Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Hurrah for Harry

As one who has twice taken exception to Harry Reid’s column in The Herald newspaper on this blog, I feel honour bound to draw attention to the fact that Harry has, in my eyes at least, aspired to a somewhat higher standard of journalistic endeavour in today’s issue of that newspaper. I suspect his topic will appeal to Bondbloke as it deals with the thorny question of art and censorship. In his column, Harry argues that a movie called Hostel, which apparently is part of the ‘gorefest’ genre, contains so much in the way of gruesome horror and graphic violence that it should not have been certified for general release. Censorship and art…heady stuff indeed. But it isn’t the question of censorship per se that I want to focus on. Instead, it is Harry’s admission that he has reached this judgement despite not having seen the film for himself. In defence, Harry writes

“…I am not certain that you need to experience something before you can condemn it. I do not need to have been at Belsen to know that it was a terrible place to be”.

Now, I find myself agreeing one hundred percent with Harry on that one. It reminds me of the dark days of apartheid when apologists for that particularly vile regime would almost always end up attacking their opponents as being unqualified to comment as they had never visited South Africa. Yes, surely Harry is right – you didn’t have to be there to know it was wrong. And we all have a moral right if not obligation to speak out when an event or a law or an activity violates the fragile and largely implicit and inherited codes of behaviour which we understand to constitute the fabric of our civil society. And when that activity is formally constituted by an action on the part of the State, then that moral obligation becomes a fundamental duty. I'm not saying that I agree with Harry in this specific instance, but I think the general point he makes is a rather sensible one.

Which leads me – rather neatly I think – to something I read yesterday on Normblog which greatly puzzled me. It was this (albeit in edited form), which refers to a longer piece (see end remark) that Nick Cohen wrote in Sunday’s Observer on the Kember rescue by members of the UK’s special forces. This passage, by Cohen, struck me particularly forcefully:

“Yet at least Kember and his colleagues made a commitment to Iraq. They may have done no good, they may have put better and braver men in danger, yet they strike me as preferable to the majority of European liberals who have sat out the conflict…”

It isn’t entirely clear where Nick Cohen is going with this, but it begins to smack very much of the age-old view which says that if you ain’t part of the problem then you can’t be part of the solution. Well, many of us have not been part of many problems whose legacy is all around us, including in our written laws (national and international) and (largely unwritten) social mores (pace Harry Reid). In that way we are all playing the hand of cards which history (in the shape of our predecessors) has dealt us, and we in turn are all the dealers of the cards which those who come after will have to play. So, to Nick, I might say; (a) as Harry Reid puts it, not to be engaged in a conflict is not to disenfranchise oneself from judgement over the rights and wrongs of that event – immediate impact and historical legacy is a matter for us all, (b) someone who opposes the policies of the British and American governments is no more, and no less, sitting out a conflict as is someone who is supporting them – in your terms almost everyone (and certainly the majority of journalists and bloggers) is ‘sitting this one out’ except, of course, those who have no choice, and (c) from where I sit a great many “European liberals” have taken a fairly unambiguous side in the conflict, albeit it is a side that you might oppose. As custodians of the present, we all have an legitimate and equal responsibility for the future.

7 Comments:

Blogger BondBloke said...

I am not sure that I agree with all of the first part of this post, the art and censorship issue is a minefield and, give recent excursions, one I am not going to attempt to cross right now. The second part of the post I agree with, and would also argue with those who support the war in Iraq, and I hasten to add an immoral and illegal war. I do not doubt for one second that Kember and his colleagues thought that they were doing the right thing; but I seriously doubt their motives, as I doubt the motive of all of those who peddle a religious message. They should not have been there in the first place; all they did in getting kidnapped was to ensure that others had more to worry about, distracing them from more important matters. Finally were they grateful to those who rescued them? Were they hell as like!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006  
Blogger mądry said...

I think that what Nick Cohen meant was that at least Kember took a stand, this could be verbal or physical. Cohen accuses ‘liberals’ of being one sided in their condemnation of barbarism in Iraq. This might or might not be true but in my experience this has usually not been the failing of ‘liberals’ who pathologically see all sides of the case. This clearly does not apply to Cohen who cannot be accused of seeing all sides of the case or the humility that he says Kember lacks. As for when he accuses Kember for putting ‘better and braver men’ in danger then this smacks of the neologism invented by Armando Ianucci in his column in the Observer:

McNabbery The guilty pride someone left wing has in the SAS

Though perhaps the political descriptor no longer applies

There is no point to replying to Bondbloke’s rant about Kember

Bilde mir nicht ein, was Recht’s zu wissen,
Bilde mir nicht ein, ich könnte was lehren,
Die Menschen zu bessern und zu bekehren.

Kember et al. at least modelled peaceful and non conflictual behaviour which is probably as important as anything else. Bondbloke’s assertion that ‘I do not doubt for one second that Kember and his colleagues thought that they were doing the right thing; but I seriously doubt their motives, as I doubt the motive of all of those who peddle a religious message’ needs unpacking. It is difficult to see what this could sensibly mean but this. That though he thinks that Kember et al thought they were doing the right thing he (Bondbloke) does not think that it was the right thing, and the reason why they did it was from inpure motives. But where is his evidence from that apart from his prejudice?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006  
Blogger mądry said...

the last line should read
where is his evidence for (not from)!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006  
Blogger BondBloke said...

I respect and admire mądry and agree with most of his comment, but I stnad by my own thoughts on this matter; the only mistake I made was in the wording of "as I doubt the motive of all of those who peddle a religious message" when what I should have said was that "I doubt the motive of all of those who peddle their kind religious message". I have heard these people discussing the whole Kember issue over the days, and they come across to me as being pretty fundamentalist, and the mixture of fundamentalism and religion worries me intensely. I am not a religious person, but I do not generally have a problem with those who are and I respect their beliefs; but I do have real problems with the more extremist factions, at whichever end of the religious spectrum they happen to reside.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006  
Blogger mądry said...

What about fundamentalist marxists, leftists or rightists or just those who are so thirled to their own view that they are blind to everything else (not you Bondbloke!)? If you were to look to the Christian Peacemakers website http://www.cpt.org/

, then I think that you would see who the real fanatics are

Doch werdet ihr nie Herz zu Herzen schaffen
Wenn es euch nicht von Herzen geht

Wednesday, March 29, 2006  
Blogger mądry said...

By that I mnean that they (Christian Peacemakers) are not

Wednesday, March 29, 2006  
Anonymous Will said...

I reviewed Hostel on my blog the other day. As these things go, it really wasn't that gory, and it was a good piece of filmmaking. If Harry had seen it, he might know that.

Thursday, March 30, 2006  

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