Dead Men Left

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Following Christopher Hitchens over a cliff: the descent to neo-conservatism (part I)

Harry's Place commented favourably on a spectacularly bad piece of opinionated journalism from Thomas Friedman, in which Friedman concluded that he would continue to support the occupation of Iraq until

a majority of those grunts [US troops] tell us that they are no longer willing to risk their lives to go out and fix the sewers in Sadr City or teach democracy at a local school... But so far, we ain't there yet. The troops are still pretty positive.

This neatly summarises the colonial mentality: logically, the people best placed to decide whether the occupying "grunts" are doing a good job are the Iraqis themselves. Precisely the worst people are the occupying soldiers; or rather, if we assume Iraqis are competent to conduct their own affairs, that is the logical way of proceeding. If we assume - in classic colonial fashion - that they are little better than children, to be scolded when necessary, it makes perfect sense to ask the soldiers. Friedman unwittingly exposes the lie that the occupation is bringing Iraq's freedom, and the mythology of the "concerned, liberal" West. The continuing presence of British and American forces in Iraq is a radical denial of freedom for Iraqis, and as soon as this is seen the ferocity of the resistance can be understood: not arising from the tantrums of poor, backward Arabs, but from the struggle for liberty and basic human dignity.

Needless to say, not all the soldiers' ideas of a "good job" match up with concerned liberal expectations. "He's dead now!" is notorious; but here's another example:

L/Cpl Nicholas Federici, 19, of 1/8 Marines, said: "We didn't get the job done. Now we're going back in to finish it. It's the same with the whole of Iraq. Either we do it, or our friends and younger brothers will come after us to do it.

"Now, we're going in full force. The main thing is to hold our ground and kill as many faggots and bastards as we can. Then we'll rebuild the city, keep our military forces in and hand things over to the Iraqi government."

I posted this in the comments boxes that followed Harry's piece on Friedman. I invite readers to go back and look at the procession of apologetics offered for blatant homophobia that followed it. Harry's Place has made a great show about its commitment to gay rights; fair enough, you might think, for a supposedly "left-wing" website. In practice, this has largely reduced itself to dragging out some of the more offensive musing from a very select handful of Muslim scholars. When confronted, however, with an overtly homophobic remark from an occupying soldier, not just Harry but the assorted of his fellow-travellers bluster and blunder their way through to the suggestion that:

If British troops said they were going to take out "the wankers" would you think they were talking about repressing people who masturbate?

...a quip of such thoroughgoing indifference to oppression that it is almost painful. It is quite clear that the Harry's Place forthright condemnations of homophobia extend only as far as Muslims. Otherwise, it is presumably acceptable.