Last week ReadySteadyBook featured a fascinating interview with Richard Seymour, of Lenin’s Tomb and SWP fame, discussing his book The Liberal Defence of Murder. This is Seymour explaining the origins of his blogging career:
Mark Thwaite: When and why did you first start blogging Richard?
Richard Seymour: I had been active on various message boards, arguing the case against the Iraq war. And just as one might gaze adoringly at some ordure just dropped in the pan and think ‘that is too beautiful to flush’, so I wished some of my comments and put-downs would have a permanent status somewhere on the internet. It was essentially intended to be a salon of scat, but somehow that noble purpose was lost on the way.
Sticking with the coprophilia theme, here’s Seymour bitching about his failure to win the Orwell Prize:
MT: We started exchanging a few emails recently because of the extraordinarily bad Orwell Prize shortlist. What do you think Orwell would have made of the shortlist?
RS: As you’re referring to the shortlist for the blog award – eventually won by a policeman for daringly belabouring ‘feral youths’ and the ‘Evil Poor’ – I had better point out that Lenin’s Tomb was included neither in the longlist nor the shortlist. So, naturally, I think Orwell would have detested it every bit as much as I do.
I also suspect that Orwell would have been horrified at the idea of such a prize being named after him. Awards are like statues, in that they only seem to attract copious amounts of shit.
Now, Mark Thwaite is an intelligent man and asks hard questions.
MT: The ‘bombing Left’ seems to think of some of the hard Left as the pro-Faith Left. Do you think bad compromises have been made by some on the Left associating with homophobic and mysogynistic Islamic groups?
Mark, it’s nice to know you’re still reading my stuff. Seymour’s response:
RS: It is strategically sensible for the liberal belligerati to focus on this issue and try to make the antiwar movement out to be ‘the enemy within’, in bed with the enemies of ‘Western values’. But it is by no means sensible for us to take their accusations as the starting point for a discussion. For example, this word ‘associating’ has quite a nebulous meaning here. I might ‘associate’ with Islamophobic liberals in defending the right to abortion, but does that involve a compromise on my part?
Let’s skip over the laughable notion that the antiwar movement is any kind of ‘enemy within’ rather than a hysterical and marginalised dead end in UK politics. Again Seymour doesn’t seem to understand the difference between single-issue campaigns involving people of faith and ‘actively forming political blocs with religious-political parties.‘
Seymour’s argument is that ‘a broad political campaign like the antiwar movement has to include everyone who opposes the war on whatever grounds, provided they aren’t outright fascists.’ As the STWC’s George Galloway is a donor to and supporter of the clerical fascists of Hamas then Seymour fails even on his own incredibly broad criterion.
Still, Mark presses him on the point:
MT: How should progressives walk the fine line between being vocally anti-Islamophobic and yet retain their own distinct secular radicalism?
RS: I don’t detect a ‘fine line’ between these two conditions. The Islamophobes in practise advocate an increasing encroachment by the state on matters of value, on conceptions of the good, and so on. That is not secular. Thus, while formally ‘secular’ concerns are presented about faith schools, or religious clothing, there is no doubt that what motivates them is the sudden discernment of a supposed threat to something called ‘British values’ or ‘Western values’ by Islam, and the desire for the state to thwart the threat. The result, which is that Muslims are singled out for opprobrium and suspicion, has nothing to do with secularism: it is its reverse. It is therefore not only possible to oppose this logic and remain secular – to be truly secular, it is *necessary* to oppose such logic.
But the arguments against faith schools and ‘religious clothing’ – I presume he’s talking hijab – are motivated by the fact that children don’t have a choice about whether they go to a faith school, and that women in Muslim communities do not, regrettably, always have a choice about whether to wear hijab. This is Patrick Weil, who sat on the presidential commission that recommended the French hijab ban, explaining why he changed his mind on the issue:
Either we left the situation as it was, and thus supported a situation that denied freedom of choice to those – the very large majority – who do not want to wear the headscarf; or we endorsed a law that removed freedom of choice from those who do want to wear it.
Also, Seymour’s anti-state rhetoric is unconvincing given that the main driving force behind faith schools is in fact the British state. And many defenders of secularism are and were against wars in Afghanistan and Iraq - so spare us the denounciations of ‘those who have aligned themselves with mass murderers’ and ‘soi-disant seculars’ with a ‘Spenglerian mysticism’ and ‘insistence on the idea of ‘Western values”.
The Enlightenment is not a Western invention: Seymour himself admits in his review of Chris Harman’s book that there was an ‘Islamic contribution to Enlightenment thought’. These are universal values, and if Seymour thinks they are exclusive to white liberals than that says more about the poverty of his vision than about the evils of the bomber left.
Finally, Seymour reveals the secret of his success: ‘If you want to make a career out of being a political writer, you have to find a way to market utterly conventional ideas as acerbic contrarianism.’ I couldn’t have put it better myself.