Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Intercepted Mail (Part 2)

Tuesday, 26 November 2002

In the present situation, popular culture is firmly on the side of the Prime Minister's view: in its hunt for suitable villains after the end of the cold war, Hollywood quickly settled on terrorists of various stripes as suitably evil targets for Arnie and Bruce and Harrison. This is very different from the situation in Europe in the 1930s: Hitler's anti-semitism was a virulent thing, but there was also a widespread "respectable" form of anti-Semitism (reflected in the popular fiction of the time) not just in Germany, but in other societies, including England. As well as the appeasers who thought that Hitler might just go away if ignored, there were plenty of English writers at the time who felt that generally speaking, he had the right idea. Even his anti-semitism was considered basically sound, if a little extreme.

There is a parallel with the current situation and it's an unpleasant one: the War on Terrorism is breeding a climate of popular prejudice where our attention is so focused on our hatred of our enemy that we might ignore the murderous fanatics on our side, who are equally contemptuous of the liberal democratic open life of Western nations. Some of our chauvinists are already headed in that direction. And there's more than a whiff of "indiscriminate violent murder" about the tired military euphemism collateral damage.

In the current climate, a lot of commentators appear to have thrown their moral compasses overboard. There are some who justify our prospective involvement in a war with Iraq becuase it is necessary to maintain the US alliance: in other words, we have to "make our bones" with the US. Others have suggested that we give up on the Indonesian government, who are plainly having difficulty in coming to terms with democracy and start rebuilding good relations with the Indonesian condottieri. These over-reactions and arguments of convenience are every bit as dangerous as hoping the problem will go away.

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