Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Quite a few bits of lariness to report.

Firstly, Oliver Kamm takes Rageh Omaar to task for being a bit, well, pony:
Three years ago the telegenic BBC journalist Rageh Omaar was on the brink of “televisual superstardom”, according to one gushing newspaper profile.

Superstardom was not so easily obtained. Omaar’s book about the Iraq war generated a huge advance and poor sales. But Omaar has re-emerged as a presenter for al-Jazeera’s English-language channel, columnist for the New Statesman and author of a new book on being a Muslim in Britain. Unfortunately his output suggests a reason for his thwarted promise. He is no thinker and no writer.


One of the few aspects of the book that rises above the commonplace is Omaar’s opinion of himself. In his account of the US assault on Najaf, he pays tribute to his understanding of the significance of Iraq to Muslim identity. In recounting certain travel difficulties in Ethiopia, he compares himself to Gandhi.

Less original are his use of the idle propagandist’s term “Islamophobia” and his habitual coupling of the importance of free speech with the conjunctions “but” and “yet”.

Nothing prepared me, however, for his comparison of the Somali-born former Dutch MP, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a critic of Islam, to a suicide bomber. If this disgraceful analogy is how Omaar understands argument within a liberal society, his journalistic career is destined to tell us even less than it has already.
Ouch. One book I shan't be bothering with then.

Here's another. On the one hand Tory MP Michael Gove praises Niall Ferguson's "The War of the World" for weaving a "riot of events" into a coherent narrative. On the other, Johann Hari (fresh from losing his spat with Scott Burgess on points) doesn't:
Next week, Channel Four will broadcast a startlingly obscene TV series. A handsome historian will walk around the rubble and mass graves of Soviet Russia and declare with an aggressive smile, “If it hadn’t been Stalin, it might have been somebody worse. In any case, Russia has been ruled by murderous despots for centuries and centuries, so you might as well cast a moral judgement on rain as on Stalin.” He will argue that the collapse of Stalinism was “one of the great tragedies of the twentieth century.”

Sounds impossible? Thankfully, it is. But Niall Ferguson will be doing the same thing for an equally psychopathic form of totalitarianism – one that in fact killed even more people. For over a decade now, Ferguson has built a role as a court historian for the imperial American hard right, arguing that the British Empire from the Victorian period on was a good thing with some unfortunate “blemishes” that have been over-rated and over-stated. “If it hadn’t been the British, it might have been somebody worse,” he says. “In any case, empires have been with us as a means of power and control for centuries and centuries, so you might as well cast a moral judgement on rain as on the British Empire.” He adds, “I am fundamentally in favour of empire,” and says the Americans should be our successors as imperial rulers of the world.


Today, Ferguson poses as somebody who is simply providing a hard-headed balance sheet of Empire. Yes, there were “drawbacks”, he admits – but we have to weigh them against the good things. The problem is that his calculations consistently underestimate or ignore the massive crimes of Empire, and grossly overstate the benefits. His historical judgement is constantly skewed, both by his childhood affection and by his almost punk-style desire to spit at historical orthodoxies.
And for some fisking fun, Snoopy the Goon of SimplyJews takes a look at a rather poor Cif post by one Karma Nabulsi. Her previous role as a PLO representative seems to have affected her impartiality somewhat, although it's perhaps more disturbing that she claims to be a "politics fellow of St Edmund Hall, Oxford University". Wow.


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