Monday, October 25, 2004
Passivity and Reality
Brooker's ironic assassination target, being famously moronic, is deluded enough to believe that, when one takes a position on something, one is expected to act on it. But in the "entire civilised world" that's no longer necessary: "Sneer globally, act fitfully" is the watchword. Because Belgium opposes the Iraq war, its foreign minister makes a few anti-Bush cracks and various lesser figures attempt to indict Rumsfeld and co for war crimes - but they know nothing's going to come of that; it's an empty gesture.
Now suppose Belgium took the opposite position and decided it wholeheartedly supported the Iraq war and stood 100 per cent shoulder to shoulder with its American friends in the battle for freedom: in that case, they'd have dispatched a rusting frigate to, oh, the eastern Mediterranean or maybe 30 of their elderly infantrymen to help run the canteen in Qatar. That, too, would have been an empty gesture.
That's why, whoever's president, the September 10 international system can't be put back together. The Cold War required deterrence, which is about as suited to a passivist European culture as can be devised, and even then there were plenty of wobbly moments.
But this new war requires action, resolve, ongoing participation - and most of America's "allies" just can't be fagged. The Spanish vote was a vote for passivity, a call for inaction, and a quiet life no doubt with many "ironic jokes" about the absurd Americans. The "civilised world" sees itself like Continental skating judges at the Olympics, watching the Yanks career all over the ice and then handing out a succession of cranky 4.7s. The decadence of passivity does not express itself solely in "ironic jokes".
The ersatz emotions that gripped Britain in the run-up to Kenneth Bigley's decapitation were also the product of a passive culture unwilling to come to grips with the real challenges it faces. A week ago, I wrote: "In the last three weeks of Mr Bigley's life, the actions of various parties made it more likely that more Britons and other infidels will be kidnapped and beheaded." When I say I wrote it "a week ago", I actually wrote it two weeks ago, but that first Bigley column got spiked by the Editor. Which I regret more and more, because the above point needs to be hammered home.
The kidnapping of Margaret Hassan is, very obviously and tragically, a direct response to the mass Bigley wallow. She is an Iraqi citizen, has lived there for 30 years, was opposed to UN sanctions, the war, the occupation, etc. She has been seized only because of her nominal British citizenship, which, thanks to the Bigley episode, the headhackers now know is the key to weeks of prime-time coverage. In Mrs Hassan's video, her remarks have been scripted by someone keeping a very close eye on Fleet Street - both in the references to Mr Bigley and to the deployment of the Black Watch.
Not all of this is the media's fault. Geoff Hoon's blasé remarks in the House of Commons that the Americans had asked for some of our lads in the Sunni Triangle and he was mulling it over gave the appearance of tossing the question of troop deployment over to the whims of public opinion. And once he put it up for grabs, you can hardly be surprised that Mrs Hassan's captors should seek to apply a little extra pressure. I hope he's learnt his lesson.
But, if this is the best the "civilised world" can do - maudlin sentimentality and ironic jests - then it's in big trouble. Both modes are a pose and a detachment from reality. Brooker and the Guardian seem to be protesting no, don't worry, we were just talking the talk, there's nothing we're prepared to walk the walk for. That's the problem.