Sunday, October 15, 2006

Implacable Al-Queda and Amoral America

Salman Rushdie interviewed in The Independent.

"If tomorrow the Israel/Palestine issue was resolved to the total happiness of all parties, it would not diminish the amount of terrorism coming out of al-Qa'ida by one jot. It's not what they're after," he adds, his foot tapping against mine as he leans forward. "Yes, it's a recruiting tool, rhetorically. Many people see there's an injustice there, and it helps them to get people into the gang, but it's not what they want. What they want is to change the nature of human life on earth into the image of the Taliban. If you want the whole earth to look like Taliban Afghanistan, then you're on the same side as them. If you don't want that, you're not. They do not represent the quest for human justice. That, I think, is one of the great mistakes of the left."

"When people ask me how the West should adapt to Muslim sensitivities, I always say - the question is the wrong way round. The West should go on being itself. There is nothing wrong with the things that for hundreds of years have been acceptable - satire, irreverence, ridicule, even quite rude commentary - why the hell not? "

"But you see it every day, this surrender," he says. He runs through a list of the theatres and galleries that have censored themselves in the face of religious fundamentalist protests. He mentions that the entire British media - from the BBC down - placed itself in purdah during the Mohammed cartoons episode. "What I fear most is that, when we look back in 25 years' time at this moment, what we will have seen is the surrender of the West, without a shot being fired. They'll say that in the name of tolerance and acceptance, we tied our own hands and slit our own throats. One of the things that have made me live my entire life in these countries is because I love the way people live here."
That is very good. However, I am less enthusiastic about this:
And he has another blast at Blair: looking to the United States as our anti-Islamist saviour is, he explains, a "terrible mistake. America, like all superpowers, uses only the criterion of self-interest. That's the way in which a superpower operates, whether it's the Soviet Union or the United States. The criterion is what serves the interests of the power. When that coincides with what we call liberal democratic values then, yeah, it will be on that side. But superpowers of every stripe have a history of installing puppets which will serve their interests. Whether it's in Nicaragua, or the Shah of Iran. You can't look to a superpower as a moral arbiter, because its job is not morality. Its job is the preservation of its sphere of influence."
He then recounts that he has met Paul Wolfowitz, who was intelligent and charming, but ...
... false idealism, as we know from Graham Greene, can be fantastically self-destructive." So Wolfowitz, a former Deputy Secretary of Defense, is Alden Pyle, the Quiet American, wreaking havoc in the name of righteousness? "Yes. I do think that someone in the name of virtue can do terrible damage, for entirely virtuous reasons. But I've never seen great power as having a moral dimension." Just after we meet, it is estimated by The Lancet that 650,000 Iraqis have been killed due to Quiet Americans (and Brits).
1. No state power is a 'moral arbiter', whether super or simpering. The fact is, however, that America's self-interest is far more in line with our self-interest than any other power. (By 'our', I mean us as a country and us as individuals.) Which ally does he choose then? France? Russia? China? Or should we strike out alone and take up an "ethical foreign policy"? To do what exactly?

2. As an excellent illustration of why intellectuals should never be allowed more than dinner-party-contact with power, that "as we know from Graham Greene" cannot be bettered. We don't need Alden Pyle, Salman, to teach us that "someone in the name of virtue can do terrible damage, for entirely virtuous reasons". The various Mohammads doing explosive splits in crowded places for the glory of Allah is a full-colour real-body-parts lesson that is constantly with us.

3. The Independent touch. "650,000 Iraqis killed due to Quiet Americans." What are you supposed to do with figures like those that The Lancet produced and The Independent shoves in here? They can't be confirmed or contradicted. If you were against the war, you can mount the moral high horse and shout about murderers of mothers and babies. But surely you can do that if only 10 have died. Does it mean we should withdraw now before any more die? But then all those that die in the ensuing chaos will be our fault too. Based on other civil wars, should we extrapolate the likely number of deaths,make a comparison and then decide? Stay = 2.2 million. Go = 2 million. Hang it! Let's go and save the lives of 200,000 people!

No comments: