Stop Making Sense

I count myself as a fan and admirer of Salman Rushdie‘s novelistic work. And in recent years I have been deeply impressed with some of his polemical efforts. He has been a steady voice of reason on the left, a voice which has exhibited – pardon the overused and much-abused phrase – moral clarity. And so I eagerly sat down to read a wide-ranging interview he recently gave to the terrific German magazine Der Spiegel. In which I came across the following exchange:

So are Bush and Blair going too far?

Rushdie: This is the problem with politicians who by nature tend towards being authoritarian: When they are given the chance, they go too far. We have to watch out there. I find it deeply depressing that the Anglo-American politics and Arab politics are currently corroborating each other — that is: their worst prejudices. Take a look at Iraq, at Lebanon. There is no just side in either conflict. But at the same time we need moral clarity, something I have often missed recently in many liberally minded people — and I myself am liberal. We need clarity about what is right and wrong, the willingness to defend our values with clear words and to actually call the guilty persons guilty.

Leaving aside whether Bush or Blair have authoritarian personalities, I am left scratching my head wondering what in the hell Rushdie is struggling to say. Obviously, he is trying to balance his criticism of Bush and Blair with his detestation of those who accord themselves divine sanction to slaughter and terrorize. But instead, he uttered an inane and flatulent sentence, and from what I know of Rushdie, I do not think it intentional. For it is almost comical to read him saying that in Iraq and Lebanon there is “no just side in either conflict.” Excuse me?

As I have previously written, when it comes to the unfortunate war in Lebanon and northern Israel, decent minds cannot be neutral in a battle between irredentist religious fanatics who fight as a proxy force for an expansionist theocratic regime in Tehran and a liberal democracy defending itself. To write this is not to support every specific action Israel (or the United States) takes in an effort to defend herself, but it is to take a stand. Thoughtful people can differ on the best strategy Israel (and the United States) should undertake in her own defense. But let us at least be clear about who is struggling for a tyrannical future and who is struggling for something far more honorable.

What is most irksome about the Rushdie statement is that he jumps directly from making an equivalency between warring parties in Iraq and Lebanon directly to a call for “moral clarity” – (“We need clarity about what is right and wrong, the willingness to defend our values with clear words and to actually call the guilty persons guilty.”) The juxtaposition here is jarring and unfortunate. Rushdie is better than that.

Explore posts in the same categories: Middle East Democracy, Terrorism

One Comment on “Stop Making Sense”

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