Thursday 5 July 2007

The delusions of Seumas Milne

Anyone searching for an explanation of why the comment pages of the liberal Guardian are regularly given over to apologists for illiberal opinions, particularly Islamism, need look no further than the identity of the man who edits those pages: Seumas Milne.

In today's Guardian, Milne gives himself a column - headed 'Denial of the link with Iraq is delusional and dangerous' - in which to insist that, despite growing evidence to the contrary, Islamist terror attacks in the UK are not the product of a twisted cult driven by an authoritarian religio-political ideology, but (you guessed it) simply the blowback from British foreign policy.

There's so much to quarrel with in Milne's contentious article (and I'm sure others will provide a more detailed critique), but here are a few points for starters. I find Milne's sneering at repentant former Islamists such as Ed Husain (whom he insultingly labels 'a British neocon pinup boy') and Hassan Butt deeply patronising and (like much leftist-apologist talk) ironically reminiscent of the very colonialist thinking he claims to oppose. It seems it's OK for minorities to express their views, as long as they tally with leftist orthodoxy: if they don't, it must be a case of manipulation by the white establishment. Heaven forbid that they might have opinions of their own, or that their direct experience of Islamist extremism might have some value. I hesitate to describe this approach as indirectly racist, though others might not be so cautious.

Then there's the peculiar assumption in Milne's piece that any opposition to Islamism must be driven by neoconservatism. Like many of his ilk, Milne can't accept that there might, just possibly, be a legitimate liberal-left critique of clerical fascism. Finally, Milne lends support to the latest argument from the apologist school of thought: that the best defence against terrorism is to support so-called 'moderate' - or what he terms 'mainstream' - Islamist groups against their wackier fellow-fundamentalists. Leave aside the question of whether a totalitarian ideology aiming at world domination can ever be described as 'moderate': Milne's argument (like that of Alastair Crooke with regard to Hamas) represents an appalling loss of nerve by some on the Left. It's a tacit admission that there's no hope of establishing secular, progressive democracies in the Arab and Muslim worlds, or of such values taking root among 'Muslim' populations in western countries, so there's no point continuing to promote them.

But I think this cosying up to so-called 'moderate' Islamism is also a sign of the continuing fascination that many former far-Leftists (of whom Milne is one: see this profile of him at Harry's Place) have for the glamorous 'Other' of political Islam.

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