David Aaronovitch: Help! There's been an outbreak of Pinterism

'They argue that the US, alone among nations, should have no reason to get angry when its citizens are killed'

Share

Nine actors and authors wrote to this newspaper yesterday calling for there to be no war against terrorism. And they are, all nine of them, honourable men and women. Some have worked hard for refugees and for people who have been persecuted or the victims of injustice. And a part of their argument – that certain forms of military action could act merely to create more terrorism – seems to me to be mere common sense.

But there is nevertheless something wrong here. You encounter it in the assertion that: "in Afghanistan four million people are homeless and scores of thousands are starving or dying of cholera because of sanctions imposed by the West..." This is current affairs as taught by a priest. Four million people in Afghanistan are not homeless because of Western (ie American and British) sanctions, but because 22 years of war and five years of rule by a bunch of religious bigots has destroyed the infrastructure of their country, such as it was. The "West" has played its part in those 22 years of destruction, as has the East, as particularly have Afghanistan's neighbours, as have many Afghans themselves.

The sentence is just wrong. But it is wrong for a reason. There is a reflex reaction, an instinctive, almost involuntary response, the result of 50 years of Cold War. According to the nine actors and authors, children die in Iraq because of UN sanctions, not because of the way in which Saddam has used the resources available to him. The implication in what they write is that if the US would only go away, or dramatically change its behaviour then terrorism – by and large – would cease.

In the past week I have watched mono-causalists like this get themselves into the incredible position of arguing that the US, alone among nations, should have no great reason to be hurt and angry when its citizens are butchered. The Afghans might have cause to go all blood-lusty if some of their folks are killed, but not the Yanks. So which is it? Are the Americans demons who must be expected to destroy the world in their search for vengeance? Or saints who we can call upon to forgive the extraordinary act of war of 11 September?

It also amazes me that some British honourables seemed more bothered when a fatwa was issued against a British novelist, or by the demolition of ancient statues of the Buddha, than they have been by the death of 6,000 civilians in New York. I do not recall the argument about how the dead of the West were being "privileged" above those in the rest of the world, being made at the time of Omagh, for instance. Perhaps no one would have dared – too close to home.

If you are a pacifist, someone who would have refused to fight in the Second World War, say, then it is perfectly consistent to argue in principle against the taking of action against terrorism. But many of those who have decided in advance that whatever action the US is about to take must be wrong, are not pacifists: Harold Pinter, as far as I know, is not a pacifist. Like many others in this country he campaigned and argued (in the most vituperative terms) against the bombing of Serbia. He thinks Tony Blair should be arraigned in The Hague along with Milosevic. The Albanians of Kosovo, however (Muslims, as it happens) tend not to agree.

Pinterism is all around, wearing its badges stating, "Don't blame me, I'm against it, whatever it is," and is as wrong as ever. Despite the dreary cartoonists' clichés, there has been no cowboy action by the US. Bush, far from going around stoking up anti-Muslim hatred, has been at pains to visit mosques and reassure the Muslims of America. In this country Blunkett has not rushed in to curtail civil liberties, but instead has resisted the temptations placed before him (not least by BBC interviewers) to take hurried action against the most noisy and unrepresentative of our domestic fundamentalists.

So far so good, for those of us who believe that the US, like other countries, is entitled to take action to protect its citizens. When the Soho bomber, David Copeland, was placing nail-bombs in gay pubs and elsewhere, I don't recall many worries from the honourables that innocent right-wingers might be targeted by the police. My concern is that the action taken should be intelligent, and should be taken after consideration of the long-term consequences. I have no moral problem with the destruction of bin Laden and his network.

In this I think I represent yet another dreaded Third Way. The old left and the anti-globalisers both stand, it seems to me, for a retreat back to localism. They see globalisation – the power of the supra-national over the national (best represented by multinational companies and international bodies) – as an unmitigated ill, the destroyer of environment, community and authenticity. They would like to see the reconstruction of moral societies, and a form of economic self-sufficiency.

So, too, would the old right. The retiring chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the North Carolinian gentleman racist, Jesse Helms, is a perfect protagonist of American unilateralism. For him only his country's immediate interests should ever animate its dealings with other countries. He didn't want it in the UN, he didn't want it to sign Kyoto, he didn't want it in Bosnia, he didn't want it in Kosovo. His influence can still be felt on the right-hand side of George Bush.

Both sides are, of course, prone to contradictions. The left, for instance, does not want the Americans to intervene because they are clumsy cowboy capitalists, but blame Clinton for not intervening in Rwanda, and desperately desired troops to be sent in to assist the East Timorese.

For me the lessons of Yugoslavia, of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and of the struggle of the environment lead me in the direction of increased multinationalism, not less. I am proud that British soldiers are – right now – trying to uphold a peace in Macedonia, or giving some of the people of Sierra Leone a chance. I fear the consequences of inaction or incomplete action more than the risks of actually intervening. Those who opposed the Gulf War or the Kosovan actions would, if successful, have had more blood on their inert hands than the allies did. It was, in hindsight, a mistake not to topple Saddam back in 1991.

So I want America there. But not just (or even mainly) militarily or economically. I don't think the world "hates" the US at all. But I do think that America is bitterly resented for holding out so much promise of freedom and wealth, and then deserting those who look to it. The international tools of peace (and here I agree with the nine actors and authors) are measures to defeat poverty through debt reduction, targeted aid and full involvement. We need less unilateralism (which is the real problem with missile defence), less talk of short-term interest, and more strategic cooperation. Political globalisation is lagging behind economic globalisation, and that is dangerous.

I want America hosting peace talks at Camp David. I want America helping out in the Balkans. I want America at future Durbans and Kyotos. I want more America in our lives, not less.

David.Aaronovitch@btinternet.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

£39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

I saw the immigration lies a mile off - and now nobody can deny it

Nigel Farage
The Uber app allows passengers to hail a taxi with a smartphone  

Who wouldn’t like a sharing economy? Well, me, for one

Mary Dejevsky
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game