Sunday, July 31, 2005

Weekly Jackass Number Thirty-Seven: Simon Jenkins

At Arianna Huffington's vanity project known around these parts as Huff'n'Puff, you will currently find a denunciation by Simon Jenkins, columnist and former editor of the London Times, of the 'useful idiots' who 'have signed up to the League of Friends of Terrorism.' Strong words, those - but naturally, some backlash against the politically collect multiculturalism that has allowed terror cells to grow in the heart of our urban cities is understandable. Only problem is, that's not Jenkins' target - his useful idiots are, well, those who want to prevent the recurrence of the London attacks:
The truth is that those who want to subvert freedom can always rely on "useful idiots," a phrase Lenin is said to have used of liberal apologists for extremists (but never did). Modern terrorism neatly inverts this attribution. It relies on "useful idiots" of the right to exploit any terrorist incident to foment xenophobia, suspend civil liberties and seek revenge from any ethnic group vaguely linked to the incident.
What solution does Jenkins, then, offer? Why, the very John Kerry-esque 'law enforcement' approach (i.e., wait until the terrorists kill, then try to apprehend them):

Urban terrorism can only be treated as a crime. Conspiring to explode devices in public places endangers life, destroys property and causes public nuisance. Like all criminal effects it has causes. A sensible democracy addresses those causes. But since ordinary citizens and even the police can do little about them in the short term, they rightly concentrate on the crime itself. The streets of London are alive with like dangers, with people who shoot, kill and maim dozens of people a year. We fight them all, whatever their proffered and spurious justification.

A public nuisance, then, that those 50 dead Londoners, the 300 killed in Madrid, the 3,000 victims of 9/11 have fallen to. As if terrorism was a drunk driver, a pickpocket, a stray bullet from a criminal. As if we are helpless to take proactive action (Jenkins reminds one of the old, awful admonition to rape victims to 'just sit back and enjoy it').

Concludes Jenkins:
Terrorism's "useful idiots" have had a field day this past fortnight. They have jumped from "nothing can justify the bombing" (true) to "nothing can explain the bombing" (absurd). They have jumped from "Britain's war in Iraq is no excuse for killing innocent Londoners" (true) to "Britain's war in Iraq has nothing to do with the bombing" (palpably absurd). They jump from "we must not be driven to alter our way of life" (true) to demanding that we do just that. The useful idiots demand new powers, new restrictions and new measures against the muslim community. Above all they declare "war on terror," turn murdered into warriors and incite Islam to proclaim jihad in response.
Ironically, these 'useful' words of the 'idiot' Jenkins come just as people all across the world are awakening to the threat and demanding a less laconic response from European lawmakers. Jenkins appears to have caught precisely the wrong train at the wrong moment in time.

This is not news, though, to those who know his history. That Jenkins can be incredibly misinformed and take the opposite stance than the evidence would suggest is illustrated by some comments he made a while back on the subject of blogs:
When the internet arrived I thought it was like the non-stick pan or the self-lighting match, a novelty of uncertain necessity or future. The web, I wrote, would be of interest to law researchers and sex fiends. Who else would want the Library of Congress on their kitchen table and a club bore ranting on their desk? When the chat room and the web-log (blog) arrived, they were surely of use only to librarians, lonely hearts and those suffering rare tropical diseases.

This week I attended a seminar in Washington on the future of opinion journalism. Normally such seminars are places where underworked neophiliacs fry each other's brains. This time I felt the earth shake. The talk was dominated by bloggers. They were everywhere, permanently online to each other through 3G handsets (???? - what do cellphones have to do with blogs? - Mark). The dedicated blogger updates his site two or three times day, as if no gossip must go unpassed and no abuse go unanswered. It is manic.

These people claim to be the unofficial legislators of free opinion. They quake, rant, muckrake, scream like 17th-century Puritans. Most of the blog sites regurgitate and spin what the mainstream media (dismissively the "MSM") has spent millions finding and checking. Most are fanatically conservative. All you need is a taste for exhibitionism and a fancy name: mediabistro, FishBowlDC, wonkette. One Yahoo blogger, Ted Rall, gives warning of the blogosphere: "A new sheriff's in town. He's drunk. He's mean, and he works for the bad guys." The web is the Bushites' revenge on the liberal media establishment. A blog polarises or dies.

The web has undoubtedly honoured its claim to be the democracy of the air. Every columnist's motto may be Milton's "Opinion in good men is but knowledge in the making". But to what end? On the web, opinion travels first class while facts go steerage. The opinion blogs that I occasionally read - one is formed every seven seconds - show scant respect for the disciplines of journalism.

Well, the disciplines of journalism bit is, of course, a laughable image in the age of Easongate, Rathergate, Jayson Blair, the L.A. Times, etc. etc. Give Jenkins credit for chutzpah, though - he admits that he totally dismissed the most significant advance in communications since the television, then expects you to join him in condescending dismissal of blogs (and the bit about Ted Rall - hilarious!). For further takedowns of Jenkins 'useful idiocy' on this subject, I refer you to the dynamic duo of Tim Blair and Scott Burgess.

The indictment against Jenkins could continue (his support of wasteful public extravagance, his swallowing whole of the discredited Lancet study '100,000 civilian casualty' number for Iraq), but I don't wish to try your patience. Allow me, then to congratulate Simon Jenkins, and to thank him for reminding us that you needn't be a celebrity or a Frenchman to be a Jackass.

UPDATE 4:55 p.m. central: Shortly after posting this, I came across this by John Leo:
The denial of the peril facing America remains a staple of the left. We still hear that the terrorism is a scattered and minor threat that should be dealt with as a criminal justice matter.
Indeed, we do, John, indeed we do...

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