Thursday, October 06, 2005

Left Behind in Britain

Sasha Abramsky, whose writings appear in Mother Jones, Atlantic Monthly, and the Nation, is among the lifelong "leftwing" activists who have a feet-on-the-ground approach to the current struggle with Islamists. He recently wrote a thoughtful meditation on that situation in The Progressive, and an abridged version of the article is online at Open Democracy.

I think the British wing of the "Left Behind" faction -- lifelong liberals who were mugged by reality on 9/11, to borrow Neo-Neocon's phrase, had a confirmation experience in the wake of the July 7 bombings in London.

As summer 2005 began, I flew to London to stay with my parents. A few days after I arrived, four bombs blew up tube trains and a bus in central London on 7 July. It was the second time I had been in a city that was under attack by terrorists. Four years ago, I was living in Brooklyn when al-Qaida slammed passenger jets into the World Trade Center.

Over these four years, I have spent more time than is entirely healthy obsessing over the new realities. Some of my friends and relatives tell me I’ve changed – that my politics aren’t as “leftwing” as they used to be during the anti-nuclear movement in Britain back in the 1980s. In a way, they are right. My core politics haven’t changed, but it seems to me that the world has changed so dramatically – traditional alliances and reference points have become unreliable, the ground rules of the power game have so shifted – I’d be a fool not to incorporate these changes into my analytical framework.

Unlike my compatriot Christopher Hitchens, however, whose break with erstwhile comrades on the left over foreign policy has resulted in a wholesale swing rightward, I still hope that my rethinking of some foreign policy questions can be incorporated into a vibrant progressive movement. Indeed, I’d argue that a strong defence of pluralistic, democratic societies needs to be an essential, perhaps a defining, component of any genuinely progressive politics in today’s world.

Yet reading the voices of much of the self-proclaimed “left” in the London papers in the aftermath of the bombings, I was struck by how ossified many of them have become, how analyses crafted at the height of the cold war have lingered as paltry interpretive frameworks for political fissures bearing little if anything in common with that “twilight conflict.” While on the one hand I agreed with their well-reasoned arguments pointing to a certain degree of western culpability for spawning groups like al-Qaida, on the other hand I was saddened by how utterly incapable were those same arguments of generating responses to the fanaticism of our time.

Read the whole thing!