A year of conventional wisdom

Dean Godson:

For the United Nations 2006 was “The International Year of Deserts and Desertification”. For the Chinese it was “Year of the Dog”. And for the British opinion-forming classes — well, how about the “Year of Conventional Wisdom”?

That conventional wisdom holds that Tony Blair and George Bush made the world a much more dangerous place by invading Iraq. That we’re losing badly in Iraq, if we haven’t already lost. That Mr Blair is “riding pillion” to President Bush — and that if he didn’t do so, we would probably all be much safer.

In that sense, the Archbishop of Canterbury rounded 2006 off perfectly, declaring in this newspaper that Anglo-American “firepower” in Iraq had triggered an explosion of extremism that made life far harder for Christians across the Middle East. His line is reminiscent of the old Yiddish joke about two Jews in front of a firing squad in Tsarist Russia. One suggests: “Let’s make a run for it.” Replies the other: “Shhh, don’t make trouble.”

Never mind the ideological, political and physical assault on Christians all across the Middle East and Asia since the 1970s — fuelled by the rise of Wahhabist ideology. Never mind that Christian communities there have been in decline for at least a century. Rather like the Islamists, Dr Williams prefers to lay the blame for the deplorable condition of the Middle East’s Christians at the door of Great Satan and Little Satan. Short of blaming the Jews for the tsunami — as some Muslim radicals did in 2004 — the Archbishop did a wonderful job of letting the real sources of evil off the hook.

But Dr Williams isn’t alone. Earlier this month, Victor Bulmer-Thomas, Chatham House’s outgoing director, produced a report, received with hushed reverence by the Today programme and others, asserting that Iraq was a “terrible mistake”. But what exactly was “news” about Chatham House denouncing Anglo-American “unilateralism”? Chatham House was never much in favour of robust action against totalitarianism, even during the Nazi and Soviet eras. Indeed, rather the reverse. As Elie Kedourie showed in his classic work The Chatham House Version, this “respected” instititution has long exemplified the moral defeatism of the English “radicals”. Its leading light, Arnold Toynbee, encouraged a premature retreat from imperial responsibility out of a misplaced sense of guilt, thus abandoning the Middle East to a “wilderness of tigers”. Plus ça change.

Moreover, there was no single dramatic new fact in the report. It was a veritable cocktail of banal “liberal” prejudices — with ritual obeisance to the glories of greater EU integration etc etc. But original analysis? Give us a break.

Chatham House has other recent “form”. Last year, it produced a report blaming Iraq for giving al-Qaeda a boost. No doubt Iraq has boosted al-Qaeda recruitment. But Iraq is a very long way from being the only source of radicalisation. One of the most interesting stories of the year that received scant attention in the British press was last week’s remarks by Jean-Louis Bruguière, the chief French investigating magistrate for terrorism. He revealed that France had averted three significant Islamist plots over the past 18 months, including attacks on the Paris Métro and Orly. Algerian Islamists were teaming up with veterans of Iraq. So would opting out of Iraq, as President Chirac did so dramatically in 2003, really have reduced our
vulnerability? Elements of the Muslim population are in so febrile a state that almost anything can send them into a tailspin. This year a minority of British Muslims has been offended by many things — from cartoons in obscure Danish newspapers to McDonald’s logos.

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There is a tendency in the west to blame ourselves for the misconduct of others. It is part of the liberal disease. The more rational approach is to acknowledge the evil of our enemies and do everything we can to destroy them. We certainly cannot restrain ourselves into victory.

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