Dead Men Left

Monday, December 05, 2005

Global warming and the Caliphate, by liberal approximation

A memorably snotty column from Catherine Bennett last week on the climate change demo, if only because it stuck so precisely to the liberal columnists’ Style Guide, ch. 27: Protestors Are Weirdos.

Let’s see. Accusations of hypocrisy?

There are coaches and minibuses running from around the country," announces the campaign website. "Get on board and make sure this is the biggest protest ever against climate change." If its urgings are successful, there must, then, be implications for the atmosphere from all these large, fossil-fuel consuming, CO2 emitting vehicles converging on London.

Check. Strenuous efforts to highlight the futility of it all?

Even though the war march made no difference to the war, and the countryside march changed absolutely nothing, and summer's Make Poverty History gatherings looked more like big, self-congratulatory parties than a coherent political statements, there is no reason why the climate march, designed to make "the entire world community move as rapidly as possible to a stronger emissions reductions treaty" should not be different... these days demonstrations, almost by definition, are a waste of energy.

Check. And, the presumed coup de grace, useful idiots opening the door for dangerous extremism?

...the organisers might have been more diligent about protecting their campaign from morphing into what may turn out to be a more viscerally anti-Bush effort than its title suggests, one which listens to enemies of America at least as attentively as it does to representatives from Friends of the Earth... [nice people wouldn’t] join a movement which welcomes Saddam's old mate George Galloway and like-minded colleagues on to its platforms.

Check once more. (Sotto voce: It’s partly my fault “Saddam’s old mate” was speaking in Tower Hamlets on climate change a fortnight ago. Bennett’s reaction pleases me greatly.) The anti-war movement has become the template for all that is Bad and Wrong with protests: we were simultaneously jolly nice, middle-class do-gooders and deranged lunatics itching for "the annihilation of Israel or creation of a caliphate…", united by our own futility; smug and scary and pointless, all at once.

This liberal trope hides a certain truth, however. It is necessary, if we are playing Bennett’s game, to kick the anti-war movement at any available opportunity precisely because it has been dangerously successful: we did not stop the war, quite evidently, but we made it unwinnable, and in doing so tied together many of the loose threads in British society that the liberal centre would prefer to see frayed and abandoned.

We mobilised, in unprecedented numbers, the most oppressed sections of the British working class alongside traditional working class organisations, and hundreds of thousands of previously quiescent citizens. They were brought together in opposition to a Labour government bent on waging war and making every available appeal to national security, patriotism and party loyalty to enforce its line. This was (and is) a terrifying prospect, if you are of the opinion that politics should be left to men in suits in Westminster. The rest of us think it is much too important for that.

Bennett’s attempt, then, to demonise the anti-war movement for the moral edification of nice environmentalists actually establishes it as a damn good example. George Monbiot at the rally, post-demonstration, all but said as much: climate change is not a “nice” issue, but one that will dramatically determine politics for the rest of our lives; its consequences will be too serious to be left to individual consumption choices; and so we require a mass, global movement to enforce targets and restrictions globally, towards which Saturday’s marches were the first step.