Roz Kaveney (rozk) wrote,
Roz Kaveney
rozk

And now that we have reached this point...

One Hundred British Soldiers have died in Iraq. A number of them died because someone intentionally killed them. Several died because of accidents and disease. And some will have died because the government decided to run this rotten war on the cheap and did not give them the right armour or helmets that would have saved their lives.

Of course it is important to record the deaths of Iraqi civilians, and discuss British military actions that may have attained atrocity and certainly approached it. It is also important to record that British soldiers have been betrayed by this government, sent to kill and die in a bad cause, and then left underprotected. Nation states have armies and the men and women who make up those armies have the same right to be properly treated as the rest of us, above all the right not to be ripped off.

Orwell says somewhere that it is always a bad idea for the democratic Left to sneer at soldiers, when they could be made our allies instead of our enemies. He suggests that it is never a good idea to be vulnerable to Kipling's 'Making Mock of uniforms that guard you while you sleep/ Is cheaper than those uniforms, and they're damnation cheap.' It is not always the case that the army is a bunch of Tory or fascist hoodlums - the army that fought WW2 against fascism came home and elected the Atlee government. And one of the reasons for that was that elements of the left got themselves in place to run the Army Education Corps...

Meanwhile, an unattributable story from an unimpeachable source - you will have to trust me on this one.

When Blair visited the troops in Iraq for the first time, he got a lot of complaints about kit, and ignored them. In the evening, he stood on a platform and orated to the troops. 'I have to say...how moved...how very moved...I am to be here...on this liberated soil...I want to say... that never... in history...has any Prime Minister...been served so bravely...so gallantly...so loyally...by the men and women of his Army'.

At which point a Sergeant Major at the back shouts. ' We're fooking not your fooking Army. I fooking signed up for the fooking British fooking Army, and we fooking answer to the fooking Queen, Gawd Bless Her, and not to some fooking Prime fooking Minister'. Five minutes of applause followed.

Whatever one's view on the constitutional propriety of all this, it becomes ever more obvious that Blair suffers from President envy.

And looks tired.

If Prince Harry, who quite properly is insisting on a combat role when he goes to Iraq, gets killed, Blair has a problem.

*****

Elsewhere in Roz, finished the trans-representation piece for the TLS, to be here in due course and have a new piece on Time Out, who one day will pay me on time. (Utopian dream)


FOR LUST OF KNOWING - The Orientalists and their enemies

Robert Irwin (Penguin Press 410 pp. £25.00)

Ever since the late Edward Said published his 'Orientalism' in 1978, its legitimate argument - we need to consider what interests any intellectual work serves - has been taken, largely with Said's blessing, in a far broader sense. It is assumed that any study of groups to which the scholar does not belong is always a colonialist project, especially, but not only, if the group to which he or she belongs has real world power. Thus, it is claimed, all European study of the Arab world serves crusader or imperialist agendas. Thus, Said himself has been criticized for writing about Islamic politics from a secular perspective.

Robert Irwin's 'For Lust of Knowing' is a robust defense of impartial scholarship and is all the more effective because he acknowledges that not all scholarship is innocent .Irwin describes the careers of scores of academics who taught themselves Arabic and Persian almost as a hobby, and, for example, noticed the relationship between Persian, Sanskrit and the classical European languages. It would have been pleasant to record that that discovery had been made elsewhere in the world, but, apparently, it was not - nor is it clear how philology served the Empire.

Many such scholars were, like Irwin himself, anti-imperialist in their politics - the usual motive that lies behind studying another culture is, after all, imaginative sympathy for that culture. That sympathy was historically,as Irwin, demonstrates, something that more often opposed or at worse mitigated the brutal force of the West's impact on its neighbours than the inspiration of that force. If 'For Lust of Knowing' has a weakness, it is that to prove this point, Irwin has to catalogue individual careers and the facts of their engagement with the Arab world - inevitably, for all the considerable wit of his accounts, this can seem a labouring of his point.

That wit is at its most feline in Irwin's direct critique of Said's argument as opposed to his damning accumulation of evidence against it. This is a book considered for many years and not intended to appear after Said's death; it is scholarly argument performed as spectator sport.
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