The Early Days of a Better Nation

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Send them to Guantanamo then give it back to Cuba

'They're thinking of using the treason laws against seditious clerics,' I said over breakfast last Monday, catching up with the news. Then I had one of those mind-catching-up-with-my-mouth moments: how very seventeenth century that sounded! As it turns out, it was just another Blairite trial balloon. (From 'joined-up government' to 'Post-It Note government' in eight years. Another first for New Labour.)

Some post-Revolution precedents for dealing with seditious clerics are suggested by Mike Macnair, an erudite Marxist who reminds us how the anti-Catholic Penal Laws successfully defended Britain's bourgeois revolution against an international conspiracy of religious and feudal reaction for centuries. He holds overt but strictly delimited religious persecution and public trial a superior alternative to secret administrative decision. It's not entirely clear whether he's speculating how our once and future republic might defend itself, or giving tips to the present state. Either way, he might be onto something. The Penal Laws worked against the Jesuits, but will something like them work against jihadists? It's an interesting suggestion. Not Mill or Milton would have rejected it out of hand.

A war on Islamist terrorists, jihadists, or whatever the hell we are supposed to call them this week would be a very good idea. The war we actually have, an open-ended imperialist war, the forever war, tends to undermine this in two ways. The first is that it gives the jihadists plenty of legitimate gripes to flourish before potential recruits. The second is that the US and its allies keep on backing on-side jihadists: the Iranian MEK, the KLA, the Chechen freedom fighters (the beasts of Beslan). These good on-side terrorists have a way of popping up elsewhere. It's like pumping oil into a pipeline. The US and its allies must know this. Why do they do it? Islamism originated in wars against movements and regimes of the left, and it remains too useful a weapon to drop, as does terrorism in general. Any government that acts as an impediment to the free flow of investment - nationalist, socialist, or ex-socialist-but-not-yet-willing-to-roll-over - can expect terrorist attack, and can expect its offers of intelligence and military assistance against anti-Western terrorists to be, as in the Cuban case, rebuffed.

Meanwhile, as all the online world has reason to suspect by now, Iran may be being set up for attack following a mass-casualty terrorist outrage in the US. One or more of these is expected very soon. I have a bad feeling about this.

Update, Monday 15 Aug: The now-famous American Conservative article by ex-CIA man Philip Giraldi on the Iran contingency plans is here. Svein Olav Nyberg has reminded me of a good summary of the war on terror's origins in US-backed terrorist wars, by Juan Cole, who in turn directs us to some online excerpts from Steve Coll's book on the secret history of the Afghan counter-revolution, its aftermath and blowback, Ghost Wars.


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