociferously not-condoning mass-murder would speak for itself on this issue. But I have to prove my moral right to speak by spelling out my horror. Because, like other vulgarians, I think there are reasons, and obvious ones, for what happened, that lie at our own governments’ doors.

It’s a bludgeon in the hands of our rulers, the sense that to emote after a tragedy or an atrocity is appropriate, but that to analyse is tawdry, and disrespectful of the dead. Perhaps there are some who truly believe, or even find bizarre comfort in, the notion that terrorism can be wholly explained by the fact that there are evildoers who are evil: or that those of us who try to explain or make sense of such events support them, absurd as that is. There are also many who deploy those claims as weapons.

Tony Blair took time out from the none-less-surprising G8 betrayal of Africa to issue his I’m-at-the-edge-of-tears-at-this-incomprehensible-nastiness speech, one of the most truly bile-raising spectacles in British political history. Yet he was seen by some as morally weighty, not despite his vapidity but precisely because of it. By contrast, MP George Galloway of the left-wing RESPECT coalition broke parliament’s axis of sanctimony. He followed his savage denunciation of the bombings by pointing out that Londoners were paying the price for Blair’s ferocious wars against innocents. One government minister, in a vividly preposterous metaphor, accused him of ‘dipping his poisonous tongue in a pool of blood’.

Of course there is nothing new in Galloway’s patently sensible analysis. It is the same one reached by our joint intelligence committee in February 2003, that the Iraq action would increase the threat of terrorism in Britain. The New York Times, hardly a stronghold of Bolshevik rage, reasonably pointed out after what I refuse, despite my media’s efforts, to call ‘7/7’, that Blair’s ‘support of the war appears to have cost British lives’. We have yet to see our ministers denounce the secret services or the NYT for their poisoned tongues, pens or keyboards. The crime – the vulgarity, the pissing in church – is not to offer analysis but to do so from the left, even if on details like the causality here we might happen to agree with apparatchiks of the status quo.

I’m a Londoner by upbringing and choice: I love my city, and reeled when it got hit, and was touched by the sympathy of strangers. But it’s not ok that some concerned for me and mine aren’t horrified for Iraqis, for Palestinians, for Afghanis and others. Blair takes time out between his weepings to support and organise these and other less noticed, vastly worse atrocities.

We were all Londoners that day, I’ve heard from around the world, and it’s a kind sentiment, but there are other cities that deserved such solidarity more. We should all be Fallujans. We should all be citizens of Baghdad and Jenin. For the sake of all our dead, we need those who rail against the good taste of politics-free sympathy: who don’t just preach but, in the only serious effort to end mass murder everywhere, explain.

Update: 19/7/05

The above was written 3 or 4 days after the bombings, and I’m glad to say that events are leaving it behind. In fact, the argument that led to Galloway being excoriated is so blatantly, eminently, obviously sensible, that it’s spreading. The carapace of politeness has cracked. Columnists in venues like the Independent and the Guardian have, admirably, refused to kowtow, and have pointed out that British foreign policy is not an irrelevance here. That to make so fucking screamingly obvious a point can be considered ‘brave’ is evidence of the stultifying effect of the Mawk Industry, the struggle against which continues. The government’s efforts to fight this doubleplusbad thoughtcrime look increasingly like a desperate rearguard action. New Labour has to send in its heavy mob (the PM’s spokesperson, Jack Straw, the egregious John Reid on Radio 4) to try to slap down so utterly mainstream a venue as Chatham House – The Royal Institute of International Affairs – for pointing out the incontrovertible connections and causalities here. Their efforts are risible and increasingly incompetent. The government has lost this argument: this morning a Guardian poll has two-thirds of respondents placing some responsibility for the attacks at Blair's door (all those poisoned tongues...). Now you can't move on the blogosphere without bumping into someone pointing that out. And for that triumph of the ability to see the obvious-but-denied, we have in part to thank those who had the bad taste to demand thought, and answers, rather than content-free homilies.
Update: Here is part two of the excellent Long Sunday interview linked above.

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