Wednesday, November 17, 2004

September 11: Returning to first impressions

I just reread Paul Rogers early response to the World Trade Center attack (

Rogers pointed out at the time, as many of us did, that the attack was almost certainly designed to provoke a large scale military response, and that a heavy-handed act of revenge would almost certainly be in Al-Qaeda's interests.

Rereading Rogers' piece, though, I was struck by how this simple perspective has disappeared from the debate. We who are against the wars no longer talk of whether the military response is a sensible or proportionate one. In fact, we don't talk at all about combatting terrorism, largely because we have become (understandably) obsessed with the thought that the invasion of Iraq has nothing to do with terrorism. It is about control of the middle east, about oil, about the destruction of resources for the sake of reconstruction contracts, and the imposition of a capital-friendly political regime.

These "revelations" have provoked a great deal of anger, not least because they have made us feel incredibly naive and impotent, but I think this anger needs to be resisted.

If we want to evaluate our success in resisting both neo-con imperialism and terrorism, we need to ask ourselves: what partnerships have we created? who's profile is being raised by our speech?

We need to remember that we empower our interlocutors. For that reason, we need to choose carefully who we address. If all our speech and all our political action is directed toward governments and corporations, we continually give them a forum.

Shall we go and find our interlocutors elsewhere, among the moderates of those people whose plight we claim to be inspired by? Perhaps it is time to recognize our feelings of betrayal, and not to allow ourselves to be highjacked by them any longer. We need to substitute a genuine concern for others for this obsession with our betrayal at home.

Wedge politics works by pulling focus, because focus is power, whether or not it is popular. We can only resist that power by centring our focus elsewhere.

I think that's what we need to do, but I don't claim to know precisely how to do it.

Perhaps advocacy is the best way in. Start by simply reflecting the views of someone from somewhere else. Write your own press releases for them. Fill in their background. Contact them and find out if you don't know. Find people who know them. Make understanding *their* position, *their* goals, *their* hopes, *their* fears, *your* issue. Criticise them if you will, debate them. That's fine. So long as they remain the story.

It might also be good to target people who don't get any coverage. A good way to find them might be to take someone who is relatively well known (a prominent cleric, a leader) and choose someone who is close to them. Offer them a platform, which means letting people know what you're doing. Write something about them for the Wikipedia or join a discussion on OpenDemocracy with the intention of representing your subject and informing people about him/her. Start a blog about your research. Send your press releases to newspapers and magazines. They may just bite!

If you have any other ideas about how to be generous with your political focus, either add them as a comment below, or email me at


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