I don’t often sign manifestos and statements. More than 25 years ago I declared (privately) my broad agreement with As We Don’t See It, the platform of the long-deceased libertarian socialist group Solidarity, which you had to endorse to join the group; and a couple of years later I did the same with the European Nuclear Disarmament Appeal, for the same reason. I have a vague memory of signing Charter 88, but if I did it would have been as the 85,000th signatory in about 1993, and the main reason would have been to get some free pamphlets. Otherwise, I’ve signed a few round robin letters in the past decade or so declaring solidarity with the people of Bosnia and Cuban political prisoners – but that’s about it.
The reasons I don’t sign manifestos and statements are simple: I don’t think they generally make a lot of difference, and I don’t think attaching my name to them makes any difference. And yet I’ve signed up for the Euston Manifesto, the rather unwieldy statement of belief in democracy, liberty and secularism that Norman Geras, Nick Cohen and various other writers, bloggers, academics and activists launched in May.
Why? The reason is sheer exasperation with a large section of the left, which – since 9/11 and particularly since the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 – has reverted to some of the worst habits of kneejerk anti-imperialism that were so prevalent in the 1970s and early 1980s.
Don’t get me wrong: I am not an admirer of the foreign policy of George Bush. I was against the invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and, particularly, Iraq in 2003, and I think that the occupation of Iraq has been badly mishandled. I believe Guantanamo Bay is a disgrace and should be closed down. I think the US should put pressure on the Israeli government to abandon the whole of the occupied territories and negotiate a peace settlement with the Palestinians.
But I cannot accept that America is the root of all evil in the world today, that it somehow deserved 9/11 or that anyone who takes up arms against it has right on his or her side. I believe that radical Islamism and secular totalitarianism are much more dangerous enemies of the most important values of democratic socialism: democracy, freedom, solidarity. My objections to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were never objections in principle to the US and its allies overthrowing the Taliban and Saddam Hussein: I thought (wrongly) that the invasions would result immediately in massive civilian and military casualties and (rightly) that the occupiers had not made adequate preparations for what came next.
None of this holds for much of the British left, however. The anti-war movement cheerfully welcomed aboard radical Islamists and apologists for Saddam. Then we had the grotesque spectacle of the radical Islamists and the most prominent admirer of Saddam teaming up with the Socialist Workers Party to fight elections. Since 2003, this left has cheered on the assassins and car-bombers of the Iraqi “resistance” and excused the anti-semitic rantings of radical Islamists. Its response to the 7/7 outrages in London last year was mealy-mouthed, and its support for the suppression of the Danish cartoons of Mohammed was craven.
I’ve been aware for ages that I have less in common with this left than I have with some people who supported the war but think that the priority now is to offer such support as we can to those Iraqis who are attempting in almost impossible circumstances to build the institutions of a democratic secular civil society. I was sceptical when various pro-war and anti-war lefties who felt much as I did suggested putting together a manifesto reaffirming the core values of democracy, liberty and secularism – it seemed too much like an assertion of the delights of motherhood and apple pie. But when I read an asinine assault on the Euston Manifesto by Andrew Murray of the Communist Party of Britain asserting the eternal verities of anti-imperialist solidarity, my anger temporarily dissolved my scepticism. I signed up – though I have since done nothing Eustonite apart from writing this article.