Monday, August 21, 2006

Pass the port Portillo

Saw something a little odd tonight (on TV again) Portillo, Benazir Bhutto, Galloway and some right wing journalists all having dinner together. These are the kinds of joys that BBC 4 can bring, although I suspect I'm one of the only people to ever watch it.

They were discussing the Iraq war, but what made the discussion so interesting was that it was a repeat - and had been recorded between the Feb 15th demonstration and just prior to the invasion of Iraq. This means it was an ideal testing ground for how different factions viewed the potential outcome of the invasion / liberation of Iraq to come.

The first thing that was obvious was that the pro-war people were barking mad. Their whole argument relied upon Saddam Hussein being a bad man.

Because he is bad the people will welcome his overthrow.
because he is bad we must get rid of him for the benefit of Iraqis.
Because he is bad there can't be democracy unless we install it.

All the anti-war conversationalists tried in vain to remind these people that it will be Iraqis who are killed and they are unlikely to welcome this turn of events, and that, yes, Saddam is bad but we have to look at the consequences of our actions not just grant ourselves carte blanche because of some dubious moral high ground.

Galloway was jaw droppingly incisive in his predictions for what was going to happen, although he also said Turkey might invade Kurdish areas which hasn't happened, but bar that he was spot on - and it reminded me why I had become such a fan of the man. Then Bhutto said "Whose next? Lebanon?" which gave me a little chill. I mean I always knew we were right but the benefit of hindsight will normally trip people up somewhere.

Opposed to this the anti-peace faction were wrong on everything throughout the whole discussion.

Bhutto was particularly interesting when the right wingers tried to say she was responsible for 9/11. She was overthrown in a military coup just a month before an agreement was to be reached with the Taliban over various reforms - this agreement could no longer happen. I don't know the ins and outs of this but when she said "I firmly believe that if the West had opposed the military coup 9/11 would not have happened" I think its something worth investigating.

Portillo was impressive, in his oily way, sitting on the fence and trying to make the two sides agree on something - but the right refused to concede the opponents of the war had also been opponents of Saddam and other Western backed dictators and Galloway insisted on calling anyone who disagreed with him a fool, or other equally uncompromising epithets.

It's an interesting debating style, and one that suits him very well, but its also something that gets some of his potential allies' backs up. I remember when he spoke in Cambridge last year a number of people afterwards complained to me that he was extraordinarily rude to people who asked questions he found to be hostile. I was alright with it because they seemed like sectarians to me, but its true that in public speaking you are not just replying to the questioner but the entire audience - rudeness and macho posturing will jar with some of the audience.

This is in stark contrast to Benn who has always struck me as a very intelligent debater. I went to see him on tour (sad) and even when discussing something he utterly opposed he'd use understatement to great effect. For example he outlined how the policies of the then Home Secretary Blunkett were racist and caused the deaths of innocent people - and finished by saying simply "So me and David disagree over this." It's definitely a winning technique.

The dogmatic polemic certainly has its place - but it can be wearing if the speaker has nothing unexpected to say, which is all too often the case - but the polemical style is not one that encourages thinking and open mindedness, only combative ideological competition where winning and losing are more important than a depth of understanding and humane, inhabitable culture.

That's two posts about TV in a row - I must get out more!!!!


moll said...

>That's two posts about TV in a row - I must get out more!!!!

I thought, there not having been a blog in a few days, that you must have gone to EF!, but I guess its just that you've been trapped in front of the TV... ;)

Jim Jay said...

Ah yes, that's right - I was *trapped* against my will, cough