Sceptical libertarianism and opera

Location: France

July 12, 2004

There's something about Michael II

I have already written about my puzzlement at the pro-war left's reaction to Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. Having now seen the film, my despondency increases.

It is extremely curious that a film that many anti-war proponents view with disdain, and from which mainstream anti-war politicians are at pains to distance themselves, should have provoked such venom. Re-reading Christopher Hitchens' polemic against it, I find myself at something of a loss. It is ironic that I found the anti-war Mark Kermode, writing in the Observer, much more effective in performing a demolition job.

Melanie Phillips cites an article by Dave Kopel (a man who, believe it or not, voted for Ralph Nader in 2000), which she claims 'pulverises' the film. I'm afraid the slap that Kopel actually inflicts would not fall foul of even the most stringent anti-smacking legislation. As a means of convincing sceptics, it leaves a lot to be desired. Even though the article is entitled Fifty-nine deceits in Fahrenheit 9/11, it contains the rather astonishing admission that:

Like several other deceits identified in this report, the September 11 deceit is not part of the film itself.

So, the fifty-nine deceits in the film are not all in the film. I see. Isn't that like saying that one of the problems with Hamlet is the weakness of characterisation in Measure for Measure? Kopel is making the same error as many of the pro-war left, including Hitchens. They see their target as Moore (or George Galloway, or the Stop the War coalition, or Respect), not the arguments he puts forward in the film. So their aim is to discredit him by quoting things he has said elsewhere, as if those who were against the war were all his devotees. I have no problem with attacks on Moore (or Galloway et al), but such attacks are quite separate from defending a pro-war position or attacking Fahrenheit 9/11.

Take just two examples of what Kopel cites as Moore's 'deceits'. The first is the undue influence of the Saudi ambassador to the US, Prince Bandar. He sums up his attack thus:

What is misleading is for Moore to look at the web of Saudi influence in Washington only in regard to the Republican Bushes, and to ignore the fact that Saudi influence and money are widespread in both parties.

So, Kopel's argument seems to be that because Saudi influence is actually greater than Moore suggests, we should be less worried. Really? Isn't there a flaw in the logic here? Kopel assumes that all anti-war people are, by definition, Clinton supporters, and therefore you exonerate Bush if you can convict Clinton of the same sin. Again, this misses the point rather badly.

The second example is the portrayal of Bush's conduct in the elementary school on the morning of 11 September (which Moore's film is rather successful in poking fun at). Kopel's line of argument is asinine (again, the anti-war Kermode is much more impressive). He cites the school's principal defending Bush (in June 2004) - and thus exposing Moore's 'deceit'. Have supporters of the war really come to this? It is only a short step from here to saying 'I'm going to vote Labour when I grow up because that nice Mr Blair came to our school and gave me a sweetie'. The principal is entitled to her opinion, but then so am I, so is Moore and so is everyone else. Her views cannot trump others', and to suggest that they make those who disagree with her 'deceitful' is disturbing. It is a logic that Moore himself might well use, but I thought we were above this.

The problem that the pro-war left has, and which Kopel's article exemplifies, is that it has equated the pro-war movement with Bush as an individual, and therefore cannot understand or tolerate any criticism of him, however well founded. What I would hope for from the likes of Kopel and Hitchens is a debate that focuses solely on the issues, not on the personality flaws of Michael Moore. Whether we were right to go to war does not change if we discover that Bush is in fact satan incarnate, or Moore is the angel Gabriel. The pro-war lobby should not be in the position of defending Bush or attacking Moore at all costs. It has forgotten where the debate should really lie and has become so hyper-sensitive that it is in danger of replying to someone who expresses a dislike for Bush's taste in ties by saying, 'so, you'd rather have kept Saddam Hussein in power'.

I remain of the view that I expressed in my previous posting: the pro-war left has only itself to blame for the success of Fahrenheit 9/11. It has conflated the war on terror with the person of George W Bush, and the anti-war arguments with Michael Moore, George Galloway and the rest. Moore's film is thus happily occupying an empty space in the debate. A debate which others should already have filled.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps the reason that pro-war commentators, be they left or right, have resorted to the sort of smears and innuendo of which you speak, is that history is in the process of dispatching all their other attempts at justifying the war. Name calling (or in Norman Geras's case, the moral high ground, well out of the reach of reason) is all they have left

20 July 2004 at 16:09  

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