The Apollo Project
Liberal Ideas for the 21st Century
Thursday, August 11, 2005
Impossible Things Before Breakfast
by Peter

I think it was the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland who announced that she could believe three impossible things before breakfast. She probably practiced by reading the comment columns of our daily newspapers and listening to the Today programme.

Yesterday we were asked to believe two impossible things.

First Michael Howard blames terrorism on the way judges interpret the Human Rights Act. An interesting point of view: terrible crimes are committed by people who had never come to the notice of the security agencies, and the judges are to blame. (Yes, this is an oversimplification, but somehow one never feels guilty about oversimplifying the statements of Mr Howard). The cynical explanation for this outburst is that Mr Howard set records for having his own acts as Minister overruled in the Courts: this is the man who based his parole decisions on write-in petitions from Sun readers

Second we have the argument that teaching people patriotism (like they do in the US) would get us out of the hole we're in. The argument seems to be that the US is immune from terrorism. But it isn´t! Remember the Oklahoma bombing? What about all those shootings of people who work in abortion clinics? The US has plenty of terrorism. Much of it is perpetrated by people who think other Americans aren´t patriotic enough. Teaching people to be more patriotic may change the nature of terrorism. It is unlikely to stop it.

Back in the 1970s there was a surge in terrorism across Europe. The objective of these groups (for example, the Baader Meinhof Group) was to rip the liberal veneer off western society and reveal the ugly reality beneath. They failed.

If there is a mastermind behind the recent attacks, he (I think we can say "he" in this case) has a similar objective. He will have failed if we respond with liberal methods. He will have won if we all start believing impossible things before breakfast.
posted by Apollo Project @ 11:44 am  
  • At 12 August, 2005 02:01, Anonymous Salim Fadhley said…

    I wonder what british "patriotism lessons" would look like? Do you remember the "War" episode from The Day Today? The reassuringly patriotic video they play just as soon as war breaks out.

  • At 12 August, 2005 11:37, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Indeed. I intend to post something on the infamous Telegraph "British values" editorial.

    But are you AKA Stodge?


  • At 12 August, 2005 12:25, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Andrew O Hagan has a good piece in the LRB on London after the bombs ( O'Hagan expressespithily the futitlty of both bombers and the response:

    "For Blair to deny that the invasion of Iraq influenced the bombers is an insult to both language and morality. For Islamic extremists to pretend that their cause will not be set back in Britain by targeting buses and tubes is a murderous delusion. Blair’s war has been a drafting exercise for young jihadis, and the efforts of the young jihadis will be a drafting exercise for the British National Party. Welcome to Endgame England."

    We have argued before that we will either respond to bombings with liberalism or we will find ourselves in the worst of vicious circles.

    O´Hagan can´t tell us whether the bombers had had lessons in patriotism, but he does reveal that one had a GCSE in English Literature:

    "Like Hasib Hussain, the Number 30 bus was a stranger to Tavistock Square. But the 18-year-old who wasted his own life and 12 other people’s on that bus knew something about the poetry of Yeats. The bomber had seven GCSEs, including one in English, and Yeats was one of his topics. Heaven knows what was on his mind when he set off his terrible backpack that morning, and one can only be sad that it wasn’t Yeats, a one-time neighbour to his terrible, beautyless act, or his poem ‘Easter 1916’, a distillation for me of the saving power of two-mindedness, the great theme of old Bloomsbury."

    You can read the poem here ( Perhaps Yeats will now disappear from the national curriculum?


  • At 15 August, 2005 11:51, Anonymous James said…

    On a rather tragic point of order, I think the Day Today segment referred to by Salim followed the constitutional crisis precipitated by John Major and the Queen having a fight. The "It's War" episode was a different one.

    It is brilliant though, "This is Britain, and in this glittering sea, in this perfect fusion of man and mineral, we know that conflict will always perish in the brotherhood of flags."

  • At 19 July, 2007 15:34, Blogger RHE said…

    It was the White Queen, actually.

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"What is Liberalism?: I should say it means the acknowledgment in practical life of the truth that men are best governed who govern themselves; that the general sense of mankind, if left alone, will make for righteousness; that artificial privileges and restraints upon freedom, so far as they are not required in the interests of the community, are hurtful; and that the laws, while, of course, they cannot equalise conditions, can at least avoid aggravating inequalities, and ought to have for their object the securing to every man the best chance he can have of a good and useful life." C-B.


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