The sorry state of Britain

By Tapani Lausti

Tariq Ali, Rough Music: Blair / Bombs / Baghdad / London / Terror. Verso 2005.

Britain is engaged in a criminal and immoral occupation in Iraq. The occupation has provoked a massacre of dozens of innocent people in London. The rest of the world looks on in dismay as the Anglo-American alliance threatens to push the world into ever more dangerous convulsions. Yet, life in London seems to go on as if somehow everything is normal. Parliament shows hardly any sign of intelligent life. The media does not demand Tony Blair's resignation.

What on earth is going on? This is how Tariq Ali sees it in his rapidly written response to the July London bombs: "The impoverishment of thought and language that characterizes our political culture can't be totally dissociated from the priorities of Number Ten [Downing Street]. Blair, unlike Thatcher, Heath or Wilson, typifies the loss of a political vocabulary. In its place there is a great deal of vacuous moralism and, of course, religion." (p. 13)

The media sings mostly from the same hymn book: "Marching in step with Blair, the bulk of the liberal press is now either defending or covering up a murderous military occupation of Iraq, the widespread use of torture and a shoot-to-kill policy on London's streets. " (p. 11-12)

British citizens follow this awful spectacle with sullen unhappiness. This is revealed by the diminishing Labour vote. By 2005 Labour vote was "barely a fifth (a mere 21.8 per cent) of the overall electorate, the lowest level of support for a government in the EU, and comparing badly to the 32 per cent of Americans who voted for Bush." (p. 16) Ali's conclusion: "The grammar of deceit employed by Blair and his ministers to support Washington's drive to war in the Middle East had alienated millions." (p. 17)

The war in Iraq was opposed by the majority in Britain. The February 2003 demonstration in London was the largest in the country's history. One would have expected this fact to give the media the courage to be critical of Blair's irresponsibility. Instead they mostly shared Blair's enthusiasm for war. "He liked being surrounded by military men", Ali writes. (p. 3) Once the attack against Iraq started, the television news channels plunged into their usual mode of enthusiasm for the technology of killing.

Then came the suicide bomb attacks in London. Although all credible experts had predicted the increase in terrorism, the connection had to be denied: "The linkage between the horrific London bombings and the horrors of the Middle East was exactly what the political-media bubble was determined to prevent." (p. 49) To no avail: 66 per cent of the population believed there was a link.

Ali explores Blair's way of undermining British democracy. The government's message has been that it is necessary to curb civil liberties for the sake of freedom. The erosion of democracy frightens many Britons. Ali wryly states that laws "designed to permit 'preventive detention', regularly used to maintain imperial domination in the colonies, have now returned home". (p. 68)

Ali has no doubt that under any decent circumstances Blair would have to resign: "Blair once boasted that, in order to defeat Saddam Hussein, a 'blood price would have to be paid'. It has been paid, by tens of thousands of Iraqi dead and now by dozens of Londoners. There will be no peace as long as he remains Prime Minister." (p. 89)

See other reviews of Tariq Ali's books and a collection of his articles.

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