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Euston, you have a problem

An Australian journalist asks why some signatories to the Euston Manifesto are discussing cricket, Dr Who, Sunday dinner – anything but Israel-Lebanon.

Guy Rundle

Topics Politics

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When the Euston Manifesto was launched to much publicity three months ago, some wondered what would happen when the diverse signatories were confronted with a real live crisis, rather than a past event.

The group was formed in the wake of the 2005 UK General Election, but its raison d’etre was the invasion of Iraq in 2003. As a clear majority of people started to view that war as a disaster, and a lesson, the EM group felt a need to gather together the forces who believed in the principle of military intervention for the purpose of overthrowing tyranny, and who rejected any comprehensive ‘anti-imperialist’ view of the United States. They now have more than 2,000 signatories.

However, the group has made its appeal so broad that its politics has fallen through – and with the Israeli attacks on Lebanon, the EM signatories have overwhelmingly divided along pre-existing political lines.

To get an idea of how the trains of thought were running at Euston, I worked my way down the blogroll of signatories on the EM website and checked out some of the hyperlinks on the list of signatories. In the days following the commencement of bombing, the mood tended to be pro-Israeli. A blog called But I Am A Liberal expresses the prevailing mood: a conditional support for the attacks borne out of a perceived lack of options: ‘Let there be no doubt [about] the forces Israel is up against…. what would they have Israel do…? Should they just stick their heads in the sand and wait to be attacked again, and again, and again?’

However, Rogue Statesman argued that the Israeli assault is a mistake, for tactical rather than moral reasons: ‘I’m actually pretty furious with the recent actions of Israel. Could anything else scream masochistic public policy more than the clumsy, casualty-inducing raids into Gaza and now Lebanon?’

Early on, Schmoo on the run tended towards a plague-on-both-their-houses approach: ‘It is hard to think who is the most nasty naughty kid in the “playground” – Israel or Hezbollah. They are both behaving like horrible little brats, but the biggest bully is obviously Israel.’ That blog then moved in a definite direction following the publication of a photograph apparently showing Israeli girls signing missiles destined for Lebanon. ‘Monday, July 17, 2006: Israeli girls write messages on a shell at a heavy artillery position firing into civilians inside Lebanon. There is no doubt now – Israel is guilty of a terrible war crime’, argued Schmoo on the run.

Another blog that has signed up to EM argued that the current conflict provides an opportunity to strengthen Jewish resolve. It claimed: ‘the Holocaust was but Central European anti-Semitism carried to an extreme. A behavior that could have occurred even in a country like the United States. Today Israel has taken arms against her sea of troubles. It will not be a quick war, or an easy one. It is a necessary one. May Israel prove better than the task. And may Jews, not just Jews but everyone, take to heart the lessons taught in this struggle. Only Jews can ensure that survival, and only by showing the world conclusively that one does not anger the Jew.’

Progressive Islam speaks for a minority of EM signatories who condemn Israel. That website argues: ‘Given the determination of the Israeli government to go for the killing and pulverize Hezbollah, one can only expect a more murderous exchange rate. So where are the moderate voices in the civilised world? Those who might rein in the wanton sacrifice of children like the ones killed in a convoy trying to escape the murderous violence?’

Yet such a view cuts little ice with fellow EM signatory Zionation, who blames the Lebanese people in toto for the current conflict: ‘Lebanese citizens are directly responsible, both for their own fate and for the rockets that are falling on northern Israel. Lebanese citizens chose Hezbollah, and now they will inevitably suffer the consequences of Hezbollah.’

And on it goes. Does it matter that a grouping has subscribers with such divergent views on a matter like the Middle East? Ordinarily, it wouldn’t. All sorts of trade unions, students’ groups and probably even birdwatching clubs have come to grief over this issue. As has been argued on spiked, the Middle East conflict has provided a space into which a variety of Western political and existential preoccupations can be projected, and fought over by proxy (see A ‘shadow war’ performed for Western voyeurs, by Brendan O’Neill).

But the problem for the Euston group is that this is exactly the sort of issue around which it hoped to focus its ‘progressive realignment’. Indeed, aside from Iraq, the Israel-Palestine conflict is the only concrete political situation specifically referred to in the manifesto, amid a sea of abstractions. What purpose can a ‘progressive realignment’ of interventionists have, other than to throw its collective weight for or against an intervention? Indeed, the EM group argued that its website would serve as a ‘resource for the current of opinion it hopes to represent’ – yet to date, the Israel-Lebanon violence has failed to score any mention on the EM site at all. At the time of writing (23 July), the main feature on the homepage is a note of thanks to those who helped organise a Sunday dinner meeting.

That may be wise, because any sort of detailed discussion of the issue would reveal another problem of alignment: the basic division between the core manifesto group – its authors and early signatories – who are overwhelmingly drawn from the British left, and many of its online signatories, frequently self-described American liberals, whose political worldview is at some variance. Indeed, many of the lead signers want to talk about anything but Israel-Lebanon. Norm Geras’ Normblog is taken up with short stories, reflections on cricket and the occasional arch comment on reportage of the war; co-drafter Damien Counsell’s PooterGeek blog details his commuting adventures and thoughts on Dr Who’s new assistant. It is left to professional opinion-producers Oliver Kamm and Nick Cohen to argue for international intervention, because according to Cohen it would provide the breathing space for a wider Middle East settlement and allow the Lebanese government to reassert itself. Yet he recognises a Cassandra role: ‘After Iraq, the phrase “humanitarian intervention” dies on the lips.’ Yeah, funny that.

The argument for intervention cannot be advanced as a Euston position, because most of its signatories want Israel to be given an opportunity to get on with the job – except for those who think Israel is a war criminal. Any attempt to use the collective power of the manifesto to make an impact would reveal that it has no collective power. Its attempt to build a broad virtual coalition has left it as a statement of liberal universalisms with no character, and allowed it to be defined by what it opposes, the mainstream anti-war movement. The most important part of any manifesto is not its account of values, but that of facts. Whether it’s a futurist manifesto, or Marx and Engels’ communist manifesto, or the neo-cons’ Project For A New American Century, manifestos work by welding together those with a common agreement about how different parts of the world fit together – and in doing so they allow a group to work with some degree of collective strength. They are defined as much by whom they exclude as they are by whom they accept.

Given that the Euston Manifesto’s high-profile signatories include Julie Burchill, one can presume that its ‘anti-totalitarianism’ is subject to extremely flexible interpretation. Instead of bringing in a new politics, the EM group merely reproduces the confusion and atomisation of the Blogosphere in a new form.

Guy Rundle is European editor of Arena magazine, based in Australia. He made his observations of EM-aligned blogs on 23 July 2006. Email him at {encode=”guyrundle2@hotmail.com” title=”guyrundle2@hotmail.com”}.

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Topics Politics

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