The Politics of Delusion

New Statesman (1996), July 25, 2005 | Go to article overview

The Politics of Delusion


Two forces are playing themselves out on the global stage--the politics of grievance and the politics of denial. They are being practised by terrorists and governments alike to terrible and lasting effect.

The first reaction to the London bombs was an understandable mix of horror and solidarity. That should not diminish with time. But, as the New Statesman argued last week, politicians and public figures must analyse and address the root causes of terrorism. They owe it to the victims and they owe it to society as part of the efforts to prevent future attacks. This debate must take place sensitively but candidly. That is why the vilification of people such as Ken Livingstone is self-defeating. In stating the link between Iraq and suicide bombing, the London mayor was only stating the blindingly obvious. He was not condoning violence, but seeking to explain it.

Which is where the politics of denial comes in. Some would call it delusion. Not content with "saving" the Labour Party from itself, Tony Blair cast his net wider. The man who waged five wars in his first six years saw himself as the liberator of the Balkans, then Iraq (while persuading the Americans to enforce peace between Israel and the Palestinians at the same time). More recently he has vowed to save Africa, then the European Union ... and now Islam. It falls to few countries over few generations to be led by men or women of great ambition, and in a world replete with statesmen of modest achievement, Britain now finds itself in a special place. The Prime Minister has more than once laid out his thinking on the principles of military intervention. By each of his own criteria, Iraq has been an unmitigated disaster. It has become a commonplace to compare it to Suez. Perhaps it is worse. With each week, the facts become graver still. The past ten days in Iraq have brought more than 30 suicide bombs and hundreds of deaths. The most reliable death tally, from the Iraq Body Count group, puts it at roughly 25,000.

There is no means of determining what went through the distorted minds of the four young men, and their handlers, as they made their way to the capital on 7 July. There is little evidence of material deprivation, or particular personal difficulty. There is every evidence to suggest that they allowed themselves to be influenced by external voices.

Which is where the politics of grievance comes in. …

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