The happiness I felt when I read this little dialogue of Paul Berman’s – in Dissent no less – caused me to dance around the room festooning my office gaily. Perhaps now the vile film of self-deception will be cast from all afflicted eyes, or at least one or two:
- A friend leaned across a bar and said, “You call the war in Iraq an antifascist war. You even call it a left-wing war-a war of liberation. That language of yours! And yet, on the left, not too many people agree with you.”
….And why do you suppose that is?”
….”The left doesn’t see because .. George W. Bush is an unusually repulsive politician, except to his own followers, and people are blinded by the revulsion they feel. And, in their blindness, they cannot identify the main contours of reality right now. They peer at Iraq and see the smirking face of George W. Bush. They even feel a kind of schadenfreude or satisfaction at his errors and failures. This is a modern, television-age example of what used to be called ‘false consciousness.'”
..”The left doesn’t see because a lot of otherwise intelligent people have decided, a priori, that all the big problems around the world stem from America. Even the problems that don’t. This is an attitude that, sixty years ago, would have prevented those same people from making sense of the fascists of Europe, too.”
..”Another reason: a lot of people suppose that any sort of anticolonial movement must be admirable or, at least, acceptable. Or they think that, at minimum, we shouldn’t do more than tut-tut-even in the case of a movement that, like the Baath Party, was founded under a Nazi influence. In 1943, no less!”
..”The left doesn’t see because a lot of people, in their good-hearted effort to respect cultural differences, have concluded that Arabs must for inscrutable reasons of their own like to live under grotesque dictatorships and are not really capable of anything else, or won’t be ready to do so for another five hundred years, and Arab liberals should be regarded as somehow inauthentic. Which is to say, a lot of people, swept along by their own high-minded principles of cultural tolerance, have ended up clinging to attitudes that can only be regarded as racist against Arabs.
“The old-fashioned left used to be universalist-used to think that everyone, all over the world, would some day want to live according to the same fundamental values, and ought to be helped to do so. They thought this was especially true for people in reasonably modern societies with universities, industries, and a sophisticated bureaucracy-societies like the one in Iraq. But no more! Today, people say, out of a spirit of egalitarian tolerance: Social democracy for Swedes! Tyranny for Arabs! And this is supposed to be a left-wing attitude?
….”Another reason: A lot of people honestly believe that Israel’s problems with the Palestinians represent something more than a miserable dispute over borders and recognition-that Israel’s problems represent something huger, a uniquely diabolical aspect of Zionism, which explains the rage and humiliation felt by Muslims from Morocco to Indonesia. Which is to say, a lot of people have succumbed to anti-Semitic fantasies about the cosmic quality of Jewish crime and cannot get their minds to think about anything else.
“I mean, look at the discussions that go on even among people who call themselves the democratic left, the good left-a relentless harping on the sins of Israel, an obsessive harping, with very little said about the fascist-influenced movements that have caused hundreds of thousands and even millions of deaths in other parts of the Muslim world. The distortions are wild, if you stop to think about them.
….”The left doesn’t see because a lot of people are, in any case, willfully blind to anti-Semitism in other cultures. They cannot get themselves to recognize the degree to which Nazi-like doctrines about the supernatural quality of Jewish evil have influenced mass political movements across large swaths of the world. It is 1943 right now in huge portions of the world-and people don’t see it. And so, people simply cannot detect the fascist nature of all kinds of mass movements and political parties. In the Muslim world, especially.”
….”And yet,” I insisted, “if good-hearted people like you would only open your left-wing eyes, you would see clearly enough that the Baath Party is very nearly a classic fascist movement, and so is the radical Islamist movement, in a somewhat different fashion-two strands of a single impulse, which happens to be Europe’s fascist and totalitarian legacy to the modern Muslim world. If only people like you would wake up, you would see that war against the radical Islamist and Baathist movements, in Afghanistan exactly as in Iraq, is war against fascism.”
“What a tragedy that you don’t see this! It’s a tragedy for the Afghanis and the Iraqis, who need more help than they are receiving. A tragedy for the genuine liberals all over the Muslim world! A tragedy for the American soldiers, the British, the Poles and every one else who has gone to Iraq lately, the nongovernmental organization volunteers and the occupying forces from abroad, who have to struggle on bitterly against the worst kind of nihilists, and have been getting damn little support or even moral solidarity from people who describe themselves as antifascists in the world’s richest and fattest neighborhoods.
….My friend said, “I’m for the UN and international law, and I think you’ve become a traitor to the left. A neocon!”
I said, “I’m for overthrowing tyrants, and since when did overthrowing fascism become treason to the left?”
“But isn’t George Bush himself a fascist, more or less? I mean-admit it!”
My own eyes widened. “You haven’t the foggiest idea what fascism is,” I said. “I always figured that a keen awareness of extreme oppression was the deepest trait of a left-wing heart. Mass graves, three hundred thousand missing Iraqis, a population crushed by thirty-five years of Baathist boots stomping on their faces-that is what fascism means! And you think that a few corrupt insider contracts with Bush’s cronies at Halliburton and a bit of retrograde Bible-thumping and Bush’s ridiculous tax cuts and his bonanzas for the super-rich are indistinguishable from that?-indistinguishable from fascism? From a politics of slaughter? Leftism is supposed to be a reality principle. Leftism is supposed to embody an ability to take in the big picture. The traitor to the left is you, my friend . . .”
My God, what a thing of beauty! “Yes,” I shouted over and over again as I read, frightening birds outside my window. “Yes! the big picture! George W. Bush isn’t the issue! Tears of joy stained my cheeks – THIS is why I support the war on terror and the invasion of Iraq.
“FUCK WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION,” I screamed gleefully out the front door, causing the mail carrier to hasten her step across the tundra, casting a furtive glance in my direction as she sped off in her little mail buggy.
Paul Berman – my kind of pinko. Okay, I’m done now.