From Harry’s Place by an old friend:
Edmund Standing, July 26th 2011, 11:23 am
Since the atrocious attacks carried out Anders Breivik, a position seems to be emerging in various left-wing quarters that basically claims that because Breivik held extreme forms of some broadly speaking conservative positions, any kind of conservative position is now intrinsically invalid and irredeemably tainted, and can be held to be somehow ‘linked’ to terrorism.
This kind of argument essentially constitutes yet another logical fallacy – the ‘argument from terrorism’ it might be called. It goes something like this: Breivik was obsessed with Muslims, believed in a Marxist conspiracy, and was radically opposed to immigration, consequently anyone who opposes Islamist groups, left-wing intellectual positions, or unfettered immigration is intrinsically tied to Breivik and to terrorism. It’s an easy way to dispose of conservative thinking in one fell swoop, but it’s also logically incoherent and grossly exploitative of a terrorist outrage. Essentially, this argument uses dead children to score political points, which is pretty sick.
I, for example, argue that leftist hegemony in post-war Western intellectual life has been a bad thing. The fact that Breivik believed that there is some kind of Marxist conspiracy in the West doesn’t invalidate my position.
My view is that the answer to leftist intellectual hegemony is to create a conservative intellectual counter-culture, and this is being done. Standpoint magazine, for example, offers a forum for views contrary to the left-liberal consensus, as do websites such as ConservativeHome, as do various think-tanks such as Policy Exchange, the Centre for Policy Studies, the Institute of Economic Affairs, and the Social Affairs Unit.
The key difference between this view and that of Breivik is that it is not underpinned by a belief in an evil conspiracy to be battled through violence, but rather is based on the idea that bad ideas should be confronted democratically and in a civilised manner through a battle of ideas. That is how normal, well adjusted people deal with differences of opinion. What normal, well adjusted people don’t do is go out and massacre people. To claim that because Breivik apparently held an extreme version of a perfectly legitimate political and intellectual position means that this position is automatically invalidated or is somehow linked to terrorism is absurd and disingenuous.
Certainly, there are arguments from the Right that lend themselves all too easily to adoption by extremists and to a growth in hatred, and in my view the relentless promotion of paranoia about ‘Islamisation’ is one of those, as is the kind of immigrant-bashing promoted by groups such as the BNP. But that doesn’t mean that criticism of Islamist groups (which is in fact not a left or right-wing position, but a position held by sensible people across the political spectrum, as Harry’s Place shows) or promotion of immigration controls are somehow ideas that should now be beyond the pale simply because a terrorist had an obsession with Muslims and immigration. To claim, as some are, that because Breivik promoted conspiracy theories about Muslims anyone who opposes Islamism can be placed in the same bracket as him is frankly outrageous.
Those who promote such a view from the far-left apparently have very short memories indeed, as their own ideology could be linked to numerous terrorist outrages.
The fact that anti-Capitalism and Socialism have spawned numerous violent, terroristic movements, including the Red Army Faction, the Red Brigades, Front Line, and 17N doesn’t mean that everyone who opposes Capitalism or promotes Socialism is a potential terrorist, or that their ideas can be discounted because some people who shared versions of them have gone on to carry out bombings and killings. However, the ‘Breivik believed something similar to some conservative positions and therefore conservatism can be linked to terrorism’ line, or ‘Breivik was obsessed with Islamists, therefore anyone concerned about Islamist groups can be connected to a terrorist hate ideology’ line does exactly that.
The irony is that the kind of hysterical anti-Capitalist rhetoric that emanates from some left-wing quarters arguably actually does border on, or constitute, outright incitement. Consider the writings of Roobin at the SWP-supporting Lenin’s tomb blog, for example. In ‘The just-about-Gramscian theory of successful rioting’, he writes:
The good news is, given preparation (the opportunity for which, of course, is normally denied), the average citizen can match a police officer blow for blow. A police officer has access to hand arms, in particular clubs, but the ordinary citizen can get and/or easily improvise these. The same is true of body armour and self-defence. The police have roadblocks, the people barricades. The police can use sturdy, powerful vehicles, so can the public. The police can use tools such as water cannons to disperse a crowd but a resourceful crowd can use similar devices to reverse effect. The police can use small firearms. Even in Britain it is not impossible for a member of the public to get hold of some. Any weapons won from the police in battle can immediately be used against them.
Current mass movements should be organized, their experience generalized so their achievements are not lost so when the big break happens we are not starting from zero again.
Or consider the kind of slogans regularly spouted by the far-left, with dehumanising cries about ‘Tory scum’. Here’s what happened at one anti-cuts protest last year:
More than 80 activists took part in the demonstration at Speaker’s Corner – in which they burned a two-faced effigy of David Cameron and George Osborne to demonstrate their anger at the cuts…
At the end of the protest – organised by the group Mad Pride – the effigy of Cameron and Osborne, which had been hanging from a tree, was lowered to the ground, disembowelled and set on fire.
This kind of thing doesn’t make protesting against the policies of the Conservatives and the cuts intrinsically violent or hateful, and I wouldn’t tar all protesters with the same brush because of incidents like this. However, when leftists point to legitimate conservative positions and then claim that ‘Breivik believed something like that too’ so therefore those positions can be inevitably linked to terrorism and extremism, this disgracefully exploits a tragedy for political purposes and is frankly sinister.