Brrr. In the pub tonight I spied and sat down for a bit with a fairly new friend from work who was drinking with some of her work mates. One of them sat down next to me, a paid up member of the Labour party and prospective candidate for a North-East London parliamentary seat. I know the building in East London where she works as a legal adviser – we got talking, we were getting on. Across the table, another friend of this friend told us that he used to be in the Labour party. I was interested enough to ask him what happened since and he replied that he now put his efforts into single issues. Like what? Like the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. So I thought I’d find out more, but what I didn’t mean to do was blunder into an argument, though he deserved it. He was a brainwashed ignoramus clearly used to thinking of himself as pretty right on. I pointed out his error in supposing that you could mollify Islamist militants by “fixing” Israel. He just blustered, I think he was surprised to meet opposition. I said that he was attacking Israel as a proxy for the US, which he not only admitted but upheld as a valid strategy. But when the prospective Labour MP supported him with reference to “the rich and powerful Jewish lobby” I had to work hard to stay calm. I could feel my friend’s discomfort as I argued as evenly possible, and indirectly, that the “Jewish lobby” is a racist construct, but I could no longer guess why she was uncomfortable. It might have been because I was ruining her Friday (sod that, we’re right next to a university campus, these conversations happen) or because she supports the boycott. She made some observations but I couldn’t pin them down. So to put my cards on the table I rounded up by criticising boycotters for their negativity, ignorance, posturing and their dodginess of singling out Israel. I doubt it made any difference, but maybe it did. When they changed the subject I returned to where I’d started off the evening, to other friends from work – boozy, decent, pragmatic, modest bunch who sometimes find me a bit intense for comfort but whose political views are never going to make me want to turn around and run.
I hope that woman wises up a bit before standing for parliament.
Nick Cohen would have been nodding in recognition because this is precisely what he’s talking about.
Two books I noticed recently might help with understanding – one is Hold Everything Dear: Dispatches on Survival and Resistance by John Berger, reviewed by Frank Furedi in the THES:
Along with many of us, Berger is painfully conscious of the fact that he lacks a map that can help us make sense of the global patterns and influences that shape important dimensions of our lives. Throughout these essays, Berger displays anger and frustration over his and our collective confusion about which stage we are passing through. “People everywhere – under very different conditions – are asking themselves: ‘where are we?'”. That and “what are we living through?” are some of the questions that haunt the pages of Hold Everything Dear. Berger’s questions do not simply betray a sense of incomprehension but also of disillusionment. Things were not supposed to turn out the way they did! As a man of the Left, Berger carries the burden of disappointment and defeat. “Much of what you believed was happening in history, or believed should happen, has turned out to be illusory,” he notes before adding, “socialism, as you imagined it, is being built nowhere”.
The other is Contested Lands: Israel-Palestine, Kashmir, Bosnia, Cyprus and Sri Lanka by Sumantra Bose.