One of the current stars of the right-wing (or rather, neo-con) blog circuit is the English columnist and author, Melanie Phillips. Her vociferous hatred of Islam, her certainty that, left to the pansy-liberals, Britain is doomed to become a caliphate (her book's called Londonistan) and her… vociferous hatred of the left have all earned her a certain cachet among the broadly American neo-conservatives whose praise she courts. Personally, I think they like her even more because she's English and serious-looking: far easier to like than the dangerously blonde and completely mad scourge of common sense, Ann Coulter. Oh, and because she's very good at telling certain people that their ill-fouded beliefs about Britain are correct.
Well I guess that's enough praise for Melanie. The reason I'm writing is to have a look at some of her writing. Specifically, her recent article 'Suicide Of The West' in the National Review Online.
The main gist of this article is that the British 'establishment and chattering classes' are making a huge mistake in their understanding of Islamist terrorism when they consider that it might be influenced by foreign policy. She states that this attitude ignores the fact that this terrorism has a religious aspect and that,
There was an al Qaeda plot in Birmingham to blow up Britain back in 2000 â€” before 9/11, let alone the war in Iraq. Similarly, jihadi attacks on the U.S. began 22 years before 9/11 with the Iran embassy hostage crisis in 1979, followed by two decades of further attacks.
It is undeniably true that Islamist terrorists existed before 2001 (they would have had to form their cells long before then in order to carry out their earlier attacks on the WTC, the east-African embassies etc etc). What she omits to mention is that US/UK foreign policy also existed prior to 2001. For example, the 'war in Iraq' didn't begin in 2003. It could reasonably be stated that the war began as early as 1990 when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Our military took up positions in Saudi Arabia (at the behest of the regime there) and continued assaults on Iraq throughout most of the subsequent thirteen years.
Prior to the Iraq war, the United States supported Iraq in its war against Iran, supported jihadis in Afghanistan against the Soviets, supported the Shah in Iran (this was before it was all about 'freedom and democracy') – all policies which had their as their base a fairly sound (if unpleasant) strategic intention but which undoubtedly fomented anger and hatred against the west long before 2000. When remembered, these facts make it clear that while it's perfectly obvious that al Qaeda started before 2000, so did the foreign policies which allegedly enraged them. I'll go further and say that Melanie Phillips knew all of this perfectly well but chose to ignore historical fact in order to pursue her central theme: that we are facing a religious war rather than the hangover from decades of meddling, bombing and assassinating.
Why does Phillips think that she can get away with this? She is a journalist of many years' experience with an excellent academic reputation. It's puzzling that she can be rigorous while constructing arguments based utter mendacity. Well, it's not really. Her rhetoric has been carefully honed to fit its intended audience: the American right-wing. Who else would believe the myth of the religious war when no war has ever really been about religion?
Phillips goes on to say that the radicalisation of British Muslims is the fault of (wait for it…) the BBC. By bombarding the British people with anti-USA, anti-Israel propaganda, the BBC is 'culpable' for al Qaeda terrorist attacks.
[The BBC] powerfully incites hatred by persistently misrepresenting Israelâ€™s self-defence as unwarranted aggression, and giving air-time to an endless procession of Islamic jihadists, propagandists, anti-Western activists and bigots with rarely even a hint of a challenge.
While I am unable to review every minute of the BBC's news coverage over the last ten years, I can remember plenty of interviews and airtime given to Israeli officials, US Army generals and modern neo-conservatives which I have seen with my own eyes. If you watched the BBC at the time of the invasion of Iraq, you too will remember the ghoulish blood lust that seems to overtake every news outlet at times of war. The Guardian had rather too many graphics of how laser-glide bombs work for my liking. My point is that it's unreasonable to accuse the BBC of prejudice unless you're willing to accept that 'when it counts', the BBC always backs up 'our boys'.
Add to that the campaign led by the BBC against the Taliban regime in Kabul (extensive reporting of human rights abuses, the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas, a Despatches documentary about the religious/moral police force), joyous reports of democratic elections in Afghanistan and Iraq… I've looked hard for this alleged bias in the BBC but I've never found it.
For Israelâ€™s fight is the worldâ€™s fight. Lose Israel, and the world is lost
…yes, that's true. But how do we best secure the safe future of Israel? By deciding that we're locked in some sort of esoteric 'religious war'? Melanie Phillips is committed to selling the concept of a clash of cultures, a war of ideals. This war exists but it's not between Christians and Muslims. The war of ideas in the west is between truth and lies, between power and democracy, between terror and debate, between reason and hate. Those of us dedicated to truth, democracy, debate and reason – from accross the political spectrum – need to stand up soon to prevent these people from controlling the dialogue.