Thursday, July 07, 2005

A Trotskyite Takes on Terror

I have spent most of today flipping between news sites and listening to the audio feed of the BBC news on my computer while trying to get a little work done. Needless to say, the latter effort was not particularly successful. It has been immensely saddening to watch the carnage in London, but at the same time it has been heartening to watch Londoners' remarkable response to this tragedy.

Today is not, of course, the first time London has faced bombs, and not even the first time it has faced terrorist ones. Nevertheless, in the midst of what must have been a terrifying situation, I thought people did as well as one could imagine.

Almost everyone who is anyone, and plenty more who are not (case in point right here) have had their say on television, radio and in the print media. Some responses have been touching and eloquent (actually the least eloquent I heard was from Donald Rumsfeld, one of the few native "English" speakers commenting) but the one that stood out for me was by Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London.

Livingstone is the kind of guy who could never win office in the U.S.. I could go into a number of reasons, but it is probably enough to say that he is a self-described Trotskyite (Red Ken, as I recall him being called). I've sometimes found him to be a thoughtful and caring person and sometimes heard him say things with which I wholeheartedly disagree. However, his somewhat emotional response to today's events was nicely done. He said
"This was not a terrorist attack against the mighty and the powerful. It was not aimed at presidents or prime ministers. It was aimed at ordinary, working-class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Jew, young and old.

It was an indiscriminate attempt to slaughter, irrespective of any considerations for age, for class, for religion, or whatever.

That isn't an ideology, it isn't even a perverted faith - it is just an indiscriminate attempt at mass murder and we know what the objective is. They seek to divide Londoners. They seek to turn Londoners against each other."
This is a comment that certainly resonates with me. Livingstone's entire statement is somewhat longer, ending with
"Finally, I wish to speak directly to those who came to London today to take life.

I know that you personally do not fear giving up your own life in order to take others - that is why you are so dangerous. But I know you fear that you may fail in your long-term objective to destroy our free society and I can show you why you will fail.

In the days that follow look at our airports, look at our sea ports and look at our railway stations and, even after your cowardly attack, you will see that people from the rest of Britain, people from around the world will arrive in London to become Londoners and to fulfill their dreams and achieve their potential.

They choose to come to London, as so many have come before because they come to be free, they come to live the life they choose, they come to be able to be themselves. They flee you because you tell them how they should live. They don't want that and nothing you do, however many of us you kill, will stop that flight to our city where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another. Whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail."
This is a little more simplistic but I can recognize its power nevertheless, and I'm glad Livingstone is saying things that generally make sense. Complex as the issues surrounding terrorism are, and as angry as I am with some of the nonsensical things we have done, such as the war in Iraq, in the name of the war on terror, I have found myself despairing over some of the silly comments made by people with whom I share many other views.

A case in point is Ward Churchill, who became infamous for his comments about the victims of the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center. I support Churchill's right to free speech and his academic freedom. His comments just made me sit and shake my head. I'd like to hear what he has to say about the London attacks, on people using public transportation to get to their varied jobs around the city. Somehow, after Livingstone's inspired comments, I think Churchill will be hard pushed to refer to these victims as "Little Eichmanns" or as the British equivalent of the "technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire."
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