Monday, January 28, 2008

The English Neo-Cons

Over on this side of the Atlantic to call someone a neo-conservative is far ruder than to question the genus to which their mother belongs or make implications about their destination after death. Like ‘heretic’, ‘neo-con’ is a word that no one would use to describe themselves. It is a throwaway insult, usually used to describe someone supportive, if only in a broad way, of United States foreign policy. But it can be applied to anyone you don’t like. Today an article by a bona fide left-winger on breast milk earned him the insult from someone who apparently equates bottle-feeding with American imperialism.

For this reason, I am not going to use the term neo-con to describe the English neo-cons. But this does leave us lacking a collective noun to describe a group that, although disparate, has quite a lot in common.

Interestingly, they all tend to be journalists. Apart from Tony Blair, now retired, few British politicians ever appeared to give wholehearted support to the Iraq War. Fewer betrayed any liking for George Bush. This was the same on the opposition benches where their erstwhile leader, Iain Duncan Smith – himself an ex-soldier – was one of the few Conservatives to summon up much enthusiasm for the venture. The only full blooded supporter of Iraq now in the shadow cabinet, Michael Gove, has been parked in the (admittedly important) education portfolio where he can’t stir up any foreign policy hornets.

Most of the other not-to-be-called-neo-cons in England are journalists or writers – Nick Cohen, Johann Hari, David Aaronovitch, Christopher Hitchens, Oliver Kamm and Martin Amis to name a few. Realising they have much in common, some have signed up to a document called the Euston Manifesto, which, in substance is a sort of mutual defence pact to watch each other’s backs in print. They tend to be from the left of the political spectrum. This echoes the situation of the original American neo-cons, whom, I understand, also found there way from Democratic or even socialist backgrounds. However, the English group claim that they continue to be left wingers and spend much of their time defending themselves from the old left for whom being anti-Israel and anti-American are articles of faith. The signatories of the Euston Manifesto supported the Iraq War because they believed that Saddam Hussein was a fascist and lefties should axiomatically be anti-Fascist. In this, together with their critical and some grudging support for Israel, I tend to agree with them.

However, the signatories extend their anti-fascist analysis to Islam as a whole. Many see this religion as a manifestation of evil that needs to be opposed wholeheartedly. Islam is, they say, anti-liberal, anti-democratic, anti-feminist and anti-enlightenment. This contrasts with some of the mainstream left which will cuddle up to even quite extreme Islamists in search of allies for the ‘real’ struggle against America and Israel. Here I part company with the Euston signatories because I have rather more respect and hope for Islam than they do. It should also be said that they are vehemently anti-Christian, but unlike the cowardly Toynbees and Dawkins of the world, they are brave enough to attack a Muslim target which might bite them back. I also admire the way that they follow their principles rather than run with the herd. The insults that they put up with on the Guardian’s Comment is Free site do not end with neo-con. In fact, that is one of the milder put downs.

Click here to read the first chapter of God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science absolutely free.

1 comment:

Elliot said...

I regards to your last paragraph, might I recommend Philip Jenkins' recent book God's Continent? He's got interesting things to say about the varieties of Islam and the religio-political situation in Europe now. He's usually willing to tweak noses on both the Right and the Left.