Punch & Judy politics
1st October, 2004
‘He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. When you gaze into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.’ Friedrich Nietzsche
At the height of the Iraq war last year, shortly before the conquest of Baghdad and the cinema-cliché images of toppling statues, a young activist presented me with a leaflet in London’s Russell Square. The leaflet inveighed against the war and its authors, Bush and Blair, and so my response to it was – and remains – one of sympathy. But I was troubled by the predictable, yet still vicious, insults, the extreme and florid rhetoric, the personal vitriol in place of clear argument. There was a call for ‘resistance’, the nature of which was unspecified but implicitly violent. Even the schlock horror backdrop of bloodstains made me vaguely uneasy.
But the leaflet’s outstanding feature was its sheer lack of balance. Blair and Bush were presented as evil incarnate, while Saddam Hussein escaped the mildest criticism. I put some of these questions to the anti-war activist, who was probably a postgraduate student. He replied that violence was not the issue, but ‘the context of the violence’. Nor was peace the issue, but ‘opposition to capitalism and war’. He was explicit, and laudably honest, about his belief in violent change, and in peace marches as a means...
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