Saturday, October 19, 2002

Clive James' piece in the Guardian has been linked to by Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Reynolds, and Denis Dutton, so it is fairly hard to imagine that anyone hasn't read it, but there are a few things I want to say about it. To quote Sullivan again,

Clive James is a very smart and funny man, but I never knew he was this clear-headed as well. In the Guardian, yes, the Guardian, he lays into the Fisks and the Pilgers and Australia's allegedly liberal media honchos for just not getting it. His epiphany is yet another milestone on the gradual and perhaps accelerating maturation of the left:

I don't think James has had any epiphany: the article makes it pretty clear that his views on the subject have evolved gradually and were there well before September 11. And he hasn't suddenly become clearheaded. Despite his television programs in which he made fun of foreign (and at times British) popular culture, he has always been a fairly canny observer of culture when he wants to be. This is in his books of criticism, and it is in his novels. ( Brmm Brmm was pretty astute about Japan). To quote James

The (Australian) consensus considers itself to be leftwing in the best sense. The appellation is one that an old-stager like me is reluctant to grant, because the consequence of granting it, and then expressing dissent, is to be classified as conservative. In my own case, the main thing I want to conserve is the welfare of the common people: in that regard I am plodding in Bob Ellis's zig-zag slipstream as he carries his ramshackle torch.

James is one of many of us who doesn't want to see himself as being a conservative, but none the less can't accept the moral relativism that a lot of the left have used to somehow identify with fanatics who murder innocents and who want to destroy modern civilization. Like Ian Buruma, who also writes for the Guardian, James has spent too much time actually looking at other cultures to be able to accept this. He talks about his friend the editor of the Independent being out to lunch, but that none the less he is a friend, and this is at times difficult to deal with. James concludes, however, that

I count the editor of the Independent as a friend, so the main reason I hesitate to say that he is out to lunch on this issue is that I was out to dinner with him last night. But after hesitating, say it I must, and add a sharper criticism: that his editorial writer sounds like an unreconstructed Australian intellectual, one who can still believe, even after his prepared text was charred in the nightclub, that the militant fundamentalists are students of history.

I wrote about this myself last week, after the Bali bombings had happened, but before I was aware of them. I said

My British and other European friends mostly are reflexively anti-war. A lot of the time I simply stay silent, as my friends are on the whole good people, and it isn't worth the argument. The disconnect between Europe and America is large on this.

What James is saying is that it is worth the argument. And of course he is right. I was stupid to say otherwise, even if I'd rather not have the argument with my friends. And what is different this week, is that if you feel anti-American, the Bali bombing is much harder to reconcile with your anti-Americanism than was the World Trade Center attack. I was never especially anti-American, and I am somewhat unsettled by the fact that so many people linked the fanatics' attacks on New York with their own anti-Americanism in the first place, but it seems to be so. At least more people are now realising who the enemy is. I think the ground is shifting in Europe. There is a war on. When there are people who want to kill you, you have to fight. I think this is becoming clear, even in Europe.

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